I have fond memories of my Dad. He was a peaceful man who spent his life showing me that he loved me — unconditionally. I think of my Dad when I hear Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band verse “His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.”
There are so many examples. My father had a way about teaching me. He was not heavy-handed, but I knew what was important to him. To try to explain the depth of his spiritual power over me would be, I guess, a little trying to explain how David Copperfield actually pulls off his magic. In the end does it matter? What does matter are the memories he help craft and how his influence has affected my life.
My Dad liked to garden. The fall spawned the harvest, the smells that developed my love for all vegetables — even as an adolescent. Our garden happened to be located right next to the main road in our backyard. I was very athletic as a child. I was a pitcher and a quarterback for the football team. I liked to throw things. Anything. Baseballs. Wiffle Balls. Tomatoes. One day in late fall a good friend of mine and I just couldn’t resist the ripe tomatoes. We gathered up the biggest ones we could find and pitched the overripe tomatoes at the cars passing by. This particularly sunny late afternoon Mr. Bishop was driving by with his top down. I hit him square. My friend and I ran around to the front of the house only to find Mr. Bishop and my Dad, talking.
I don’t need to go into the details, but my Dad responded to situation with both understanding and disappointment. What is important is that I too responded to the tomato-throwing incident with understanding and disappointment. I was sorry that I disappointed my Dad. I was sorry that my tomato hit Mr. Bishop square and I never did it again. My dad did not use guilt or embarrassment — he acknowledged the wrong didn’t embarrass me stood up for me with Mr. Bishop and we all went away with a lesson learned. The point is I was as sorry and my Dad never brought it up again. I learned a deeper lesson that lasted a lifetime.
As a parent and adult I am amazed at the absolute power that adults have on us as newly occupants of the second decade. It is true that we question just about everything. We are so unsure of ourselves, at least on the inside, on the outside we can be downright cruel. And, on the outside, parents and teachers aren’t cool — they are fodder for jokes and “you are not going to believe what my mother said conversation.” But we also love our parents. We watch them. We revere them and we know, at least understand that they brought us into the world. The lessons we learn, both good and bad, last a lifetime.
Mostly, I remember that my dad believed in me. This sounds simple, but when you are sixteen and desperately wanting to be a part of your peer group you need someone in power to believe in your dreams. In the summer of my sophomore year my parents were going through a rough divorce. My parents didn’t have any money and there was a lot of fighting. That spring I had joined a local band. I asked my parents for an organ to play in the band. My mother said no and really did not give it much thought. At the time I didn’t realize how little money we had as a family. But my Dad knew what music, the band and the organ meant for me. Looking back now I am astonished to think that my dad with all his troubles spent time with me, listening to my heart and understanding what the organ meant to me. He went with me to the bank and signed for a loan — $600 dollars at the time was a lot. I made a commitment that I would pay the $60 monthly fee and I keep my promise. Besides the organ, which was important at the time, what I took away from the situation was my Dad’s belief in me and my dreams. The power that my dad used — understanding strengthened my commitment to keep my deal. Powerful.