on Fathers

“When I was a boy of fourteen my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist

When my two brothers and I were much younger, we used to have an annual summer “tradition”: the painting our back fence. Well, that is what my father called it anyway – we kids just called it one of our “chores”.  We lived on a corner lot that was about a 1/3 an acre, with a brown wooden fence that went almost around the whole yard which was painted on both sides. For us kids this was never fun, especially with school being out and our friends wanting us to come over and play.

As you can imagine, three kids under the age of 9 somehow managed to make a chore fun and entertaining, if not for themselves, at least for those adults in charge of supervising. There always seemed to be more paint that ended up on us than on the fence, and intermixed with the arguing and nitpicking at the quality of each other’s work, there were also giggles as we worked together to finish the job. Every year we got better, and every year Dad’s inspection required less re-dos. It never occurred to us that paint should last more than a year on a wooden fence.

A discovery several years later ended the annual chore of summer fence painting – I caught Dad in the shed thinning the paint. Well no wonder the fence had to be painted every year! The three of us got mad and immediately engaged in a small mutiny: we told Mom. After some family arguing, the fence was eventually painted, but this time the three of us personally opened up our own brand new cans, and thereafter the fence only had to be painted every few years.

Now that we kids are all adults, this is one of those shared memories which we tease Dad about the most often. While Dad insists that he did it to build character and memories of sibling togetherness, we say that he was just trying to be cheap and take advantage of the free child labor. Nevertheless, we all remember it the same way and we all laugh about it. And it ended up being a good memory just like Dad said it would be: despite it being a chore, it did represent a time when we three older siblings banded together and got a job done, despite the circumstances. Dad had modeled a good work ethic to us in his own life, expecting a good one from us as well. And it paid off: all four of his children grew up believing that there is dignity, honor and integrity in hard work, and that if something needed to be done, to just get it done; don’t expect others to cover your butt or stop to whine about whether it is fair or not. There would be plenty of time later to deal with that.

Dad, if it were not for you, I would not understand that it is okay to keep plugging along despite life not being fair. I would not understand that there is joy in hard work if I just look for it. I would not understand that true success comes from making my own way, instead of getting things just handed to me. And I would not understand that good things come to those who participate in life rather than being spectators of it. You taught me to never expect handouts but always be ready to give a hand up; you taught me that having a good career also means having a good reputation, and most of all, you taught me that when it comes to doing the right thing, to never take no for an answer. Dad, I know that you have regrets, and that you wish you had done some things differently in your children’s lives, but know this: the strength that your eldest daughter has to stand and face down her giants comes from watching her father stand and face down his own.

I love you, Dad. Thanks for believing in me. Happy Father’s Day.

Love, your daughter

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it”. ~ Proverbs 22:6, New King James Bible

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