It’s funny how you can grow up in your family unit and never realize that your parents are actually human beings who had a life before you existed. This whole thought struck me when one of my daughters said to me, “I don’t really know anything about you even though I’ve known you my whole life.” It’s not as though any of us try to keep our “previous” lives a secret from our children. We just become Mom and Dad and that’s what our children see – the people we evolve into after they join our world.
Looking back, many of us with children can’t even remember what our lives were like prior to having children because it’s so difficult to picture ourselves without our kids. Sure, I remember hopping in a car with my friends and cruising the strip (that’s what we called it when we went down to the ocean front at Virginia Beach), but, for some reason, I can’t picture my children not being a part of my life even when they weren’t there.
When we become parents, there’s no manual. We assume our children may be like us, but they develop different thoughts, ideas, talents, and abilities than us. One way of raising one child doesn’t necessarily apply to another…and when you have four daughters (as I did and as my father did), it’s hard to keep that in mind.
My father was a Texas native who met my mother when he was at the Naval Academy. Over the course of years, my father became highly involved in church and often lent a hand to those in need. No matter where he went, he was always a leader. He felt that he was blessed in life and wanted to share those blessings with others. This desire to help others often led to people living in our house which didn’t go over well with me as a teenager because it seemed like an invasion of space – resulting in me wanting to do nothing but be away from the home when constant strangers were there. This is something I regret now as I’d love to go back in time, be young again, and have those moments with my family. Back then, my views were different because I felt like I couldn’t be me when other people were always around my family.
People came and went. We never heard from many of them again. Even when my father had several strokes, so many of these people he helped over the years didn’t even try to contact him to see how he was doing. I look at the actions of those people one way where I know my father would not think deeply about it and believe he was doing what God wanted him to do at that time for those people. That’s what was in his heart – to help others.
Despite all my father may have done for others, I believe he felt he failed my older sister and me in the father department. He once asked us to write him a letter to tell him all we thought he did wrong so that he could ask for forgiveness. I never wrote that letter. I’m a parent now, and know that, despite feeling like you’re doing your best, your kids can always find a flaw. The reason is that we ARE flawed people. We DO make mistakes. And, if we don’t know what we did wrong, then we obviously don’t need to have those things pointed out because they weren’t intentional. I can only speak for myself, but I wish I had known my father more for WHO he was – his dreams, his hopes, what excited him in life…
I often thought like my daughter who said she never really knew much about me. I never knew much about my father. With the exception of knowing he was the Texas State Discus Champion Thrower when he was 16 years old, a football player, and someone who went to the Naval Academy and had a Master’s degree…I really never attempted to delve into what made my father tick. All I know is what my father did by example.
My dad didn’t really do anything WRONG. He was just more of an authority figure, and my view of him was more of the person I was going to get in trouble with if I was five minutes past a curfew. When I heard a woman from church refer to him as a big teddy bear, I couldn’t picture the image of him like this. Plenty of people shared this view of him, but, as his kid, I saw him as the authoritarian.
Publicly, I’m putting this letter out to my father because I think he needs to realize that every kid views a parent differently. One kid will see a parent one way. Another kid will see a parent another way. As a parent, the thought occurs to me, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” Everything I say or do as a parent could be misinterpreted, but the bottom line is that, as parents, we all just want our kids to turn into great adults.
I have a letter for you, Dad. I don’t want to lose you in life with you thinking that whatever happened to me in life might somehow be your fault. I want you to know that I love you. I know I didn’t come with a manual, and I was a more independent spirit than you probably expected. So, as it stands, being the person I am who can’t have someone telling me what to do, I couldn’t follow the request of the letter of what you did wrong. This is a letter about what you did RIGHT.
I wanted to write this letter to you so that you know that you were a great Dad to all of us. You provided for our family. We had more than most people, lived in a big, beautiful home and had food on the table every night.
You made it so that we could freely go to the store with our mother and buy clothing every school year and every season (even though I hated shopping and despised the clothing shopping days). We were so fortunate to be able to do this and pick out what we wanted to wear.
You made it so our mother could be home for us…which is a pretty big deal. Having someone there for you at the end of the school day means a lot.
You tried to live by example, instill morals, ethics, and values. You tried to make us believe we could live a dream because you tried to live your own dreams.
You helped people that never thanked you, and you never even looked for someone to thank you. You showed us that we didn’t need a thank you or pat on the back for everything we did. Giving and the feeling of giving and sharing was thanks enough. It was about doing the right thing by others and not about what was given back to you. You believed that if good things happened to you, that they were God-given, and the best way to pay back for the blessings you had were to share your blessings with other people. You opened your heart, home, and wallet to those in need – something that few people would do in this day and age…and something that very few did back then.
You were a friend to strangers, a guide to those lost, and taught us that we can be there for other people in need.
You were a leader in all tasks you took on and taught us that we could be leaders too. You showed us that hard work paid off in life.
You recognized our intelligence, and pushed us to aim higher.
You didn’t spoil us with “things” and taught us that there was more to life than material items.
You never felt a need to put on or prove anything to anyone.
What you did right was the right thing by us. What you did right was the right thing by others. What you did right was ask us to write a letter telling you what you may have done wrong…which proves you never even knew whether or not you did anything wrong.
Whatever happened to our lives was part of our destiny to make us into the people we are today. We had a path to follow too. Whatever happened, happened…whatever happens in the future will happen. As a parent, you can’t blame yourself for what happens to us, but tell yourself that you did the best you could with the tools you had and what you knew.
So, Dad, you were the best Dad you could be. We had it pretty good in life…if not great. Most people I know only wish they had a father like you. You just didn’t know it.
Happy Father’s Day,