(As appearing on The Today Show Parenting site)
My father was not your Ozzie and Harriet type of dad. Never coached a little league game. Never taught me to ride a bicycle. Didn’t take me on college tours or help with algebra homework. Didn’t wear cardigans, smoke a pipe or drink martinis. No camping, no house repairs, no trips abroad or broad observations on life.
But even though he was no troop leader or corporate bigwig, he gave me the world even when he sometimes had nothing to give. Showering me with unconditional love and never leaving me emotionally out in the cold. Never asking, demanding or requiring a single apology or explanation even when he deserved them time and again. Always rising to the occasion and demonstrating pride in my achievements.
He taught me to be kind to everyone and generous to all. Never to tip less than 20%. To always keep your car trunk clean and your fuel tank full. To never become self-involved or self-loathing. To always find humor in everything especially the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks. Never to fret over what might have been but to focus on what possibly still may be.
Even as he battles cancer at 81 years old, he still starts our daily conversations off by asking me how I feel, and what he can do for me. My concerns are his concerns, and my happiness is his happiness. 3,000 miles apart and through his voice, I can feel the gentle way he used to run his strong hands over my fresh summer crew-cut.
And it’s for these reasons and a thousand more than I wanted to be a dad. To embrace everything he was to me and deliver all that – and more – to my children morning, noon and night. To be prepared for the seismic and microscopic changes fatherhood would, and continue to bring.
You see… even though he wasn’t the traditional dad with a leather tool belt and a bag full of answers, he equipped me with all those human tools essential for being a good dad. To listen to, and learn from, your children even when you’re feeling down, or out of ideas. To let them go left and right, and be right by their side always. To tell the truth even when the truth hurts, and then to take away the hurt before it scars.
And, most importantly, to take delight in seeing your son evolve as the type of dad beyond your own comprehension.
You see, unlike him, I have coached. I have led the college tour circuit from state to state. I am a whiz at homework help and can even pull off the occasional cardigan. I riotously cheer from the stands and from the sidelines. I can paint a room, wield a hammer and even help sell Girl Scout cookies. And I can jump rope and hopscotch with the best of them.
You see, that seismic change from “me” to “them” (and really “us”) was there from my start. My father had instilled that sense of something bigger than myself within me. He had no father in his life… I had a dad bigger than life. And that prepared me for that ground-shaking shift to fatherhood.
Life changes in profound ways when you have kids. Parenthood makes everything feel bigger and smaller, louder and softer, happier and scarier all the time. It’s a topsy and turvy existence as if you fell through a rabbit hole and ended up in place where you’re always chasing time. Chasing time so you can slow it to a crawl and make every second and minute count.
But from the time I was small, I knew fatherhood was my calling. And that’s because of my dad. I saw it in his eyes every time he looked at me. That sense of purpose and the unbridled wonder of it all.
And if I’ve given to my daughters even a small amount of what my father has given to me, one day, I know they’ll understand what every parent sees each and every time they look into their child’s eyes. The stars, the moon and the infinite possibilities of a trillion lifetimes.