I have been so fortunate in my life. Some people have no father figures and I have been lucky enough to have many. When I think about being a father I can’t help but think about what great examples I have to pull on.
I have Dad, my biological father. I have Dom, my stepfather. I have Kent and Dick, my two father in-laws. And then I have a menagerie of men that have been there for me over the years.
As a father of a two and a half year old I am still finding my footing as the father I want to be. I am constantly reflecting on all the examples of amazing fathers that I have been lucky enough to cross paths with.
With the arrival of Father’s Day I started to become overwhelmed with emotion as I reflected on the great men in my life. I thought I would share some of my thoughts. This is in no way an exhaustive list of the qualities of these men, but more a stream of conscious reflection.
My Dad was an incredible father. There was never any doubt in my mind that my brother and I were the most important people in his life.
More than anyone else on Earth I feel that I share the most characteristics with my Dad. The way I look, the way I think, the way I act. When I look at pictures of him when he was younger I see myself and when he tells me stories or gives me advice I hear my own thoughts.
My Dad is a reader, a thinker, a writer and a teacher. I remember being amazed at the amount of knowledge he had at his disposal and the way he could share that knowledge in a useful and approachable manner. It wasn’t just that he knew stuff. He knew relevant stuff about what you were doing or thinking right now.
He was great at the big talks. I still remember our discussion about drugs and playing with matches. I remember the lessons he taught me about treating every person you meet, regardless of status, with respect. I remember lessons he taught me about perseverance.
Since we see the world in a very similar way he often knew how to frame ideas so that I would understand them. He realized how independent I was and he gave me the space to figure things out on my own but he also gave me the tools so that I would achieve success.
My Dad always seemed to find the right book at the right time. He didn’t wait for birthdays or Christmas to give a gift of a book. One day you would come home and it would just be sitting on your bed or the table. Sometimes he would write a note in the front. Not every book was relevant or life-changing but many of them were.
Dad taught me that you can teach yourself anything. The walls of our house were always lined with books and he had actually read most of them. He taught me that books were tools and that we choose to use them however we wish. That I could read one chapter, or all the chapters, start at the end and work backwards or read it from beginning to end. That I could dump a book or that I could fall in love with it.
Having one great father is a blessing. Having two is like hitting the lottery. Dom entered my life when I was 5 years old so I don’t even remember a time when he wasn’t a father figure in my life.
The biggest lesson Dom has taught me is the power of one’s thoughts. If I heard his “talk” once I heard it a thousand times. Dom’s message has always been simple. It all starts with your thoughts. “Stop that stinkin’ thinkin'” he would say. If you think you can’t do something then you won’t be able to do it.
He taught me about programming the mind. How we are all programmed by every encounter we have in life and how sometimes the wrong code or “button” gets entered into our brain. We can program ourselves with positive code or negative code and we can change our code at any time. It is important to pay attention to what you say and think because that is how the program gets written and strengthened.
At first I dismissed his teachings as new agey and too spiritual. I mean, I was a man (boy) of science. Over the years I have completely embraced his beliefs and I have found the science to reinforce his teachings.
Dom taught me that there are many ways to make a living and many paths you can take through life. His story is testament to the fact that you don’t have to take the same path as everyone else and you can still achieve happiness and success. He has worked a hundred different jobs and has more stories than anyone I have ever met. He has lived a life full of adventure and risk-taking and it has paid off for him.
Dom taught me that you can learn anything by doing. Time after time I watched him learn a new skill. I used to spend hours on the boat looking over his shoulder as he would try to fix the engine or electrical system or patch some other part of the boat. I didn’t realize it at the time but eventually came to appreciate that he wasn’t born with some innate knowledge of any of this stuff. He was figuring it out and teaching himself on the fly.
I met Kent when I was 14 and he was an intimidating figure then. Towering above me in height and stature, fiercely protective of his step daughter Kelly (my girlfriend and future wife). He was also one of the first engineers I met as a teenager and even then I realized we were kindred spirits in the way we see the world around us.
Our relationship really blossomed after my wife and I bought a house together and Kent and I spent time working together refinishing the house. I had never had the experience of working side by side another man like that an I relished the experience.
He taught me how to do a lot of things. Like run a gas line, sweat copper pipes, frame a wall, install tile. Every step of the way I consulted with him. Sometimes he was there right next to me and other times we would talk over the phone and he would give me advice.
Kent exemplifies integrity and honesty and it was impossible for that not to rub off on me. He has high standards for himself and he expects other people to rise to that level as well. There have been times when I have been stuck and tortured over the right path forward and I have thought about Kent and what he would do. Often the “right” decision becomes pretty clear once I think about how he would handle it and it makes it that much easier to implement.
Kent taught me how powerful a gesture it can be to lend a hand. Everywhere he goes he ends up doing some work. Whether that is helping people move, or doing some home repairs, or working on their cars he is always looking to find ways to help. I think this is his way of providing a service to the world and I have followed his example and tried to do the same.
I have spent the least amount of time overall with my wife’s father but that doesn’t meet he hasn’t had an effect on me.
Dick is a kind, gentle, loving man. He has really proven the point to me that a mans thoughts and actions define him, not his job or possessions.
Dick taught me about the power of service. He spent most of his vacations traveling to exotic locations to donate his time. Whether it was helping build sturdy safe homes in shanty villages or helping educate children in remote villages he has chosen to spend his limited time and resources on helping other people.
Dick taught me how important it is to provide a loving stable environment for my daughter. When I look at how my wife turned out and when I hear her tell stories about her dad I know how strong a role he played in making her into the incredible person she is now. His example taught me that being an amazing father can be as simple as having a regular dinner routine, providing clear boundaries and giving unconditional love.
Dick taught me that it is OK be best friends with your wife and to want to spend most of your time together and make all your decisions together. That “real” men are engaged in the relationship and work to foster and strengthen it over time. My relationship with my wife has strengthened as I have followed his lead in this area of my life.
John, Gary, Dick and Corky
At every stage of my life I have been fortunate enough to have great best friends who had their own great fathers.
My neighbor and best friend in junior high was John and his father “Big John” was a great role model and loving figure in my childhood. I spent countless hours in his house and learned a lot about being a man and father from him. I remember wearing a hat backwards once as I entered his house and he told me to turn it forwards or take it off. He saw it as a signal of disrespect. It was a lesson that the way we dress and speak sends signals. As a cop he was very aware of the signals certain actions send and he made it very clear how he expected me to act in public and in his house.
My brother’s best friend was Matt and his father “Mr Rainey” allowed us to spend many hours on his couch watching movies and sports and raiding his pantry for snacks. Gary was fiercely loyal and protective of his family. He was also a strict disciplinarian and frankly I was terrified of stepping out of line when I was in his home. I learned about rules and boundaries and the repercussions of violating those rules when I was in his household. I also experienced how a strong father figure could bring a family together.
My best friend in high school was Hank and his father “Mr. Leukart” allowed me to spend many hours hanging out in his house and eating his food. I still clearly remember when Dick taught me the lesson that stealing cable was still stealing and that it was not acceptable behavior. It was my first lesson in digital piracy and while I continued to download illegal mp3s, software and movies for years after that initial scolding, I never forgot that initial lesson and I eventually came around to his point of view and completely renounced “stealing” someone’s creative work.
My best friend in college was Cory and I got to spend time with his father “Mr. Falgowski” whenever he would visit to watch Cory wrestle or when I would visit Cory at his summer house. As a father of 8 children I don’t think it was much of a stretch for Corky to accept one more into his fold, and that is how I always felt around him. Whether it was the attention he gave to each one of my wrestling matches or the fact that he always asked me how I was doing and seemed to genuinely care about my response I always felt like he was a father to me.
Happy Father’s Day
To all the father’s in my life. To all the fathers out there that are leading by example. Thank you.