1. He wants you to be your own person
I feel bad that my dad doesn’t have anyone to go hunting with him anymore. He grew up going with his own father, but neither my siblings nor I took to it. We’re happy to go hiking, fishing, and camping, but hunting buddies? It just never happened.
And I don’t think he minds. At least, if he minds he doesn’t show it.
My dad doesn’t complain.
I’m sure he had hopes and dreams for each of his kids. Maybe he wanted us to work in chemistry and engineering like he does. Maybe he wanted us to be outdoorsy like him. Maybe he wanted us to like hunting and golf and the Tigers, because those are things he likes.
Some of those things happened, and some didn’t.
But whether they happened or not, he never pressured us to do them. He let us be independent. We are and always will be his kids, but we’re more than that because he let us be our own people too.
My dad is a wise, reserved man. He’s not an advice-giver. He’s an advice-liver.
He didn’t tell us who to be. What he did was instill values and ideas that shaped who we’ve become.
2. He lets you pick the music
Here are a few things my dad did:
He coached our soccer and baseball teams, and even when he wasn’t coaching, came to many of our games. I don’t know how he made the time, but he did.
He worked long hours, got home in time for dinner, then immediately jumped into helping us with our calculus and chemistry homework. Whenever he didn’t know how to do a problem set – which was rare – he took the time to figure it out so he could teach us.
He prayed with us every night for years.
He took us places. Vacations out West and to Gettysburg and Disney World, but also day-to-day places like the ice cream shop and church on Sundays. And he let us listen to the music we wanted in the car, even though I’m sure it’s not what he would’ve picked.
He got in the passenger seat in the parking lot of the community college and taught me how to drive stick. He did the same when I needed help parallel parking, enduring my angry, irritated cries to help me when he could have been at home watching a baseball game.
He read, mowed the lawn, made crepes and grilled burgers, split wood, never ate the last cookie, cut down Christmas trees, played croquet and tennis with us, asked us how school was. Role model things.
He taught me how to tie flies. He played chess with me. He took each of his kids on one-on-one trips. He threw us fly balls and showed us how to make good pinewood derby cars. He resisted saying, “Oh, just let me do it!” even when he could have done it much faster and better. He said — and still says — he loves us.
My dad did not tell me what it is to be a good husband, or what it means to have a good work ethic, or how to be content in life, or how to treat people, or how to lead a family, or even, really, how to love God. But I learned those things from him all the same. Because he did them. He does them.
And I did a bad job appreciating most of it.
I’m sure I said thank you – sometimes – but in hindsight I know I didn’t appreciate it enough.
I think it first started to sink in when I went off to college. After 17 years, on my first night being permanently out from under my parents’ roof, I wasn’t thinking about school or girls or the future; I remember thinking about my dad, and how much he’d done to get me here, and how sitting with him at the dinner table or in the living room would never again be part of my daily routine.
I’m sure I still don’t know how much it cost to be such a good father. I’m sure I still don’t appreciate him enough. But gradually I’m grasping it more and more, just how much he does and gives and sacrifices.
3. He’d drive 12 hours in a blizzard in the middle of the night
Sometimes it’s actually annoying having a really good father, because really good fathers always turn out to be the hero. Not because they’re trying to impress anyone, but, I guess, because it’s who they are.
I remember once my family was driving down to Columbus, Ohio, to visit one of my brothers. The car broke down about halfway and, handyman that he is, my dad couldn’t fix it. We called my brother to come pick us up, and my dad decided he would go all the way back to Michigan with the car, get it fixed, then drive all the way back to Columbus early the next morning, all to save my brother the trouble of the same drive a few days later.
Honestly, I was irritated. Why did my dad have to do “the most right thing” when the alternative would have been fine? Why did he have to make things harder for himself to keep things from being harder for his kids? Why did he have to be the hero when he could have taken a day off?
Because he loves his family. Because he sacrifices himself.
My dad would drive across the country in a snowstorm if it would help his family, even if we didn’t ask him to. And that’s just one way I know I’ve got a really, really great dad.
It can be annoying to see someone sacrifice their own well-being for another. It’s not fair. It’s not necessary.
And yet, it’s the best kind of fatherly.