Op-Ed

Gratitude for a devoted father’s lifelong wisdom and example

You could say this list of lessons I offer this Father’s Day is 36 years in the making. Each one acquired in cumulative fashion, brick by brick.

My father was a teacher of life; his approach dealt in human behavior, love and acceptance. An educator by trade, his true passion was acquiring knowledge, devouring information, parables and experiences.

Persistence was a word I heard early and often. As a boy, I had a tendency to want to quit tasks. My excuses would start reeling and, without fail, my father would offer a gentle reminder to finish what I started. His soothing message did not sound like a fatherly demand, but rather a son’s obligation. Upon reflection, he instilled within me the importance of commitment and perseverance.

My father taught me about humility. He explained with words and demonstrated with actions that in order to be humble, one must make a conscious and deliberate choice. It did not take my father’s persuasion to see that we are all self-centered beings. Thanks to my father, I understood that enduring humiliation at the hands of others ultimately enhances a humble spirit. He also helped me to understand compassion and empathy, especially in regards to those less fortunate than myself.

Good can come from anything. This mantra was a jagged pill to swallow as a young son. I would plead to understand how anything positive could spring from disastrous circumstances. His timely response was always, “What did you learn from this?” What I learned was that every life experience offered something. Pain, heartache, frustration, envy, fear — in every debilitating sentiment there is something valuable worth mining.

Have a sense of exploration. Travel and ask questions. Inject yourself into new surroundings, get out of your comfort zone. My father was my very own Magellan, my flesh and blood Lewis and Clark. He ignited my interest in traveling the world over. He continues to fill my imagination with the seven continents he has visited and the countless people who have crossed his nomadic path.

My father taught me how to communicate. He taught me to ask questions and then truly listen. He warned of the dangers of just waiting for your turn to talk. He also instilled in me a spirit of actively participating while conversing, processing both the said and unsaid meanings.

Live within your means and appreciate the simple things. I was taught to stretch everything I had, make things last as long as possible. I observed this lesson by riding in a used car, living in a compact house definitely not meant for five people and eating home-cooked supper every night at the family table. I learned the difference between need and want early in life. My father taught me the simple beauty of a pot of beans, a worn-out push mower and a hand-written letter.

Above all other lessons and advice, my father unabashedly emphasized his love. Unlike the generation before his own, he vocalized his feelings to his family, strengthening and unifying everyone in the process. I never question my father’s love for me, which unto itself is a miraculous blessing.

He taught me to not bottle up my feelings and bury them for the sake of masculinity. Through his example, I learned how to treat my mother and my sister, and ultimately my wife. He taught me that discipline and love could reside in the same house. He also firmly planted the lesson of why action always trumps words.

As a boy, I did not understand everything my father was trying to convey during our daily conversations. I suspect based on the look my toddler son gives me, he is in the same position. What I now understand and appreciate is that he purposefully tried to prepare me for the difficult ride called life. He took every opportunity to share what he deemed significant.

For all of these lessons and thousands more, I will forever be his grateful son.

Jim Jackson of Frankfort is a freelance writer. Reach him at jackson.m.jim@gmail.com.

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