“I may not love you perfectly but you are perfectly loved.”
When I was a teenager, I remember being annoyed with my dad. I thought he should acknowledge my accomplishments more than he did. He wasn’t one for giving compliments and I found myself pouting over that issue more than once. I wanted him to give me verbal praise for things. I wanted him to tell me he was happy with my performance on the track, or on the balance beam or that he loved the character development I achieved in the school play, but that just wasn’t his way and it made me mad.
It made me mad until I had a realization one day. I figured out that it wasn’t my dad who had the problem, it was me! My father showed me each and every day that he loved me and he let me know that in ways small and large. He often made little folded airplanes for me out of matchbook covers because they amused me. When he had a bag of pecans, he’d patiently crack open and clean one nut for me each time he cracked one for himself and he ate my Lima beans without telling my mom because he knew I hated them. He worked tirelessly and without complaint so that my sister and I had the material things we needed (and some we didn’t but just wanted). A huge chunk of his paycheck went to the Hamlin School for Girls…an academically challenging, private school in San Francisco. He let us buy books and magazines whenever we wanted. He never said “No” to reading material, be it comic books or my very own encyclopedia set (which I enjoyed immensely especially on rainy weekends). I had tap dancing lessons, ballet lessons, horseback riding lessons, tennis lessons and swimming lessons. My dad took the family everywhere he traveled because he wanted us to experience other places, people and cultures. In other words, he was a great dad but I chose to focus on the one thing he didn’t do…give verbal compliments.
Once I gained the insight to look at the whole picture and to take what he gave me with gratitude, I was a much happier girl. It changed our relationship for the better since I was no longer childishly demanding he do something entirely foreign to his nature. I opened my own heart and suddenly, I could see what I should have all along…that I was always loved and always appreciated whether he gave words to it or not.
It’s a lesson I’ve carried through all the rest of my life. People love you in the way that’s most natural to them. It’s a waste of time to fret over the things they don’t do (like bring you flowers) if can see that they show you appreciation in other ways (like happily fixing your car when it’s broken). Sometimes you can make your own happiness by simply adjusting your own perspective.
*One year, my dad started going to McDonald’s constantly. He hated the food there but ordered his Happy Meal and dutifully ate the thing several times a week. One day my older son who was about 3 at the time said “Grandpa sure does love McDonalds.” I smiled and said “No, he sure does love YOU.” He was going to McDonald’s and ordering Happy Meals in order to collect the toys included in meal. He was on a quest to get each and every Teeny Beanie Baby in the collection since he found out his precious grandson liked them. Now that’s love!
There is an old pair of men’s dress shoes in my car. They are on the way to the repair shop at the request of my oldest son. The shoes are his. They used to be my dad’s. He gave them to my son a couple of weeks before he died. My son loves them and wears them anytime he needs to dress nicely. He wears them to church, on formal dates with his girlfriend and when we go out to dinner.
They don’t quite fit. They’re a little large but I never say a word. My dad’s shoes are big shoes to fill…both in reality (he wore a size 14) and metaphorically too.
My dad was born in 1923 in Oklahoma in an all black town. Some people don’t know but our country was dotted with small, completely segregated towns at that time in our history. His family had no money and relied on subsistence farming to keep themselves going.
My dad grew up and held a series of jobs. He farmed, he flipped raisins in the hot California, Central Valley sun, he drove a bus. When he was 40 he graduated from Medical School.
The journey from raisin flipper to physician was a long and arduous one. He wasn’t always treated well as he pursued his goal to become a doctor. Tangible racism was rampant…the institutional kind where it wasn’t just a matter of people not liking you or not wanting to sit with you at a table but it was doors of well-paying jobs and educational programs being closed. In those days you didn’t need to rely on conjecture or supposition. Employers would tell you outright they didn’t hire black people. One school program told my father that although he met all the qualifications to get in they wouldn’t accept him since they already had a negro in the program. That was the Medical school at UCSF (University of California San Francisco). Things like that were nothing new in his life. Years before he was accepted into an undergraduate program at Iowa State University. Their literature stated that they provided housing for students in the program but once he arrived they told him they didn’t want a black person in the dorm with the other students. At that same school although they seated students alphabetically in one class, they sat him out of order because they didn’t want him sitting next to a white female student.
So what did he do when these things happened? When he heard an employer say they didn’t hire black people, he left and applied somewhere else. When They wouldn’t let him live in the dorm he found a place off campus to live (an elderly black couple let him stay with them in exchange for help around the house). When he was moved out of alphabetical order, he stayed right there in class in his out-of-order seat and learned the material. When UCSF wouldn’t take him he applied other places. He ended up having to leave my mother behind for 4 years since she had a good job in San Francisco while he attended medical school in Tennessee.
In the 49 years I was blessed to have him, he never once said anything derogatory about white people. He never dwelled with anger on the many challenges he had to overcome. He loved America and the opportunities it afforded him even though his goals weren’t easy to reach.
When confronted with each obstacle, he had a choice. Would he lie down and quit or keep his eyes on the prize and persevere? Nobody would blame him if became enraged by his circumstances and stopped trying to get better jobs or into good schools. He had a built-in excuse. The playing field wasn’t level and he wasn’t treated fairly (and could demonstrate it in example after example).
But that’s not what he did. At each quit-or-go-on juncture he chose to keep bitterness at bay and to continue moving forward. It took him until he was 40 to realize his goal of becoming a doctor. He ended up with a thriving practice, a job that allowed him some economic freedom and the satisfaction of delivering over 7000 babies.
You know what he taught me? That you’ll always have something you can use as an excuse in life. You can get your friends, family and often strangers to sympathize with your plight and to support your excuses. You can get a whole huge segment of society to feel sorry for you…to weep, wail and rail along with you. You can all shake your fists at the moon….but that only gives you company in your misery. It won’t help one bit in getting where you were trying to go.
My dad gave his shoes to my son…and those shoes will be hard to fill. Nothing could please me more as a daughter and a mom than to see my boys grow into men who understand that their legacy is one of strength, perseverance, dedication and success. They, of all people should eschew the Siren’s call…that silky trap of sympathy that makes one comfortable in defeat.
Life will place roadblocks in your path and some people may be unkind but if you set a goal, keep your emotions under control and put in the work you can overcome. My father was living proof.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you out there! Never forget, the lessons you pass on to your children are those you teach by example.