How do I put this? I am not “daddy dearest.” No, I’m not the “father that knows best.” Nor am I the pastel-wearing, smooth-handed, soft-voiced or ever-smiling father. It’s not who I am or where I come from.
Growing up, I was taught the “truth” of life. You must compete to win. Sometimes you must fight. And sometimes you must bite your tongue when the fire within you might burn your opportunity. I didn’t grow up in a nice little neighborhood.
In fact, I didn’t grow up in less than seven neighborhoods.
My mother worked hard to get through community college to become a nurse. She worked her ass off, in fact, to be the top of her class. My father came home every day covered in dirt and oil…when he was working. My brother and I would pass our days playing tag, riding our bikes or – on rainy days – repeatedly wearing down the 40 something VHS tapes we had.
When I was about ten, my father looked at me and said, “We’re not paying for your college.” My mother only faintly protested, saying, “We can at least help out.”
“No” my father replied, “Nothing! But I will show you how to earn it.”
And so I was taught. Taught at an early age to make tough choices. I lived the real life version ofVarsity Blues, without much of the drama (a lack of girlfriends will do that). My father did well and proved he was right. He saw the world and knew what lessons to pass on to his son to make him successful. Many of those lessons – most, really – were from his own mistakes. It took him decades to learn to hold back the fire inside.
Thanks to my mother, I was born with a valve.
Oil doesn’t wash easily from the creases of ones knuckles. It’s an image ingrained deep in my mind. The thick black liquid outlined the canyons and valleys in my father’s granite hands. It stained for days.
My father taught me that the strain is validated by the reward.
Please don’t mistake my approach as one of a stoic Spartan father waiting for his five year old to survive the wild with little more than a pat on the head. Nor will I only celebrate them through victory alone. But I will teach them to enjoy their successes, as it means they have actually overcome something. Without eliminating the chance of loss, I have the ability to teach them from it. Pain is a barrier…sometimes to show us where to stop, and sometimes to show us where we need to push.
So, to my fellow fathers not clad in pastel colored polo shirts…stay strong for your children. Teach them it is ok to lose, so long as they take something away from it. Teach them to push and strain, against previous failure, as someday, that will be the practice they need to deal with this thing we call ‘real life.’