We always talk about the kindness of our mothers, but I think it is equally important to take the time to think about the kindness of our fathers as well. We quite often take for granted all that our mothers do, but I think we even more so take for granted all that our fathers do. For myself, I have spent now 40 years of my life thinking more about everything my father didn’t do (and resenting him for that). It is only now that I am beginning to see and appreciate him. So I thought I would share with you my reflections on all that my Dad has done for me.
Of course I must begin with his greatest contribution of all. Pretty much everything I have accomplished in my life, I have done so through having been fortunate enough to be born with a pretty good brain. Where did that come from? While my mother was of course smart, my father’s intellect is unparalleled. Yes, hard work is important, but a high performing engine and hard work will really take you places. I am very lucky to have been born into his genes. I guess to go even further, the very fact that I have had any experiences at all is thanks to him, because without him having me (or keeping me) I wouldn’t have anything. So in this sense, I owe him everything.
Second, he has instilled in me (all of my brothers really) a locomotive-like work ethic. Nothing can be accomplished without working for it. My father never stop working, and he has taught us to do the same. And I don’t just mean working in our professional jobs, I mean working at all aspects of our life (family, fun, studies and jobs). Even in his retirement, he always has projects he is working on. This is a fantastic example. He doesn’t waste a moment of his life, and he has taught me to do the same. My wife was laughing at me the other day saying, “you are just like your Dad, you always are working on some project.” It’s true (and she meant it as a compliment). I am at my happiest when I feel like I am being productive. So many people think the goal of life is to not have to do anything. My father has taught me the opposite lesson – the goal of life is to do as much as we possibly can, to live our life to its fullest.
Third, his belief in me has given me the confidence to accomplish anything. I think of all of the various “wise mantras” he repeated again and again as we were growing up, the one that I remember most (and that resonates most) is “there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.” Perhaps we groaned a little as kids as he kept saying it, but again and again he hammered that message deep into our respective psyches. The result? He filled us with the confidence that it is true. The reality is if people don’t think something is doable, then they don’t even try. But he has removed that particular mental obstacle for me by helping me believe/know anything and everything, even enlightenment, is doable for us if we decide to do it.
Fourth, he has taught me how to be responsible with money. Of course there may be some differences on the margin, but despite the fact I am fairly liberal at the macro level, there is no doubt I am quite conservative at the level of personal finance. I remember whenI was little going to Minnesota in a Winnebago to visit my Grandma for a family reunuion and my Dad put on these tapes he had on responsible living. Doug Klepper, I think was his name… I was quite young at the time and had no concept of saving, but the tapes talked about always saving at least 10%, but preferably 20% of everything one makes and it explained why that was necessary. My father explained again and again as we were kids the importance of saving up for the future, and he lived his life according to that example. The results speak for themselves. When I was teaching in Geneva, one of the courses I taught was on Personal Finance. While there was a textbook, what I really taught was everything my father taught me. And this concept of saving does not just apply to money, but to all aspects of resources (saving up favors, saving up a good reputation, etc.). At a spiritual level, I very much think of the spiritual path in similar terms. What does it mean to be a spiritual person? It means to use this life to prepare for our future lives. We are saving up our karma for the long road ahead. We are investing our merit in the highest and best spiritual uses. It is really exactly the same.
Fifth, he has been incredibly generous with his family. It is no exaggeration to say he has given far more to his family than the rest of the family combined. And how much has he asked in return? To my knowledge absolutely nothing. Do people express appropriate gratitude for all that he has given? No, they don’t, they generally take it for granted (myself included). Has that stopped him from continuing to be very generous? Not at all. That is quite a testament to his being. He supported us as kids, he supported us to get our education, he flew us back when we were young adults and had nothing so we could maintain contact with the family, he always paid for meals whenever we would go out, and hugely he kept his lake cabin for us (at great expense) so that our kids can now enjoy it as they do. Of all the things he has ever spent his money on, I can’t think of anything that has brought greater benefit and enjoyment than this lake cabin. It is not just an issue of all of the fun things we can do at the lake, it is more how the lake provides a locus for bringing (and keeping) together my entire family. At a more personal level, he has year after year made his home available for us to use in the Summers. This has enabled us to come back again and again, and due to that we have been able to stay close to the rest of our family. The real fruit of this is seen every day of the summer and how close my kids are to my brother’s kids. How close my wife is to my brother’s wife. How close my family is to my uncle’s family. How much closer I am to my brother. NONE of this would be possible if he wasn’t so generous in offering up his home. We could not afford both the travel to Spokane and the lodging while there, so the end result would have been us not going back and none of the above would be possible. Coming back to Spokane every year has so incredibly shaped my kids for the better, and he has made it all possible.
Sixth, he serves as a constant intellectual point of reference in my thinking about pretty much everything. I really don’t interact with any Republicans. Everyone in Europe (right and left alike) are far to the left of pretty much everyone in the U.S., and pretty much everybody in the State Department is from the left as well. I don’t want to be a hack. I don’t want to be partisan. I want to support those ideas which work best, and that is necessarily some combination of views from both sides. Even though I don’t have contact with many people to the right of me, I know very well what my father thinks and how he thinks, and I always ask myself “what would my Dad think about this?” He is always in my mind offering his perspective on things. This helps keep me balanced in my views in more ways than he probably realizes.
Seventh, he has also taught us how to play. I think the go-cart was probably the funnest toy we had as kids. No, I take that back, the little boat was the best. By a big margin, in fact, the little boat was the best. But on top of that, four wheelers, snowmobiles, his planes, his boats, everything! Man, who gets to do all of those things as a kid? While it is important to work hard, it is also important to know how to have fun and enjoy life. He has shown us how to do that and he has allowed us to share in his fun. He actually built a stunt plane on his own, and it is a blast to go up in it!
Lastly (but by no means least), he showed a great example of what it means to be a supportive husband. I was too young to know what really happened with my mother, but I do remember she herself explaining to me many times that the divorce was her fault. In many ways, she viewed divorcing my father as her biggest mistake, and her subsequent bitterness towards him was in many ways driven more by personal regret from having made such a mistake than anything else. With my Dad’s second wife, he gave her every opportunity possible. It is not his fault she turned to alcohol and drugs. He stuck with her, trying to help her and support her through her difficulties far longer than pretty much anybody else would. And he took her son from another marriage in as his full and equal son, and he continued to do so even after he and his second wife split. And most significantly in my book, he was (and continue to be) nothing short of a super-star when it comes to supporting his now third wife. I may have not had anything useful to say when the two of them were going through those darkest of days with chemo and radiation treatment, but that doesn’t in any way diminish my admiration for how he did it. He was there for her 100%. While she, of course, had it the worst; it is easy to overlook how hard all of that must have been on him. But that was not his concern, he was concerned only with her. Love, in my view, is when we care for others without asking anything in return; and true love is when we care for others joyfully even when it involves great personal sacrifice. That’s what he has done, that is the example he has shown. This is the example I hope to emulate.
So I wanted to publicly express my gratitude to my father for all that he has done. I can be a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes with him and I often take for granted all that he has done. I am really at keeping in touch with him and expressing my gratitude. But I am grateful. What I have said above is what I really think about him. What I have said above is the overwhelming majority of my thoughts when I think about him. It is an unfortunate fact of life that almost all relationships are consumed by talking about the differences and problems that we easily lose sight of the vast commonalities and shared enjoyments. This can create a false impression that the differences and problems are all we think about the people around us, when in reality it is not that at all.
So how can I pay my father back for all of the above? I can think of no better way than to try to do the same for my kids in the hopes they do the same for their kids. In this way, his kindness, wisdom and generosity will continue on hopefully for many generations to come.
Happy Father’s Day.