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Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Wins of the Father

It’s been a year of taking stock and being honest.  I wrote publicly for the first time about having a bad mom – and it’s only fitting to give equal time, here.  I had a great dad.  Those who know me know that I’m not one for eulogizing ugly pasts.  It is, after all, candor about our past that allows us to grow and make a better future.  My father was not a perfect man – but he did the one thing that great fathers do: he passed on what he considered the best parts of him to his son, and did his level best to help him avoid those parts of him that he regrets.  It is this seminal paternal desire that makes me fall apart like a blubbering pile of goo when watching Forrest Gump.  It is that moment where he turns to Jenny and asks if his son is “smart or is he…” Geez, even writing about it chokes me up. 

My father succeeded against long odds.  But this isn’t about the challenges he overcame or the parts of him that he railed against instilling in his first-born son.  This is about what he did give me, and what I hope makes him happy on Father’s Day.  Because I can give my dad a tie or cologne or more tools (he sure does love new tools), but I can give him the peace of mind knowing that he gave me every bit of his greatness and none of the rest of it.

Tenacious D

My father was an unremittingly hard worker, and he expected no less from me, growing up.  He worked nights and weekends and taught me the phrase “whatever it takes” long before I knew what it really meant. There was no suffering of complaint or whining, just go.  This was expectation not motivation.  Anything and everything I wanted was available to me, provided I was willing to work harder than I could ever imagine.  I hear my dad’s voice in my head when I think about complaining about why it hasn’t happened yet, or how tired I might feel.  In fact, I’ve taken to saying the exact same thing to myself: C’mon Glenn!  C’mon, indeed. 

Leading from the Front

My dad never asked me to do anything that he hadn’t done or was willing to do, himself.  He never saw his kids as “free labor” or little household employees.  My dad got his hands dirtier than I ever got mine.  Before he ever said the words, he taught me to lead by example.  I was a broody little shit in high school – so I wonder if my dad ever saw me as a leader. He taught me nevertheless. I like to think I pleasantly surprised him. I use my own adolescence (and subsequent success) as a constant reminder not to judge people by who they are as teenagers – which is something else my pops taught me. 

Judge Not…

There was a fair bit of bigotry in my young life.  It’s hard to describe the normalization of these types of things when you’re “raised” in it.  Before kids had access to the Internet, the world of a young person was profoundly small and the authority of a parent was nearly omniscient.  But despite all that surrounded me, my dad taught me to look to another person’s character to judge them.  He tried to teach me patience – though it’s taken me a few extra decades to figure it out.  My dad watched me go through speech therapy and ADHD back when they just used to call it “hyperactivity” and “Special Ed” – and he never once tried to change me, medicate me or make me feel bad for who I was.  He loved me, and I try to repay his love by loving those same crazy bits about myself. 

Great Expectations

The most important thing my dad gave me, however, was his enduring belief in the great things I was (and am) capable of.  Even though I was the first person in my family to go to college, and then law school and professional practice, he never let me settle for what I had just accomplished.  Don’t get me wrong - he was always vocally and visibly proud of me – but it was always quickly followed by a pointed query as to “so, what’s next?”  My father pushed me relentlessly – famously grounding me for my first scholastic “B” (AP US History, 11th grade – I will never forget the number 88%) – but he did it because he believed I could do more.  And since then, I have.

* * *

There are many kinds of fathers, and the best ones manage to be just the kind their kids need.  Mine was not a nurturer, and he never encouraged me to “go ahead and cry.”  We never had long talks about our emotions or my relationships.  He wasn’t a coach, either.  I can’t recall us having a catch in the backyard, and he didn’t push me to take my narrow butt out to the football/baseball field or basketball court.  What we was, was quietly strong, immensely patient and ceaselessly intolerant of failure.  He is the source of my strength and my motivation.  He’s the reason I can grind and hustle like I do.  Because, like he taught me, it’s not the head start you may or may not have, it’s about how hard you’re willing to work to win the race anyways.

And no one outworks your son, pop.  No one. 

Happy Father’s Day.


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