I wrote this for my Dad on Father’s Day six years ago:

Earlier today, a friend suggested I be sure to let my Dad know how much of an influence he’s had on me. My immediate reaction was one of, “Well, duh!” But then I realized this is not something I do nearly often enough.  My Dad’s not the sort of guy who’s particularly comfortable with the expression of emotions — especially not the mushy sort.  I, in turn, have gotten in the habit of not expressing them to him.  And it’s kind of a shame.  Because my Dad truly is one of the best men I know. 

He didn’t necessarily have what I’d refer to as an easy childhood, (though if I were to bring that up to him, he’d likely dismiss it.) Still, he did well in school, and followed up college with law school. This, in turn, was followed by a two year stint in the Army.  If memory serves correctly, he graduated from law school, married my Mom, and headed off to basic training, all within a two week period in July of 1956. He has steadfastly supported my Mom and our family ever since. 

The memories I have of my Dad from my childhood are of a man who made up silly rhymes and songs and sang them to me. Who made a point to lift me up off my feet whenever we stepped over a curb. Who happily put my stuffed skunk (“Skunkie” — go figure) on the steering wheel of his car and let him “drive”.  Who took me with him to put up campaign signs for various political candidates, and instilled in me early on a keen interest in all things political.

Later, as I became a snotty teenager, our relationship became a bit strained. I know I was no peach to live with, and Dad, I think, always felt at a bit of a loss as to how to interact with me once I was no longer a little girl who giggled at his silliness. Still, he endured my adolescence without throttling me, and even had me come work for him in his law office the summer I was 15.  (All my friends were already 16 and gainfully employed.)  You might think that stint is what inspired my later decision to become a lawyer myself, but mostly, I answered the phones and read romance novels that summer, so I can’t rightly say that it was.

There’s no denying, however, that his career choice influenced my own. I don’t know that I consciously thought of it that way when I chose to follow in his footsteps.  But I do know that within me has always been the desire to make him proud.  I know that I am certainly proud of him. He’s worked hard all his life. He’s been a good husband to my Mom. He’s been a die hard Tiger fan and alum. He’s always been active in politics and, though our philosophies no longer align, I greatly respect his dedication to his beliefs.  He’s not only attended the same church for almost 50 years, he’s given countless hours of his time to it, serving in multiple capacities.  He’s turning 78 in a month and still goes out for a 3 mile jog (or, as he calls it, “chog”) on a regular basis.

One thing that’s meant so much to me over the years is how very many times when I’ve encountered someone who knows my Dad, the first thing they’ve said is, “He is the nicest man.”  It’s true. My Dad is nice.  He is kind.  He is a gentle man and a gentleman. And though he may not verbalize it well or often, I have no doubt that he loves me.  He has always been there for me, whether it was helping me find a job, or picking up my daughter on short notice, or helping me wrestle a lawnmower.  I’m sure that there are times he doesn’t quite know what to make of me, but he never wavers in his support of me.  And I am so very lucky to have him as a father. 

Love you, Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

All of it still holds true, except that Dad is now closing in on 84. There have been some challenges health-wise in the intervening years – a couple spills, a pacemaker, the early stages of Alzheimer’s – and he doesn’t go out for his “chogs” anymore, but Dad’s still shuffling along and I’m happy to get to celebrate Father’s Day with him today.

There’s a song that always reminds me of him, even though the particulars of the story differ from ours:

I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And papa, I don’t think I said I love you near enough
For my Dad and me, it wasn’t music – though his mother was an accomplished pianist and his grandfather, a cellist, Dad’s musical showcasing generally consisted of singing while in the shower. Loudly. It wasn’t even the law, though we obviously have that in common.
Oddly enough, it was politics. My earlier piece alluded to it, but some of my earliest memories of my Dad involve campaigning and political events. Shoot, politics even figure into my birth: He had just returned home from the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 when he had to take my Mom to the hospital to have me. I recall being maybe 3 years old and attending a lunch with Senator Stuart Symington, only in my little-kid mind, I conflated “Symington” with “Washington,” and so, for a long time, was convinced I’d dined with the father of our country.  Dad’s law school roommate was Congressman Ike Skelton, who was kind enough when we visited DC in the summer of 1982 to take me down onto the Floor of the House with him and cast a vote for him.  I don’t recall a single election growing up when we didn’t have someone’s campaign signs in our yard. Point being, my Dad’s interest and participation the political world instilled in me a love and appreciation of it, as well. It’s the primary reason I majored in political science, and why I continue to follow politics so closely today, even when it’s beyond frustrating.
So why bring it up in this Father’s Day tribute? Well, first, as noted above, for my Dad and me, politics has been our “thing.” Second, and more importantly, my Dad is one of the primary reasons I’m able to write a piece like Otherization Nation and know, despite significant pushback from those who are jaded and/or pugnacious, that hating people for their politics isn’t the answer.
My Dad is a diehard Democrat; his best friend of 60 years (and my godfather)? A diehard Republican. And yet they (and their wives) go out to dinner most every Saturday night, were bridge partners (or opponents) for years, celebrated numerous holidays and family events together. They may not have always appreciated one another’s political views, but they didn’t let that overshadow their friendship. My maternal Grandmother was a Republican, too. That never interfered with my Dad being a supportive and loving son-in-law to her, nor did it diminish her fondness for him.
My political views are obviously quite different from my Dad’s (and most of my family’s.) And yet, my core values are his: Love of country, appreciation for the principles upon which it was founded, devotion to family, Protestant work ethic, compassion for those less fortunate, treating others with kindness and respect (I do try, but know I fall short at times), standing up for what you believe in. He and I are hardly unique. These are values held by millions, regardless of their political persuasion. Are they shared by everyone? Of course not. But we’ve seemingly forgotten how to look for those values we do share in those who play for the opposite “team.” My Dad is a constant reminder to me of the importance of doing so. Hopefully, he realizes he’s taught his daughter well.
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band