As children, the sacrifices that our parents make for us are not easy to recognize. Because we believe that our mom and our dad are among the few precious things in life that cannot be sad, scared or hurt.
I have countless thoughts and memories of my parents. I remembered storytelling being at the center of family gatherings. Hearing my parents tell stories has always been important to me. All too often, the details of my dad’s accounts were less memorable than the fact that Mom would love to interject and bluntly tell him, “Paul, you’ve gotten it all wrong!”
Like many dads, my father dealt with stressful jobs, long hours and doing without so that his children could pursue their dreams more easily than he could. Through his words and through his actions, he taught us lessons, and he showed us what it truly means to be a man, But more importantly, a father.
He taught us to protect and defend our family and loved ones. Little did my dad realize that, 45 years ago, this lesson would manifest itself in his then 10 year-old son’s attempt to come to his defense. At the time, my dad was a warehouse foreman, working the night shift. And because our family had one car, my mom regularly picked my dad up after work. On this occasion, I was invited to join my mom and I enthusiastically accepted.
It was dark at our arrival. When my dad did not appear where we expected him, when we expected him, I got anxious. Fifteen minutes more passed and to me that seemed like an eternity. Then I became worried. I thought something was wrong. Where’s my dad? Something must have happened?
As I sat in the car, I noticed a large man who suddenly appeared from the shadows of the warehouse, suspiciously walking through the gate and then away. It wasn’t my dad and he was in a hurry. Something is wrong! My instincts told me I must act and I must do it now! I quickly left the car and ran toward the man to confront him. When I reached him, I was standing just below his belt buckle. Like a junk yard dog, I barked, “What have you done to my dad? Where is he? Why isn’t he here?”
Today, I look back and can only imagine what this man could have been wondering. Amazed, confused and in disbelief, he must have thought, “Who is this kid? I just want to go home after a long day at work.” But, this kid wanted answers! I wanted my dad! And I would do anything to make that happen, including confronting a man more than twice my size and age! Soon my dad appeared to witness the melee. After a brief discussion with his co-worker, they shook hands and he put his arm around my shoulder and proudly walked me back to the car. I was emotional and embarrassed. But, for me, everything was now alright. Because I had my dad, safe and sound!
Dad proudly watched his sons grow. And, he had a tremendous talent to make us all feel that we were special and unique. As a teen, I remember the weekly ritual of high school Saturday mornings in the fall. My brothers watching in envy while Dad proudly prepared the first of many pregame meals in my life. And this was only for me. We couldn’t afford steak and eggs for six boys. The fact of the matter was we couldn’t afford steak and eggs for one! But my dad made sure that was exactly what I had. Because it was my game day. Because my dad wanted to make this experience important and special for me and it was! Each of my siblings experienced the same kind of treatment when it was their time.
Dad showed us the meaning of putting others first. As his children grew, he thought about the enormous obligation, task and financial difficulty of putting them through college on a very modest income. As a result, he chose to take a job at Boston University. The university afforded all of its employees the family benefit of a tuition-free college education.
Our parents stand us under a doorway at a young age and use a ruler and pencil to record our height as we became older and taller. In so many ways, this teaches us to build a legacy, to leave our mark for our family, our community, and all who follow us. As we grow, the extraordinary people that are our parents teach us to make our own marks for the next generation, — not just in worldly possessions, but in the quality of our lives, our values, and the memories that our children and grandchildren can share, enjoy and recall.
We are all born an original. But, we are more alike than different. Our educations, careers, successes, failures, abilities, talents, emotions, and spirits vary. Yet, it’s up to each of us to use what we have to make a difference, large or small, with our family and friends and within our community.
Our days are numbered but even in small amounts of time and in humble ways, we should strive to make our mark on the people we know and love. Through his words and through his actions, that is exactly what my dad did. I’m sure not everyone would answer exactly the same way, but this poem by an unknown author seems to sum it up very well.
What Makes a Dad?
God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle’s flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it—Dad.
David Lindstrom spent nine years as a defensive end with the Kansas City Chiefs, chaired the Kansas Special Olympics board, succeeded in a host of private sector business ventures, ran for lieutenant governor, served as a Johnson County Commissioner and today chairs the Kansas Leadership Center Board of Directors. On this Father’s Day weekend, he’s remembering his role as ‘son.’