"Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray." ~ PROVERBS 22:6 (NRSV)
All I’ve ever truly needed to know for life, I’ve learned from my father. This great man, in my eyes, is 79 years-old. He immigrated to the United States over 40 years ago and is still in awe of his God-given opportunity to live the American dream; a life in the country he often saw in cowboy movies on his small island of Cape Verde when he was a young teen. I love that he still works the same full-time job in New York City, even though he’s been talking about needing to retire for over 10 years.
Like every other kid, there are things about my father that drive me a little crazy: his attention to detail, for one. It sharpens his awareness of my mistakes and he is therefore often correcting me about something. Or that included in his passion for reading newspapers is a deep desire that I stay informed, too. As a result, I always have newspaper clippings around me - my car, desk, or kitchen countertop - that I need to get to. Though my father is not perfect, he is a very wise man who made sure to share what he has learned with me. I love that I have these treasures...here are just a few of them:
- Don’t grow up too fast! - When I was a kid I talked and thought a lot about what I wanted to do when I grew up. Though my father did not discourage me to dream, he made sure to tell me to slow down, the years come soon enough. This taught me to set my pattern of thinking towards appreciating each day I live, and each stage of life that I live. I have learned to live my present intentionally with an eye towards tomorrow.
- Learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others - My father is a bit of a perfectionist, but he is well-balanced with a keen awareness of his flaws. He’s always said, “Look at my mistakes and don’t repeat them, “ and “Look around…you don’t need to repeat the mistakes of others.” Humm…these words of wisdom helped me understand that there is strength in understanding our personal frailties, and purpose in our blunders.
- Education is more than just going to school - If it’s one thing my parents made clear to me it is that, “We came to this country so that you can have an education.” I am the first-born…there was no way I was going to let them down by not getting my college degree! However, my father always balanced this goal for me by making sure that I knew that education is more than books and the classroom. In other words, we can fill our brains with information, but if that information is not positively building our characters, what benefit are we drawing from the time and money we are investing??
- Respect - My father has taught me respect by example. For instance, as we drove through our neighborhood and surrounding streets, whenever he saw an older person my father always slowed down our car to wave and say hello. As soon as we pulled away I’d ask, “Daddy, do you know that person?” He’d say no. I learned that every person is important enough to stop and give your attention to. I still have a tough time entering or leaving a room without acknowledging the people who are there.
- You can do whatever you set your mind to do - I wanted to be a criminal prosecuting attorney, but most importantly I wanted to be a wife and a mom. My father never told me I couldn’t be any of these things, he encouraged me to dream. Regardless of what field of study my college degree is in, or what I have done since my college graduation, this perspective exercised my mind to think I can do big things, even change the world…one person at a time.
- It’s time to get out of bed! - Remember those teenage years of wanting/needing more sleep? Well, my father had his limits to how much. He wouldn’t let me sleep late into the morning; he pulled me out of bed a couple of times to make his point. Later-on, as an adult, I realized that he was teaching me to be proactive and to make good use of my days.
- Faithfulness - For twelve years now, anyone who knows me well knows what I do every Wednesday afternoon…spend time with my father. At times he has had to combat fatigue from working a full-time swing shift, last-minute work schedule changes, and inclement weather to stay faithful to our visits. I have battled nap schedules, changed and re-worked sports practices, and now keep at bey the desire to speed through my afternoon with growing children. Through all the changes, my father, my kids, and I have walked through our Wednesday afternoons together, making adjustments when necessary, in order to stay faithful to our weekly visits. My motivation: I know that unless change comes from me, my father will be at my house.
- Meet the needs of others - A couple years ago my father and I went to Costco on one of our weekly visits. He needed paper towels so I stepped towards them to pull down a large pack. He stopped me cold, “I am your father. It’s my job to help you.” Whoa. I took my cue. Here’s what that moment taught me: while I am able, I have a responsibility to be aware of what I can do to meet someone else’s need.
- I’m not old! - Yes, he is 79 and is still commuting to a full-time job in New York City. Need I say more? My father believes that it’s still too early to see himself as old. I am so thankful for his mind-set because I believe it keeps him young. More than that, he has lived out the principle for me that as long I have breath, there is always a life to live and a purpose my life was created to fulfill.
- Say, “If God wills….” - There have been times when my father has caught me talking about what I plan to do in the near future with full confidence. He usually stops me to remind me to include, “If God wills.” Through this reminder, he has taught me to hold onto a healthy understanding that I cannot control all the details of my life.
I couldn’t ask for a better father. He has been the perfect dad for me. Because he is who he is, I have been able to better understand my heavenly Father as a father. This has always been my truth, but how much deeper it is to me now as I approach my forties. I cannot imagine my life without him: who will correct my grammar? how will I get all the information I need? The truth is that he has already given me the tools for how; I just like that I can still depend on my dad.