When I was growing up, I didn’t have a strong, central father figure to show me how to be a good man. I believe the lessons one can learn from such a person aren’t necessarily applicable to just men (i.e. working on cars, talking to girls, what have you). All can benefit from the wisdom (and folly) of our elders.
I have a sort of collection of father-types from my formative years. In no particular order:
Bob, or “Mr. Dude”
Bob was a Sunday School teacher and Awana leader at the church where I grew up. He has this gravelly voice and a dry sense of humor. He invented this special handshake with us boys in his class. And, where the other men insisted on us calling them “Mr. so-and-so,” Bob was simply, “Mr. Dude.” Though we were 4th- and 5th-graders, he wouldn’t call us boys, or even young men (which seemed so patronizing to me at the time).
We were men.
Bob was very straightforward in matters of spirituality. Sure, he read from the lesson plans, but he was one of the few teachers who seemed to have a personal knowledge of Christ. I could tell this by how he demonstrated (without words) the two main teachings of Christ: Love god and love others.
Once, I jokingly called him “the father I never had.” I didn’t realize the gravity of my words, but I did mean them. With that one innocent, ignorant statement, I hurt my step-father deeply. My mom sat me down one day and asked me what I meant by what I said. I don’t remember verbatim what I told her, but I remember feeling like Bob was just a cool guy with whom you could share anything. He was the complete opposite of the poor excuse of a father I had at home, who drank himself stupid every night and kept his distance from us.
Bob gave me a copy of the Bible, which I don’t read, but I will never get rid of.
Wally is the step-dad of my best friend. He was also a Sunday School teacher and Awana leader around the same time as Bob. Wally didn’t have the same dry sense of humor as Bob, but he was always warm and caring. Every summer, I got to come along with his family on many trips. To theme parks. To visit their family in Lake Jackson. I became part of their family.
One day, about fourteen years ago, Wally and I had a pretty strong disagreement about something. I’m not going to go into detail about it, but what he said didn’t sit right with me. It was about eight years after our disagreement that I saw him again. We hugged and exchanged pleasantries (Wally was nice not to mention how fat I’d gotten since the last time we saw each other).
After a short time, he said to me, “Les, I’m sorry about what I said so many years ago.” I apologized as well. There are some people you just can’t stay mad at.
I met Joseph when I started working at Home Depot in July of 2005. I was 21 and newly married. Joseph was in his late 40s and had worked for the company for about 15 years. Joseph taught me to “be cool.” I would fret over asshole customers, or the asshole bosses, or just trying to please everyone. Joseph simply said what was on his mind and “didn’t give a fuck” what people thought.
There was the time he said “you can never have too much caulk in the house” to the 20-something girl who was asking about kitchen remodeling. I busted a gut, laughing, at that poor girl’s face turned a deep crimson.
And he loved making fun of one of the boss’ “fat ass.” He called her over to his desk to talk about some BS just to have her walk away. As she left, he elbowed me to look at what he was talking about. I’m not an “ass man” per se, but he was right about that sag.
My favorite thing about Joseph was has voice. That man could sing. One Christmas Eve, Joseph got on the PA system and crooned a couple of his favorite Christmas tunes. The way the PA was set up, you would record your page before it came through the system overhead. So he recorded the songs and left at the end of his shift, hearing his songs as he walked out of the building.
I was sad to learn about Joseph’s passing last December. He had been on a steady supply of oxygen for a long time. I’m not exactly sure why. I guess it finally caught up with him. I’ll never forget the crap he gave me when I didn’t know the difference between a linear foot and a square foot. I’ll never forget the time after we had sat in a four hour-long class in Houston and he farted, loudly, in the men’s room during a break. He told me, “I don’t care how old you get, farting is always funny.”
It is indeed.
Michael is my nephew’s dad. My brother-in-law, to make it simple. He wouldn’t like to admit that he’s old enough to be my father, but he gave me a lot of fatherly advice.
I worked for his company for a number of years. When he’d ride along with me, he’d teach me to “see everything.” I should stay focused on what I’m doing, he’d tell me, but I need to broaden my peripheral vision. To perceive more around me.
Michael was the first person with whom I could talk about spirituality in an objective way. Before him, I was always steered in a particular direction. I had never really questioned what I had been taught until then. Then I learned probably one of the greatest spiritual truths: questioning one’s faith is the best way to strengthen one’s faith. What good is believing in something if you don’t test it against the world?
I learned that all those supposed “anti-spiritual” aspects of science (e.g. evolution) weren’t so evil, or against god. Maybe god invented evolution? I learned to make the spiritual and scientific sides of myself shake hands and work together to help me solve life’s mysteries.
He also reminds me to convert my metric units correctly. And I remind him that professors need to think about how they word their quiz questions.
Each of the men I mentioned aren’t perfect. And maybe others view them differently than I did. I know that’s the case for how some viewed my mother. I’ve heard about what a great person she had been to them. But I have a different story about her.
What I’ve gained from each of these men are things I apply to raising my sons:
- Never stop learning
- Do what you say you’re going to do
- Never be ashamed to be who you are
- It’s ok to question faith (among the rest of life’s mysteries)
- Love yourself and love others
- And, of course, treat your mother like a queen
I know we all make mistakes. We can be selfish, rude and downright cruel. Even without knowing it. But I’m grateful for those who have lived before me that have shown me examples of how to overcome my selfishness, rudeness, cruelty.