Today is Father’s Day, so the debate going on in my head as to blog post topic is, Should I write a sappy, “my father was the greatest Dad ever” ramble about my Pop or some larger cultural issue? Perhaps, this post will be a little of both.
I loved my parents a great deal, but I respected them as much as I loved them. My mother was a serious type person, but my Pop was the most happy-go-lucky, cheerful, practical joker to the max, kind and unpresuming man imaginable. My parents were both extremely hard workers, but they also were hard workers with taking care of my 3 sisters, two brothers and me.
My mother was reserved around other people and cautious around new people, while my Pop never met a stranger. My mother marveled at how Pop had this ability to strike up conversations with strangers and within minutes find common ground. And, before you knew it, he had acquired more friends. He was also dedicated to helping people whenever he could, but he did it in a quiet, nonchalant way, with no fanfare, often with no mention of it all. A few years back, I wrote:
“As a child, I marveled at how many people stopped by our home bearing everything from fresh garden produce to hams and bottles of whiskey at Christmas time as thank-you gifts to my Dad for “favors” he did for them (of course the whiskey sat gathering dust at our home, as my parents weren’t drinkers). My Dad made helping people part of his daily life, with no mention of it and certainly no desire for anything in return.”
“When my father passed away a couple attended the services and they expressed their great admiration for my father and told my siblings and my mother about how many times my father helped them with things around their house, This couple were newcomers to our community and I assumed my mother knew them, as I had years before moved away from home. Later as my family sat discussing the services, one of my sisters asked my mother about this couple. My mother said she had no idea who they were and she thought one of us might know who they were. My Dad’s brand of quietly doing “favors” for people could sure put us on the right path to rebuilding the American team and his “small town values” still serve as my personal model on how to treat other people. Often when I queried why he did so much for other people, his usual response was, “Well it didn’t cost me much except a little time and everyone has a little time to spare.””
My Pop was an illegitimate child born to a mother who wanted nothing to do with him. He was raised by his maternal grandparents. My husband’s father left when he was 5 years old and he never saw him again. His mother went through many failed relationships with men moving in and out of my husband and his five siblings’ lives. I wrote about this in a post about J.D. Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy, because the experiences and problems Vance faced in childhood reminded me of my husband’s family. My father may not have had a mother or father who wanted him, but he had grandparents who loved him and were good role models.
The interesting thing about my parents and so many parents in previous generations is they never read a single book on parenting, yet they were dedicated, constant in their devotion to their families and unswerving in their belief in their moral and religious principles.
“True heroes are there for the long haul, and you can see their weaknesses along with their strengths.”
p. 12, How To Be a Hero To your Kids, Josh McDowell & Dick Day, 1991
My husband and I had plenty of disagreements on parenting, because my husband’s frame of reference for discipline was the Army and I told him children aren’t soldiers. The barking out orders and yelling at them rather than talking to them was met with resistance and temper tantrums. It made their behavior much worse and escalated problems rather than solving any. Yelling does not solve anything. And that’s where the above quote comes in. When our kids were grade school age, my husband came home from work one day with the book, “How To Be A Hero To Your Kids” in hand. He told me the chaplain brought this book to him, after a talk they had about parenting. I was stunned that my definitely-not-religious husband turned to an Army chaplain in a casual conversation about his parenting difficulties.
I think almost every parent has yelled at their kids about something, especially dealing with teenagers. My father was not a yeller, but I recall the one time he yelled at me. I was in my early teens and started arguing with my father about going to catechism class, which was a weekly ordeal for two years, before confirmation in the UCC/Lutheran church. I didn’t want to go to catechism class and argued about it the entire two years. One evening, I was supposed to go next door to my great-aunt, who was going to drive me and her daughter (my second-cousin) to catechism class.
My mother was at work at the hospital, so I started this tirade about how I wasn’t going to catechism class and I stormed out the back door by our kitchen and I slammed that door as hard I could for good measure, to make my point. The glass in the door shattered. My Pop, who never raised his voice, came tearing out that door after me, as I scrambled across the ice-covered snow in the yard. He caught me by the arm, kicked me in the butt and yelled, “That’s enough out of you!”. He firmly told me I needed to march down to my great-aunt and go to catechism class. I was so stunned at his yelling and kicking me in the butt, that I went to catechism class without another word.
When I got home, my Pop was his usual calm self, but I knew he wasn’t going to let me get away without mentioning my bad behavior. He told me he couldn’t get glass to fix the window until the next day, but he had already covered the hole with cardboard. And he told me I needed to start thinking about other people in our family instead of just what I wanted. He made me feel selfish, because my actions were totally selfish. He apologized for kicking me in the butt, but truthfully, I think I deserved it. It wasn’t just my Pop who had to endure my temper tantrum, it was my entire family and while it may have felt great slamming the door in defiance, that door window was the top half of the door. The broken window let ice-cold air blow into the house.
I started thinking about self-control after that incident and I started working on my temper. I’ve never reached the same level of calm as my Pop, but I keep striving to treat other people like he did. We all make plenty of mistakes at parenting, but the one thing everyone can strive for is to tamp down on anger and work at not yelling.
People flying into rages about everything is an American pastime. It’s not just our politics where Americans have gone off the deep-end, it’s all around us in our culture and in way too many homes across America.
Although, How To Be A Hero To Your Kids , is a little dated and written from a Christian perspective, the lessons are universal. You don’t need a cape, superpowers, or celebrity status to be a good role model for your kids, but you need to get your priorities straight and be dedicated for the long haul.