Father’s Day has never been a holiday that I’ve gotten super mushy about. Throughout most of my life, my relationship with my Dad has been layered, challenging, complicated. (Everything you’d want to know about our relationship can be read on my blog titled, Dad.) While my Mom was always the emotional center of my life, my Dad was more like a loving antagonist, egging me on from the sidelines. Year after year, the task of choosing a Father’s Day card was a formidable challenge. So much of the cheesy, cookie cutter sentiment simply didn’t fit.
As I got older, and Dad got frail (and ultimately, sick), I started to see him differently, and I began to appreciate qualities that I couldn’t as a young girl. I started to realize that the reason Dad antagonized me so much and was so brilliant at pushing my buttons was actually because we were way more alike than I cared to admit.
Now that my Dad is no longer here, I remain grateful for every quality – both positive and negative – that I inherited from him. I learned so much from him, mostly from the way that he lived his life. In honor of Father’s Day, here are the most important life lessons I take away from my Dad:
Life is a gamble. As much as we’d like to believe that we can control the outcome of events, the reality is we have no control. Life throws what it will at us, and more often than not, we have to make the best decision we can with the information that we have at the time, and forge ahead. Risk is part of being a human being, so you might as well embrace it. And if the worst thing that could happen happens – you risk it all and lose everything – you must rebuild. If you can do that, and come out on the other side of it, you’ll not only learn what you’re made of, but you’ll also realize that worrying about things you can’t control is a terrible waste of time.
Risk taking is good, but some risks are just stupid. As a personal injury lawyer, one of Dad’s favorite phrases was, ‘That’s an accident waiting to happen.’ There’s a reason I’ve never been in a helicopter or a racecar: because they’re both death traps. For all those thrill seekers out there, more power to you. Skydive or bungee jump or race fast cars to your heart’s content. But any activity where my odds of dying increase exponentially is not one you’ll catch me doing. I’d rather take my risks in other ways, like creative ones.
Keep your sense of humor, even when it gets dark. Especially when it gets dark. No matter how grim things got, Dad always found a way to laugh. When I was little, I used to be a bit horrified at Dad’s macabre sense of humor and his ability to find the funny in stuff that really shouldn’t be funny. Years later, my ability to laugh through cancer, through death, through just about anything, has kept me sane through some trying times. If you can keep your sense of humor throughout the darkest of the dark, odds are, you’ll always be OK.
Stick to your guns. If you believe in something with all of your heart, then stand up for it, and don’t flinch. You may end up making enemies, but at least you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror. This doesn’t mean being dogmatic, unyielding, or unwilling to listen to the other side. It does mean to thine own self be true. Nobody respects a flip flopper.
Sports are life, and who you root for says a lot about you. I watched Dad suffer for years as a devoted Portland Trailblazers fan, a Seattle Seahawks fan, and a Boston Red Sox fan. I saw Dad’s loyalty rewarded when the Sox finally broke Babe Ruth’s curse. I saw my own rewarded last February when the Seahawks finally won the Super Bowl. Sure, it feels good to root for a team that wins, but it feels even better after hanging with that team through years and years of losing and knowing you were there through it all. It can be demoralizing to support a team that loses year after year (the Seattle Mariners, anyone?), but for the loyal fan, hope really does spring eternal. Dad taught me to have no patience or respect for fair weather fans, or fair weather people. And on that note: when in doubt, always, always root for the underdog.
Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right. Dad moved through life with an air of confidence, and an unwavering belief that no matter what, things would work out in his favor. And you know what? He was almost always right. Now, whenever someone tells me something can’t be done, I can’t wait to set out proving them wrong. Even if it’s something as simple as getting a table at a popular restaurant that won’t take reservations. If you believe you can do it and act accordingly, more often than not, you’ll win. Attitude plus perseverance is a powerful combination.
Eloquence is important. If you want to sway someone to your cause, make them feel something. Dad loved to quote Shakespeare and recite poetry, often to the point of sappiness. No matter. He knew how to affect people, and how to move them. He also understood this: if you don’t believe it, then nobody else will either.
Life is a great adventure, or nothing at all. So many people spend their lives being afraid, playing it safe, living a life that’s smaller than what’s in their hearts. Why? We’re all going to end up in the ground or scattered to the wind anyway. There is so much in this world that’s thrilling, that’s beautiful, that’s worth savoring. Grab it while you can. Dad lived with a sort of big picture perspective and a zest for life that is more rare than it should be. And I’m pretty sure he went to his eternal rest with no regrets. He many not have been the perfect man, or the perfect father, and he probably made a few enemies throughout his life. But he also understood that ‘you can’t win ‘em all.’ Stop working so hard to get other people to like you. They will or they won’t, and what other people think of you is really none of your business anyway. To thine own self be true.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for all that you taught me.
Until next time, friends