Happy Father’s Day! Last year, I shared a story about the lessons my dad taught us through home remodeling and vacation planning (you can find that post here). This year, I wanted to share two very important things he learned during a significant portion of his life (long before I was born), that he has taught us through his example.
Take steps to change your life
My father describes his teenage self as “a complete and total screw up”. My mother says that he’s being too hard on himself, but does agree that he was lacking direction and engaging in some risky behavior (which they still, to this day, describe only as “drinking and other things”). He recognized that he wasn’t happy with where he was or where he saw himself going, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. When he began saying that out loud, his stepmother (who Dad has always said was one of the most significant positive influences in his life) suggested that he consider enlisting in the military. He did, and, as he puts it, “the Army trained the screw up out of me”. After he was discharged, he returned home with an entirely different attitude, work ethic, and vision for his future. Happily, that vision included my mother, who had been a casual friend when he left, because after three years of exchanging letters while he was deployed, he was pretty sure that he wanted to marry her.
For Dad, the takeaway is that you need to look for, take advantage of, and apply yourself to opportunities to improve your circumstances or make yourself happier. He’s an amazing sounding board when any of us need to evaluate our situation, and 110% supportive of decisions we make, as long as they’re carefully considered. Dad helped me figure out I needed to change my major. He also helped me make the decision to go to graduate school. He convinced me not to buy a house when I desperately wanted to, because waiting a few more years would make a huge difference in my financial situation. He has always set an example by continuously learning new things and being willing to work hard and take the long view in order to achieve.
I don’t know a lot of details about Dad’s actual service, because he doesn’t like to talk about it. I know his rank, where he served, and that he was decorated several times, but I don’t know what he did to earn those medals, or any specific details of his experience. Although he credits the Army with turning his life around, he never considered making it a career, and I think that’s because of the things he doesn’t discuss. What he does talk about, freely, is what the Army taught him: discipline, work ethic, pride, organization, and leadership. He focuses on the support he received from the military, and on the support of his stepmother and my mother. The second message of Dad’s story is that people who believed in him and were there for him were critical in his journey to become the man he wanted to be.
The man he became is incredibly supportive of others. He’s always ready to listen, to problem solve, to roll up his sleeves, or to give financial help. He helped us navigate the overwhelming task of applying for college admissions and scholarships, learning on the job because my sister Audrey was the first person on either side of my family to go to college. He matched us dollar for dollar when we were saving for our first cars. On three separate occasions, one of his siblings moved into our house when they needed help getting back on their feet. He still insists on cutting my grass, even though he’s in his seventies and I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. As far as Dad is concerned, the people you care about are part of your team, and teams work together.
Who are your role models? What have you learned from them?