I was looking for a Father’s Day picture to put on Facebook today. The upside of cracking a rib last winter while wearing socks on carpeted stairs was pooling all my family photos into a server. Flipping through them I realized the lessons that can be found from each one.
Jim Walsh was only 57 when we lost him 22 years ago but his love of the moment, his family and a good laugh stay with us each day–and his “dad jokes” were passed down from father to father decades before that term became a household term about five years ago.
1. You’re Needed at Full Strength (No matter how tough your day)
I’ve looked at this picture a hundred times, mostly to see us kids–and to try to remember Katie’s full-sized doll’s name. But looking at the tired but happy smile on my 29 year-old dad’s face as he’s just come in the door from a long day reminds me that these kids didn’t share your long day, have no idea what that day was and they’ve been looking forward to seeing you for a while.
2. Show Your Kids How to Love Your Partner
My parents provided us (and many of our friends) very clear blueprints of unconditional love. They taught us to keep things consistent, supportive and fun–sharing with us their own stories of their childhood, courtships and struggles. It was clear from my first memories, how important it was to show our kids how much they are loved and what true love looks like. It can include flowers and evenings out but it more importantly revealed how much teamwork was involved, with constant adjustments being made as you’re rolling through life.
3. “Your Time” Can Be Shared
November can be a tricky drive up north, especially on a Thanksgiving holiday weekend. But we always looked forward to getting to my Aunt Joan and Uncle Bill’s cottage for three days of R&R. My dad especially liked to catch up his reading on a comfortable chair–but still be part of the of the room’s activity and an occasional request to share his lap.
4. Respect and Know Your Past
One of the greatest gifts my father shared with me was his love of genealogy. Five years after he lost his mom, my dad introduced me to Laura’s only surviving sibling, Jerry Kelly–a WWII veteran who moved from Detroit down to West Palm with his brothers in the 1950s and founded a very successful real estate business. In that one short 1995 St. Patrick’s Day weekend I uncovered a wealth of stories taking my family back to the Civil War as my dad and I both scribbled down notes as fast as we could. Jerry became an important part of our lives until his 2004 death a the age of 94. His, “Well, you’ll have to be the soldier now,” when we lost my dad rings true most days for me.
5. Make Chores Bearable
It’s not the greatest sales-pitch from a professional salesman, “Hey, want to spend ten hours in the car to help me rake a couple acres of leaves?” But when my mom and dad bought their cottage in 1988, just a few miles from where he’d spent time every summer since the 1950s as a teenager, my dad couldn’t believe we actually got to spend more than one rental week there–even if it meant a lot of maintenance. But he made mundane jobs fun and even if it was the dreaded garage-cleaning, it usually involved some hidden treasure or at least a bottle of Pepsi in the process.
6. Love Your Kids, Trust Their Choices
My dad met Patrice at Capraro’s restaurant, just after we’d had a couple dates. And after pizza told my mom that she was the one. My mom had already met Patrice on our first date, since it was pre-Google and we were just finishing up dinner and were going to go to a movie–and why buy a newspaper when my parent’s house (and newspaper) was three blocks from the restaurant? Despite my obvious stinginess, Patrice and I have been together for over 27 years and both my parents’ unconditional support and trust of their kids’ choices was matched only by their joy in seeing all four kids so happy with their own families.
7. Have a Good Belly-Laugh Every Day
Another couch, following another long day at work–this time with his first grandchild, Aidan. In this picture, my dad is just a few months older than I am now. He was getting ready for a long career as a grandpa with a ready knee to bounce the kids upon–ready to laugh in sheer abandon almost as much as the cow-dressed grandson riding that pony.
My dad travelled two to three days every week of my life but never really that far away. But each night on the road he’d call my mom and if we were still awake would talk to all of us kids, too. “Hi there, Buster Brown” is etched in my brain as the fun voice coming through from some pay phone in Indiana.
He’s still not that far away–especially when I can take a minute and try to be a dad to my kids, and like Jim was so often, a dad to someone else, too.
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