We just got back from celebrating my dad’s birthday over spring break with my parents and my grandma in California. They always feed and entertain us like royalty. And for some unknowable reason, they love me for who I am.
Which is pretty surprising considering who I am.
Few people can claim parents like mine, the kind who accept them for their true selves, imperfect in so many ways. Yet I’ve been taught this truth about life that makes it so rewarding, that being imperfect is a gift because it means you get to be human and learn and grow and fail and keep being brave and diligent and persistent. If only we all had parents who know that life is about being open to learning, not being complete and done. Somewhere along the way they learned that and now I get to live it too: the secret is just being engaged in the process.
As a parent myself now, I think of the gift to my girls’ self-esteem to see me accepting who they are and allowing them to fail and encouraging them to push on. I consider how open and honest I’m being about everything I’ve learned and haven’t learned yet. I want to be fallible and trusting in a higher authority because I think that’s the definition of a hero.
At least, that’s what my dad taught me.
In so many ways, he made things a learning opportunity. He helped me and my brother make things using his tools, tools every boy should know how to use. And when my brother and I were fighting, he secretly got us to make each other trophies as presents one Christmas. As a ski-instructor, he made sure we knew how to carve up a mountain like champions. And he made us breakfast every Saturday and took us to the hobby store and the bike park and then helped build the models we picked out and design the bike jumps on the front sidewalk. He took us fishing and when I showed no interest, he bribed me with candy bars. He taught me how to carry a gun, to read the Bible and study it, and how to pray for others even when you could use a little help yourself.
One of my favorite memories was driving in his VW Bug. I’d push the battery tester light on the dash (which only VW Bugs have) and in his car it was the “turbo button.” Off we’d go lurching down the road to my huge delight. When we went swimming, he was the dad to let us climb on his shoulders to launch us off.
But maybe the most telling picture I could give of my dad is that he loved to wrestle even though he never won, and it always seemed we’d only just barely overpowered him.
He was a pastor all my growing up years and my mom stayed home and we never went hungry. He performed our ceremony and the ceremonies of both my brothers when they’d found the love of their lives.
He taught me to believe in myself and to be myself even when I didn’t much want to. He’s always accepted just who I am and was always proud of me and prayerful for who I was becoming. It’s almost too much to go on, but you can’t leave off that he’s giving to a fault and supportive of all my ideas, and I know I’ve found my place in this world because he believed in me.
The books will get written and finished. It’s only a matter of time. I want to be there for my family and let reality dictate the time I have. I can’t always make time in the midst of life, and that’s okay. Daylight is limited and sometimes there’s no time to do what we’d like.
Discipline can absolutely help, I know, and I can always write at least a bit. But I won’t sacrifice what time I have to be fully available to my family. And if I can still make progress on all my work and believe there’s a book waiting me at the end of it, I’m okay with that because it will have been time well-spent.
I don’t have to write every day to collect the right words and pictures and experiences for the future. Because my dad taught me that even when you’re not doing what you’d choose, if you’re getting to spend time with the ones you love, then you’re writing the most important story you could ever capture.