As a man in this modern world of ours, we all tend to define ourselves by our profession: Hey Tom, this is my friend Bill the (welder, doctor, mechanic, lawyer etc.). Yup, good old career, that is what defines us. Well not really. Over the years we have all heard the studies that men that are married with kids earn more, work more hours etc. It isn’t out of love for the job. Believe me, I spent a large part of my adult life hating the job and watching the clock. But still, whenever it was available, I was the first to jump on the over time. Three kids, mortgage, two cars, sports, gymnastics, dance lessons the list goes on, never enough time, never enough money.
How do I define myself? Regardless of how I answer when asked, in my heart it goes in this order: Husband/Father, Friend and Neighbor and oh yeah, the career stuff. In reality the number one job is Dad (for my wife it’s Mom).Full time job no doubt. We are driver, maid, mechanic, educator, coach, cheer leader, guidance counselor, purveyor of truth wisdom and morals and at the worst of times that tender shoulder to cry on. It is from us Moms and Dads that our children learn to be who they are, who they can best be. For a moment let’s examine the logical reasons for being a parent: Hard work, huge responsibility, even larger expense, blood, sweat, tears, anger, exasperation, heartache and no pay. Doesn’t sound like such a good proposition does it? Ah, but you have to look at the payback: Joy, pride, wonder and that incredible feeling when you have done something that really matters to your child. The very greatest reward is of course what they achieve. You can’t put a price on it other than to say what would my life be without the children?
On to the whole World’s Greatest Dad / number one Dad thing. You probably think I am being some kind of arrogant guy. Wrong, way wrong. The title World’s Greatest Dad is what none of us deserve, what none of us could hope to achieve and yet when we have been there to fill the need and we receive that look of relief, joy or thanks for something we have done, we feel like nothing else in this world can make us feel. Every Birthday and Father’s Day we are showered with gifts that invariably include something that says: World’s Greatest Dad, Number One Dad, Best Dad or some other equally unearned accolade. It always comes with laughs, smiles and warmth that only our children can give us. It is only through my children that I can honestly measure my own worth and success.
My dad always told my siblings and me that we were special, that we were above average. He made us believe it. He made us appreciate everything we had, every day of health, food on the table and a roof over our heads. My Father in law had a saying he told everyone. LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT. Simple honest words that mean so much: You get what you work for, you can find joy in the darkest moment if you look for it, if you make it so. Pretty tough shoes to fill, these two guys. I don’t know that I will, but I will do my best to try.
I had the honor of attending the 50th wedding anniversary of my in-laws Art and Edy. It was a wonderful event with more than a hundred guests from all over the country. At one point, Art and Edy were put on the spot. They were brought up on stage and interviewed on a range of topics. “Who were your favorite neighbors?” was the question. “Oh they were all wonderful” said Edy. Art grabbed the microphone from her hand and bellowed “DICK and CONNIE LARSON!” Art was not a man to mince words. Anika’s mom and I had been married for little more than a year then and she was pregnant with our second child. I had not met the Larsons until that evening and had precious little time to get to know them. I did get that chance over the years and found them to be warm and friendly folks. Many years later when Dick passed away we attended his funeral. One of his son’s had found a small printed piece of paper in his pocket. It was yellow, wrinkled and worn with age having apparently spent many years in his pocket. It said simply this:
“The true measure of a man is not how much money he has or success in business, but rather what his children say about him when he is not there.”
A chill ran through me the first time I heard those words. Wow. So that’s how it is. I have gone back to those words hundreds of times since. I don’t need the paper, just the memory. A tough job this dad thing. Greatest? Best? Number One? Not likely, but I can and will surely try.