Today, one month after we robustly celebrate mothers, is Father’s Day: a day set aside to remember and thank our dads for all of the ways that they have influenced and shaped us. As I’ve watched commercials leading up to this day, many of them suggest that the best thing to do in order to say thank you to your dear father is to buy him some kind of tool to use in a wood shop, some accessories for his car, or maybe a really nice, expensive razor. But in our family, where egalitarian and shared parenting was the name of the game, and it took two partners in child-rearing to raise this “femonite” and her siblings, it feels only appropriate that we should fete our dad in the same way as we celebrated our mom: by naming and remembering many of the lessons that we’ve learned from dad over the last few years as a thank you for all of the ways that we have been and continue to be shaped by our dad.
The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you,
but in what he cannot reveal to you.
Therefore, if you would understand him,
listen not to what he says but rather what he does not say.
–Kahlil Gibran in Sand and Foam
Dad doesn’t always say a lot. He is an introvert, like me (or rather, I am an introvert like him), and for those who don’t know him well
he can seem quiet and reserved.* For those who do know him, they sense the quietness in dad’s phone conversations–he says what is on his mind, listens to what’s on your mind, and doesn’t waste time with small talk. As soon as he begins the “uh huh, ok, yeah”s you know that everything important has already been said and it’s time to be done.
The reality of my father is not in what he reveals to you, not in what he says, but in what he cannot easily reveal. My father loves in action. I’ve felt this love, witnessed and learned from it.
My dad might not articulate that he is perseverant, but he is. Some may call my dad and me stubborn, and that is somewhat true, but we are also persistent in our tasks. Mom often says that when dad or I get an idea into our minds, we have to pursue it. In every work assignment my dad has held, I’ve seen him engage with energy that exceeds all job descriptions. Cooking meals for teams and colleagues, hosting sports camps for children, working to maintain soccer fields and relationships between administration, parents and players, etc. But the way he does it shows pure humility. He never asks to be recognized or praised, but he deserves to be.
There was one particularly painful job that my dad had and kept in order to help support our family and my mother’s seminary education. I didn’t fully understand the sacrifices that he and my mother made during this time until years later. I’m sure there are many other sacrifices I don’t know about that come with the role of being a pastor’s spouse. Dad worked with juvenile delinquents for many years–a tenure that’s uncommon in a setting where staff turnover is extremely high because of the incredible demands of the job. My dad was spat at, kicked, bitten, insulted, all manner of terrible things, but I never knew this as a child. Because he didn’t bring it home. He never complained to us.
What I remember instead was the voice of my father (which is, in my opinion, still the most beautiful voice in the world) singing us to sleep. He would sit in the hallway, between my brother’s bedroom and Hannah’s and my shared bedroom, and play his acoustic guitar. In the hot summertime when I would lay on top of the blankets, frozen still to keep from feeling my sticky body, I listened as the air floated with blackbirds singing in the dead of night, Puff the Magic Dragon, and hymns about the morning breaking. It was beautiful and I felt loved.
This is my father, the man who may not say much but who loves deeply and generously in actions.
Even now, as I live 8 hours away, I find my dad willing and wanting to help in anyway he can.
Should he help plan a soccer camp? Would I like some extra coaching tips? Should he mail some of his soccer books to me? Did I need help with any Spanish trip fundraisers? Would I like some extra soil for my garden? Should he bring his guitar to lead my Spanish class in some Christmas tunes?
These are the sorts of questions I received and I often accepted/will accept (dad, don’t forget about you soccer camp offer, because
I certainly haven’t…). And in all these questions and acts of service, I know it’s the same as my father saying over and over again. Can I help you? Because I love you.
In this way I am and aspire to be even more like my dad: to show my love for others in what I do. To only speak what’s important and be careful with my words. And even though I’m captivated my language, to listen more and be attentive to the needs and desires of others.
In a time where father figures are frequently absent or negative, I know that I am blessed to have the father I do. A father who held me first, because the midwife was late, and who still supports me today. Love you papi. Happy Father’s Day.
*Unless he’s on the soccer field. My dad is the best soccer coach I’ve ever had (and I know many of my peers from high school feel the same way) and continues to be an excellent coach at the collegiate level. For those who meet him first on the soccer field, they hear his booming voice giving instruction and may not perceive him to be as quiet as I claim. I’m not angry, he always clarifies to his players (almost daily at practices), I’m just speaking loudly so you can all hear me. Now that I’ve begun to coach soccer, I find myself mimicking his style.
I have always appreciated the fact that dad has unparalleled patience. There is a deep current there. Sometimes dad will get upset, but in the long run, he is steady and calm as the great river spirit.
When I was younger, and dad took a job where he was working in the evenings, he and I had a chance to spend our mornings together, and those times always meant a lot to me. Sometimes we would go hiking in OxBow park and we would talk, and on certain days he would even let me sit in his lap and drive the car around the park.
In some ways, as I get older, even though people always told me that I acted a lot like my mother, I continue to be surprised when I find glimpses of not just my mom, but my dad’s personality and ways of doing things, rising to the fore. Here are some of the best things I’ve learned from my dad.
1. There is nothing as soothing as being sung to sleep. When we were younger, and my siblings and I shared space in two rooms with a small hallway in between, dad would sometimes bring his guitar and a book full of folk tunes and sit out in the hallway and sing us to sleep. Remembering those times, snuggled in my bed and getting drowsy while dad’s tenor voice sang the words to “Brown-eyed girl” by Van Morrisson, I always feel safe and loved.
2. You have to see the big picture, not just the immediate needs. Over his tenure as a soccer coach, my dad has helped to build several successful and thriving women’s soccer programs. Although a lot of the credit for this can go to the fact that dad loves the game of soccer, and is always learning more and better coaching techniques, I think part of this success was also due to the fact that he was not just focused on his present team, but on the big picture of all the teams to come. When he coached high school soccer, he always made sure to also be involved in cultivating a strong soccer program for middle school girls. He made sure that all of his players, not just those who were starting on the varsity, but also those on the junior varsity and who were substitutes off the bench, felt appreciated and got to be active participants in practice and in team life. When it came time to give “banana awards” – his signature post-game rewards – he would not just offer a banana to players who had scored a goal, but to players who had played a good defensive game or who were supportive and encouraging to their teammates. In this way, he was able to build up a program that was not only successful, but rarely, if ever, had a shortage of women excited to play soccer.
3. Hospitality and community building is important. From my father I think I picked up my habit of sort of “last-minute hosting.” I remember that dad would often, sometimes to my mother’s dismay, invite people over on short notice, or allow us to bring friends home. Whenever this happened, he would often simply go buy more food or get to work preparing the house for these people’s arrival in a low key manner. Several times a year, we would host his soccer teams at our house: for spaghetti, for a movie night, or sometimes for his signature fajitas. For me, the model that my dad set is one that I still strive to emulate: I want people to feel comfortable coming to our home whenever they want, and I often invite people over on a whim, perhaps sometimes to my husband’s dismay. Offering hospitality to others is one of the ways that I have been taught to show my love to others.
4. Humor is the best. It was definitely from my dad that I learned my love of “dumb movies.” I think my siblings and I all share with my dad a bend towards the sarcastic. I have fond memories of sitting around our den in our old house in Indiana, watching a movie like Zoolander, and laughing so hard that we would cry and/or roll off the couch.
5. You should love, respect and care for your parents through every stage of their lives. My dad is not only a good dad, but he is a good son. Throughout my childhood and still today, I have witnessed the careful ways that my dad has cared for his own parents. In the summers, he would often spend free days fishing with my grandpa out on his boat. He would be intentional about stopping by to visit his parents, and making sure they felt welcome in our home. Today, even though my parents no longer live in Indiana, dad makes the regular drive to Indiana to pick up his parents and bring them out to spend time in Kansas. Because of my dad’s good relationships with his parents, I feel as though I was able to grow closer to my grandparents.
6. A parent’s love for their child is, truly, unconditional and steady. After one particularly embarrassing incident (for both dad and I), which I won’t recount fully here, but which ended with me yelling at him in the stands from the basketball court where I was playing, I remember dreading going home after the game to face dad. I knew that I was embarrassed and that my dad was probably mortified, and I was sure that I would walk in and find him very angry with me. But instead, I remember coming in to the house and having dad come sit quietly by me on the couch. He gave me a little shoulder massage, and asked me how the rest of the game had gone, and I knew that we would be ok. This willingness to forgive easily and to let us know he loved us in quiet, small moments was a gift that my dad often offered, and for which I am very grateful.