I have been touted by teachers, praised by preachers, flattered by friends, and glorified by grandparents, all shining stars in my life, but the distant light of stars is made invisible by being a Father’s Son.
Dad, I have always known you were proud of me. You have always told me that you were but perhaps I haven’t told you often enough that I am proud to be your son. I could write volumes about what you have taught me but, upon finishing, I would find that a list means nothing. The infinite cannot be contained in a finite list. At the end of a dictionary you may find your vocabulary has increased greatly, but that is all. Stories are much more; at the end of a story you are left not only with the contents but ideas that continue to grow and form in your life.
As a child I was always among the least daring. I didn’t particularly like anything that seemed like it might hurt me, scare me, or, worst of all, I might fail.
When we first got motorcycles and four-wheelers I was always the slow one. Mom and I would trail behind at our own speed with Justin racing to keep up with Dad in front. The dirt bike scared the crap outa me, I really didn’t want to ride it that much. I stuck to the safe four-wheeler putted along. Justin loved the bike. He was fearless and fast and I was envious. It’s never fun to be the one that doesn’t quite measure up, especially to your twin brother and Dad, but sometimes it is quite a bit easier just to deal with that than to deal with the problem. The problem was I was scared. You knew that well Dad. So one time out in the Reno desert just me and you went out on the four-wheelers and you made it a challenge. There is no way I would have went as fast as I did that day normally, but I was mad. I was just as good as you and I was going to prove it. You knew I would. It would have just made me madder if you told me that whole thing was a lesson but I was too dumb to know the difference. You got away with preaching to me without ever saying a word. Fear was sapping all my joy and all it took to start having a little fun was a healthy dose of anger and adrenaline. That trick still works on me. I may not have inherited all your fearlessness like Justin but I got your sense of competition. So if you ever want to make me do anything else, I’m telling you now and only because it’s Father’s Day, all you have to do is tell me I can’t. That’s really more of an admission of defeat than a real hint; you obviously already knew that about me.
Seems I’ve forgotten the exact verse now but this one sounds right: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:34). It was always your motto not to worry about something you can do nothing about and I have tried to do the same. I have noticed one small problem about not worrying though; it infuriates others, especially people that worry a lot. When people ask me why or how I don’t worry I usually say “Just don’t.” That’s not entirely true. I just don’t, but only because I have had a lifetime of examples of how to do that. More correctly, I’ve had a lifetime of examples of what not to worry about. Your observation, and now mine, is that people probably waste more time and energy on worrying than almost anything else. Foundless fear and fruitless worry are really almost the same thing now that I think about it. You’ve given me a good example of not only why, but how to have neither. Worry about nothing; plan for what you can. Fear God, but never let fear control your life.
Alas, I promised stories, so I ought to deliver on that promise. Moving to Reno was a big decision and, although the memories are faint, even at that young age I remember it being a big deal to you. It felt like it was a thousand times bigger to me which was frustrating in the same way worriers find a calm person maddening. Everything feels bigger when you’re 10. Anyway, somehow you managed to convince me not only that you understood the gravity of my situation (and grasped it a thousand times better than I did) but also that moving was not something to fear; a new place was just a new adventure. It was not something to spend our time worrying about; the decision was made and we had only to make the best of it. To be sure, Justin and I were still more than a bit distraught about the whole thing, but in the end I think I learned a lot from the experience. We survived it. Moving away from family (though they soon followed) and friends seemed an insurmountable wall of isolation. I didn’t make a lot of friends, but I did make some. I didn’t stop worrying, but I found out how much good all my worrying did me (none at all, that is). I didn’t even forget my fears, but I began to overcome a few. My life has never changed radically, but each successive change has been greatly influenced by your example, Dad. I had a little less fear and worry because you betrayed neither. Every time I see you come up against a difficult problem I’ve been affected similarly. I see concern and thought, not fear and worry; hopefully someday I’ll be seen handling life’s difficulties with the same thoughtful concern.
Those concerns are many times about work. Dad, you work a lot. I think I got that from you. I don’t so much like to work in general as I hate being idle. I have to do something and if I’m doing something I really love I can do it all day. As far back as Mansfield, which is really all I can remember, when things got busy at work you would be there late at night and up early to do it again the next day. Nothing’s changed. You still do that when it seems necessary to you. You work hard. That has been a great example for me. I highly doubt I’m smarter than many people. An IQ test would probably show me slightly above normal. In fact, I remember being quite upset in elementary school because Justin scored high enough to get into the “gifted” program while I had not. I haven’t been smarter than most at school, just harder working. You were the one who showed me what it really meant to work. It starts with a decision; a commitment to do whatever it takes to reach your goal. I should talk a little bit about that here. As far as I know you’ve never explicitly said this to me, but I’ve learned from you that the worst choice is always to make none at all. You are decisive. No one makes all the right decisions in life but you have always been willing to make the decision. I can’t seem to think of any major examples, but there are infinitely many small ones. Maybe the best example (and the funniest) is your choice in restaurants. When traveling, you take all of our opinions on what to eat but once you’ve made up your mind on what you want, that is what we are going to do. I think I annoy people just as much when I ask their opinion on something, consider it and all its implications, and decide to do the opposite. Others’ opinions help me think of what I want more than they influence my actual choice. You probably do about the same thing with restaurants. It isn’t that you don’t think about what we suggested; it’s just that after considering those suggestions, you find another choice more appealing. I’ve been on this little tangent for a good amount of time now, so I suppose we will get back to the original point, work. Once you’ve decided, you do what you have always told me to do, set goals. Real goals. Tangible goals. I try to do that now and it really does help. When I took the SAT again my goal wasn’t to “do better;” it was to get a 1500. That’s what I did. You wanted US aviation to have a FBO, and it does. It took some long nights, coffee, conference calls, and a bit of aspirin, but you got there. Someday I hope to achieve something like that, like growing a company tenfold, and if I do I will have your example to thank for it.
Long work hours and trips to China make you seem like a bit of a workaholic, which you are, but I’ve learned much about family and God from you as well. I’m putting the two together here because they have always seemed inseparable in your life. God comes first and with that a responsibility to your family.
To say the least, I am not the most mystic of Christians. For that matter, most people would say I could do with a bit healthier dose of faith. I think you have been accused of the same; an inability to separate logical action from matters of God and Church. Do you know why I don’t particularly like teaching other Christians? It isn’t because I don’t think I have any interesting ideas, although ideas are the problem. I love questions, probably more than I like answers, even if they require you to think hard about the foundations of your faith. Hard questions aren’t necessarily fun, although I find them interesting. They require thought which is uncomfortable and maybe even change, which is more so. You have never encouraged ignorance. You have never discouraged questions. That is the value of logic. If I had to name one of the biggest problems with conservative churches today it is that they encourage ignorance. They win arguments by not understanding them, but you were never afraid to argue. The solution to scientific challenges was always for you to reconcile your faith with the science and to understand how the science disagreed. That makes you a rare person among the faithful and should never be counted as a fault. You have extraordinary faith in God which you show in your worry-less life. God’s plan rules your life and you don’t have to worry about what you can’t change. You show dedication to the Church; there are few more loyal in their tithe. We have always been rich and the choice has always been there to shirk off that duty. That tithe could pay for a lot of fun but you always had faith in God’s plan for that money and your finances. I see you read your Bible and pray every day. I’ve never been able to measure up to that. Your work isn’t done yet I suppose. It may never be since God seems to use you to shape my faith.
To move back to family, as I said, you always seemed to like a good discussion. That showed through in Justin and I’s high school life. We were the one to argue with the atheists and ask the hard questions. But more than that, the willingness to hear a question showed me your desire to impart wisdom on us. Even if you didn’t have a perfect answer, you wanted to hear the problem so you could work on it with us. You gave us everything; wisdom, love, encouragement, opportunity, and an example. In college English class we read a book called “Gilead.” One of the lines in the book went something to the effect of “Maybe the real family legacy is sons who disappoint their fathers.” I’ve never thought you were disappointed in me and avoiding that feeling may be one of the strongest drivers in my life. The main character in the book goes on to accept his son despite all that he has done. You have given me that too; I know there is nothing that would make you ashamed of me. When I say avoiding the feeling that I have disappointed you is one of the strongest drivers in my life I do not mean that I feel your disappointment, only that I feel a little less of your pride. That may not even be true; I may just not feel worthy of that pride.
You and Mom are a perfect example of love too. You are partners, equal in each other’s eyes. I shouldn’t say equal. Everything in each other’s’ eyes seems more appropriate. You forged a bond together that cannot be broken. A proper sword is not made from any one material; it is an alloy. It is a mixture of various components hardened together through fire and time to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Having told you of what you’ve done, I should now describe the sum of all those little changes: the present. That is to say me, in Tokyo, Japan eating sushi, traveling alone, and making friends. I no longer feel like the least daring. Quite the opposite; many times I feel like the most fearless of our group. A lot of the students here chose their major because either their family already has plenty of money and they can do whatever they want or because it is likely to lead to a stable job. Neither seems like very good reasons to me. One lacks that work ethic you taught me and the other lacks a challenge. The people in the first group are usually the ones planning to graduate with bachelors in 6 years or so in something with minimal application. That seems like a waste to me. Where is the drive, the need to succeed? I want to make you proud and I know spending 6 years to do something easily done in 4 is not the way to get there. And I want to take risks. Life is no fun if you live in fear of instability. Like me on that motorcycle, with fear in control all I could do is put along in misery and bitterness. I want to be the one in front, even if it means wrecking every now and then.
I did get a little bit of the wanderer in you too. I still have a personality test you took when you were a kid and you scored top of the charts in the “wanderer” or “traveler” or whatever category was called. I love to travel and there is no way I could travel like I do without the confidence you’ve instilled in me and the worry you haven’t.
Turns out I love business too. There is very little else that satisfies my mind like a good discussion of economics and business.
My present has a lot more questions than answers, but like I said, I like that. There is quite the thrill in answering them. Those questions don’t mean I’m lost, they mean I’m going somewhere and it is all because of you.
You have acclaimed my arithmetic, commended me on my computer skills, and now esteem my economics, but without the sun the way is dark and life is scarce. All the stars in this universe don’t compare to the Sun; they leave us lost and fumbling in the dark. Dad, your pride in your sons brings life to their work and light to their way.
Lastly, and most simply, I’d like to say “Thank you Dad, for everything. I love you.”