As a new husband, my thoughts on fatherhood take on a whole new layer: One day my wife and I will become parents, and the possibility terrifies me. I’m not sure how to deal with that kind of responsibility, so I turn to the best example of fatherhood available to me: my dad.
My dad got me my first job. A friend of his was giving up the lawn care business and needed someone to take over some of his residential jobs. I was 10. Dad took me to Mrs. Hielmann’s and assured her that I would be able to mow her lawn that summer. The first time we mowed her lawn, the grass was so high it stalled the lawn mower if you walked too fast. The only way you could mow was to push down on the mower handle to tip the deck up, push the mower forward one length, and then lower the deck down into the grass.
I made close to $500 that first summer, a sum I have more pride in than any other I’ve earned since. My dad bailed me out more than once, usually if I got started late or if we had to get done fast and go somewhere. I would call Dad, and he would zip through the lawn while I trimmed the grass. Dad never accepted my offers to pay him for his help. I never really understood why back then, but today when I think of that 10-year-old kid sticking out a $5 in front of his dad saying, “Here, we earned it together,” and Dad saying, “No, that’s your money,” I want to cry.
My earliest vivid memory of my father was our wrestling matches. Dad would transform into the roaring Tickle Monster, and my sisters and I would try to pin him down while avoiding the Tickle Grip. We performed acrobatics for Mom: I still have a picture of Dad on all fours in his white T-shirt, my sisters and I draped around his neck and perched on top of his back, arms akimbo.
Dad bought me a Daisy BB gun on my seventh Christmas, and we set up a shooting range down in the basement. We had a beautiful array of pop cans to use as targets. We hung an old sleeping bag against the cellar wall behind the cans in order to recycle the BBs, and I believed I was a great shot because Dad always bragged to Mom about me.
I inherited my love of coffee from Dad. His idea of fellowship is “throwing on a pot” and talking about the Lord. Back in the days when Dad traveled a lot for work, he would occasionally take me with him on a road trip. In the car I acted as Chief Coffee Server: “How about another shot,” he would say, and I would hoist the massive coffee thermos up on my lap and give him another shot.
Dad actively raised me. He helped me grow up. It was in the little ways, earlier on, like finding summer jobs for me, and then by introducing me to the world of grownups. Dad is an enthusiastic John Wayne fan, and I remember the day he allowed me to sneak downstairs after my siblings fell asleep and watch They Were Expendable with him. I was 11 on one of our road trips when Dad brought up the topic of girls. I had spent a lot of time obsessing over a certain one at church, but I was surprised to be talking with him about these creatures. Dad was both accepting and inspiring in the way he counseled me. He listened to my struggles through my teen years without judgment.
When I was 14, we went out one Saturday to pick up some lumber for a job, and I surreptitiously brought a coffee cup into the truck. When Dad poured himself a cup, I held mine out to him: “How about a shot?” He gave me a shot without hesitation, and it was awful. I worked through that, though, and now I love to bring home exotic new flavors for him to try.
As I reached the end of my teen years and tended toward what must have been terrifying independence, Dad raised me. He taught me to pray through a decision, to weigh the factors, to step out decisively.
My dad is a teacher. He taught me how to change the oil, do my taxes and make a good campfire, and he let me drive the farm truck at an illegal but very appreciative age. He taught me to love my mother and protect my sisters, how to tell jokes and converse with people. He taught me how to play the guitar and would thrill me with Stairway to Heaven and other hits until Mom objected, “Glen …”
Dad teaches by example, and as I grew up, he consistently woke up early, threw on a pot of coffee and spent time with God. He strengthened my love for God’s Word without saying anything. His values are now my values: God, family, work, community.
Dad believed in me. I don’t know how many times he told me, “You have what it takes to be anything you want. I can see you as the President of the United States.” Any of you fathers out there—if you want to be a hero, a demi-god for your child, inspire them in that way. Even when I managed to flip his van into a 10-foot ice-covered ditch, I always knew that I was Dad’s first concern.
As a boy, I used to look at my father’s shoes and revel in how big they were. Just recently I walked by a pair of my own shoes and realized with a shock that they are the same size as Dad’s … but somehow they still seemed smaller than his. Even if we have the same size feet, his shoes will always be larger than mine. I’m becoming more and more like my father: my bad eyesight, crying during silly movies like It’s A Wonderful Life, worrying over money to the point of obsession. But because he is my father and because he loves me, it’s okay. I accept the fact that my wife might try to quiet me when I goof on the guitar and that my sons will laugh at me when I watch Old Yeller die.
Mom has always given me the unconditional love of a selfless mother, but it is my dad’s respect that I crave. When I left for my first job away from home, we embraced, and I choked out on his shoulder that the only thing I wanted to do was to make him proud. “You do, Mike,” he said. I got married four months ago, and when my best man gathered all of the guys around me before the ceremony, Dad prayed that I would have wisdom and love as a husband, and we both wept.
Someday I hope to have the presence my dad has—he is a great listener and a confidant for countless men. He was elected supervisor of the town he lives in, and his shoes just keep getting bigger.
He probably didn’t realize it, but Dad shaped my concept of God. And it is because of him that I have the courage to be a father myself.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
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