Like so many others, I will be thinking about my father today.
I will think of the many wonderful experiences that we have shared and the numerous things that he has taught me. Like many men born prior to World War II, and as one who had a very modest upbringing growing up on a farm, he was a man of few words. Yet I gleaned and learned a great deal from him through both his actions and his responses to specific situations.
I remember when my dad would drive me to my hockey games. I toted a very large equipment bag for a little kid and, after one particularly exhausting game, I asked him to carry my bag. To my surprise, he refused, responding, "If you're old enough to play hockey, you're old enough to carry your own bag." From then on, I knew I was responsible for myself, my belongings, and my actions.
I remember when I had an issue with my high school's lunch policy. After sharing my concern with my father, he encouraged me to challenge the policy, suggesting that I circulate a petition. He proceeded to help me make copies so I could distribute the petition in school the following day. This not only effectuated greater flexibility in the policy but also exposed me to the concept of civic engagement and ultimately led to my participation in student government.
I remember when I got into a car accident one stormy winter evening. I damaged the car pretty badly and I felt terrible. I was anxious about telling my father but, nonetheless, decided to wake him up and tell him about it as soon as I got home. I was ready for him to yell at me, but instead, he simply asked if I was okay--to which I replied yes. Then he asked if the other people involved in the accident were also okay--to which I again replied yes. Finally he said, "Well, if that is the case, everything else we can address in the morning," and suggested I go to sleep. In that simple exchange, he reinforced for me the sanctity of human life and the relative unimportance of material possessions.
I remember how each year, at some point over our annual Labor Day weekend in Maine, my father would separately invite me and each of my brothers to take a walk with him along the beach to the neighboring town. Along the way, he would challenge each of us to think about the upcoming school year by asking questions like, What are your goals for the year? What concerns or worries do you have?, How can I help you overcome them?, and Are you prepared to take full advantage of the upcoming year? These walks instilled in me the importance of having a plan and focusing on the big picture. And to this day, I make my New Year's resolutions on Labor Day!
I remember many of the expressions my father used. Truth be told, growing up I did not understand or see the relevance of many of them. For instance, he often said, "You can always win if you lose with a smile." As a kid who played competitive sports, I was bothered by this expression. "Why would you ever want to lose and then smile about it?" I thought. But as I got older and faced some of life's inevitable challenges and disappointments, his words often came to mind and began to make more sense to me. Grace under fire. Dignity when things get tough. The strength to stand back up after you fall down. Turns out that this mindset is quite important, after all.
I remember most of all my dad's spirit, his sense of humor, his strong moral compass, and his passion for life. And how he always wanted the best for my brothers and me, hoping we would be happy and secure in our futures.
I remember all of this and much more. But my father does not. He does not recognize me or remember my name. My father is one of millions worldwide suffering from the debilitating disease of Alzheimer's. And the pain of wondering what he must be going through is heartbreaking.
Whenever I visit him, I yearn to share reflections about all that he has taught me. But I have learned to be satisfied with a smile on his face or a sparkle in his eyes. And I hope he has that today.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.