Sunday, June 11, 2017

Father's Day: The Impact of a Dad

My amazing dad, the title he loved best. To his daughters, he told them they were beautiful and deserved a partner worthy of them. When he and Mom had very little when I was born, he saved his money for my sister and I to have an Easter dress, hat, and gloves. He taught us to strive for an education, but to be able to converse with the poor, illiterate, and humble. The poor people of this world intrigued him more than the rich and famous.
        A father should be his son's first hero, and his daughter's                                                   first love.

This year will be my first Father's Day without my dear father. As it is with everything, you cannot know the rupture of that moment until it happens to you. My father, as great as he was in many areas of his life, always strived to be a wonderful husband and father. It was his lifelong aspiration. The last two weeks I have reflected on the gift a father gives a child by being their counselor, confidante, coach, teacher, cheerleader, protector, guide, mentor, and a hundred other things. I know many people have already traveled on this journey of losing their father, but this is new terrain for me. My sister said on the day he died two weeks ago, "A giant tree has fallen in the forest today." If that metaphor is true, I would say he was an olive tree. In the Mediterranean countries, the olive tree is known as an "eternal tree"--constantly regenerating itself to give shelter, shade, protection, and sustenance to those around it. The roots of an olive tree never really die.

A reunion four years ago... Not everyone was here, but I would say we were quite well represented. Nine kids, 54 grandkids. And everyone felt like they were the favorite.
Everyone said my father was larger than life, tremendously dynamic. He attacked anything with wholehearted fearlessness and grit. Much of his early character was built during the years of the Depression. He knew how to scrap for jobs as a young child, and constantly worried about losing the house they were living in at the time. As a young boy, he would listen to his parents talk through the paper-thin walls about impending bills. Dad later wrote, "My father was deeply scarred by the Depression. As children, there was no interaction with him of any kind. He was never physically abusive, but the only time I talked to him was when I was told to work or complete a task of some kind. Parenting was far more formal and distant in those days than it is today. There was absolutely no chatting or informal banter of any type. He said very little to us as children. I made major life changing decisions about work, leaving home, going to strange and dangerous places, buying a car, and literally everything else without any help or comment from him. It was just the way he was and I accepted it, and went ahead and did whatever I thought was best."

With this sense of intense determination after many severe illnesses, Dad built a business with his brother. He was a good and respected businessman. But he really had the heart of a social worker. Since he had earned his way from childhood, he understand the plight of those who were trying to economically scrape by. He knew people from all walks of life, and even made friends with an inmate that was chained to his hospital bed while he shared a room with him briefly when they both recuperated in a hospital room. When my sister came to visit him, she was horrified. Our dad was sharing a room with a prisoner! There was a deputy sheriff guarding the room. In his typical way, Dad just whispered, "No, don't make me go to another room. I think maybe I can give him a little help, hon."

Dad was 100% Icelandic, and couldn't have too many conversations without talking about the land of the Northern Latitude. This picture was at a family reunion when he dressed up like an Icelandic fisherman to tell the stories of his ancestors.

The next day after Dad had given the patient/inmate a little talk about "making better decisions," my sister said they were jovially laughing and talking together. Dad had a boundless heart. Strangers, even if they didn't speak the same language, were his friends. He could speak about Shakespeare or economic theory with one person, and a few minutes later enjoy a conversation with a truck driver about his family. Besides his books, people were his hobby.

Dad absolutely loved ALL people. My mom and I were looking at some shops, and found my father with some new friends at a market in Qatar. Did he speak Arabic? No, but it didn't matter. They could feel his love and admiration for them. On the last few days in Qatar, several men asked him to go to the mosque with them. He came home, with a profound respect for his new friends.

When he was in Qatar, he went to the barber from Bangladesh. Could they communicate? No. But that made the encounter that more engaging to him.

My father was an endlessly fascinating man--someone who was constantly changing, improving, trying. His tenacious efforts to be better, apologize, create better habits for himself, and a safe, loving family culture is the stuff of a compelling movie or novel. Somehow, as a young person, he decided he wanted to change the line in the family that he was tethered to. He raised nine children, and had 54 grandchildren. His insistence to whitewash the past and create a loving family, moves me. Carlfred Broderick, the late renown child psychologist describes my own father when he described the "transitional figure." You don't have to be your father:

"A person, who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The changes might be for good or ill, but the most noteworthy examples are those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and how somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and reuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. They refuse the observation that abused children become abusive parents, that the children of alcoholics become alcoholic adults. . . .  Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their own lineage so that the generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives."

Since Dad had a physically and emotionally absent father, he sought to change the tone of his own family. He was known for quickly saying he was sorry if he became frustrated. Anyone who knew him understood he was intense. Yet, I have to say, he learned to channel all that fervor and spirit. I remember once as a young 15-year-old, he came into my room, and apologized for getting mad that I had left a juice that spilled in his new car. He sat down on my bed, and tearfully told me he was sorry for "'flying off the handle.'" "Please forgive me. I am trying. You are the oldest, and I guess you are the guinea pig. I am trying to be a good father."

My mom and dad last year at one of his grandchildren's weddings.

He would then tell you how great you were. It was personal and specific in the way he built people up. He was an elevator of people--a lifter. His praise was real, authentic, and obviously reflected upon. One of his quotes was, "Master the Compliment." Of course, Dad's tender emotion and constant efforts to be a better father endeared us to him even more. He would then take his fathering skills to those around him. Countless people thought of him as their surrogate father or grandfather. I hugged more than a few sobbing children at his recent funeral when they told me he was their grandfather. Many grown men and women tearfully told me he was like their father.

Dad loved the ocean and was fascinated by ships and boats. His favorite movie was Master and Commander.

Mom and Dad celebrating their 58th anniversary on a dhow boat in Doha, Qatar. A few minutes after this picture was taken, his dream came true: he got to drive the boat.

We put him on a pedestal and loved him--not because he was perfect. But because in front of our eyes, we could see a new, better father constantly emerge before our eyes. He would tell us the talents that he perceived in us, and we would try to build upon what he saw. He was also known for giving second, third, fourth chances, and then another one with his employees and anyone else he worked with. We knew he had high expectations for himself, and he also had them for us. He had an unwearying belief that people could change, be better than they could even imagine themselves. Dad saw things in people what they could become. He not only saw it. He told them so.

Dad was a wordsmith, poet, teacher, a keeper of stories. He could intertwine truths seamlessly with ease and humor. Thousands of people loved his talks he so tediously worked over.  He loved to sit down and converse about a great book, poem, or scripture. A few of his own quotes are:

Do the Difficult

Master the Compliment 

Be a builder

Live with Awareness

Err on the side of mercy

Life can be hard. You never know what people are going through so be kind and love them.

All or nothing

He would say these two things with a twinkle in his eye, but you knew he meant it too:
"Don't be a Hollywood baby"--showing his aversion to people who want to complain and pout about the unfairness of life.

"Don't be hotsy totsy"--meaning to stay humble whatever you achieve in this life.

Since he was born with some health ailments, he always tried to be healthy. Decades ago he was teaching us how to exercise and eat healthy. He was way ahead of his time. He would say, "Eat rough. Be tough. Dine on fibrous stuff." He hailed the benefits of "the mighty bean" and lentils. He thought, "Who would want to eat a chocolate chip when you can have a date or raisin?"

Dad left a legacy that I will keep on trying to live up to until my last breath. As I look over the treasure trove of memories with my dad, I am grateful to be his daughter. I know the impact of a father reaches no bounds. A father who keeps loving, trying, giving is extraordinary. His gifts are received by future generations. No matter how old you get, a woman is always Daddy's little girl. We knew he held our hearts. Thanks for unfailingly lighting the way, Dad. We will keep walking in your shoes until we meet again. Obituary