Sunday is Father’s Day, which makes me think of my dad. He died in 2004. That was a hard time, because he was my mentor. Even now I have a hard time articulating what he meant to me. The deepest feelings are the hardest to express. However, I’m going to try by telling a story about him that illustrates his character.
When I was a Junior and Senior in high school my dad was the camp director for the youth camps sponsored by our church. The kids at the camps came to love him, because he didn’t deal with problems the same way other adults did. Here’s an example of what I mean.
One year at camp, a rivalry started between a group of girls and a group of boys. One group had played a prank on the other group and of course retaliation was required. I don’t remember how many rounds of this went on before, the girls came up with a smashing idea: Take all the faucet handles from the boys bathroom. Of course, I wasn’t part of the group, they were sure I’d tell my father what they were planning. The next morning, none of the men and boys could take showers or even wash their hands because all the faucet handles were gone. During breakfast, dad announced we were going to suspend the regular schedule and have a special meeting. The girls were shaking in their boots. They were sure they were going to be sent home in disgrace.
During the meeting dad said that he understood how fun it was to play pranks. It could build camaraderie. But, it’d gone too far now and the faucets needed to be returned so the men and boys could get cleaned up. If the girls responsible brought the faucets back, all would be forgiven.Then the girls and boys responsible would need to make amends. All the campers looked around at each other in disbelief. I knew what they were thinking. “An adult is going to forgive and forget and not humiliate us?” We were dismissed to our first activity. The culprits had until lunch to return the faucets.
The girls came to me, “Is your dad serious. If we confess and give back the faucets, he won’t send us home?”
“Yep. He always means what he says.”
“Will he punish us?”
“Well, yeah. But, he’ll talk to you first and you’ll get a chance to decide your punishment. And the guys will too.”
“Man, you’re dad is cool. You’re lucky.”
The girls turned in the faucets to my dad right then. I went with them at their request. When they handed dad the bag, he looked at the girls and then in mock despair said, “Oh, I can’t believe you sweet girls did this. Oh, my, what are we going to do?” He went on for awhile like that until he noticed that the girls were embarrassed.
The girls laughed, but hung their heads. Then my dad said, “Well, we’ve got to fix this. You’ve proved that you’re mature young ladies by admitting what you did. Now, we need to talk about how this got started, who the boys involved are, and put things to rights again. What do you think?”
I could tell by the look on the girls faces, they couldn’t believe it. He was asking for their help in resolving the issue. They weren’t getting yelled at, or slapped, or sent home. In a way it was a much more painful process, because my dad was requiring them to do some self-examination. Then of course the boys and girls involved were required to do extra chores, or some such thing and the camp went on. After that, my dad was the hero of the camp. He’d treated those kids like human beings who make mistakes, but are intelligent and can think of ways to make things right. Not only that, he didn’t humiliate them. They knew, as my brother and I did, that he cared about us no matter what we did. He trusted us.
That’s how I was raised. When I did something wrong, my dad and mom would talk with me. “Why did you do that? What were you thinking and feeling when you did it? What can we do to make things right?”
My dad understood that sometimes people do things out of fear, or anger, or lack of self-love. They go a little bit crazy. Whenever we’d ask dad why people kill, or mistreat others, he’d always say, “Because they’re in so much pain. They think if they hurt others it’ll make them feel better, but it doesn’t. That never works does it?” That’s always the way it was. Dad asked us lots of questions to get us to think. My dad, who’d dropped out of high school because he had undiagnosed dyslexia, used the Socratic Method to teach us great lessons.
I guess he’s the one who started me on the path of personal growth. I’m always asking questions about movies I’m watching, or books I’m reading or things that happen. And I learned something else from my dad. I am not my mistakes. I’m more than that. That’s why my friends liked to hang out at our house. My parents, and especially my dad saw value in them, even when they messed up.
Dad, I miss hearing you say, “I’m proud of you.” Having you as my dad has made all the difference.