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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Sunday, June 17, 2007

One more time

I'm not too sentimental a person. I actually get salty when I find myself getting sappy, 'cause I feel like I let a fissure develop in my armour and that it is a sign of weakness.

Anywho, Dad's Day has come and almost gone. But like all the "good" holidays, I sort of think "honor thy father and mother" should resonate year round. The kind of karma I believe in predicts a middle age of misery for any adult who didn't demonstrate respect for the folks when he was younger.

All that being said, I don't have a lot of profound things to offer for Dad's Day this year. The things I loved my dad for this year are the same things I loved him for last year, and the year before, and the year before.

So since the message hasn't changed, I'm taking the lazy way out. Following this paragraph is a column I wrote a few years ago - pre-Miami Herald - on my dad and my upbringing. Enjoy, I hope!

Dad's lessons were in what he did, not what he said
By JAMES H. BURNETT III

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, June 20, 2004

As I've gotten older and crossed into the once-dreaded (for me, anyway) land of 30-somethings, I've put more thought into what it takes to be a good father, mostly because I'm progressively less freaked out when I see sticky-pawed rug rats making their way toward me in the grocery store queues, at the birthday parties of friends' children and at family reunions.

Each kid I see makes me think about my own childhood and what positive experiences I had courtesy of my father, a Baptist minister and retired U.S. Navy veteran. A few days ago, I decided to give the matter serious thought. I knew I'd learned a lot from my dad. We all say that, right? And we all mean it, even if we can't think of more than generic examples.

I racked my brain for "Cosby Show"-like examples, where my father may have imparted some wisdom over a cup of Jell-O brand pudding. I couldn't find any.

I definitely didn't find any spectacular examples of my father, like MacGyver, creating a weapon with a rubber band, a paper clip and a stapler and freeing the downtrodden.
What I did find, though, were memories of my dad not so much talking, but doing.

He told me, for example, that men don't quit when things are tough. Then I closed my eyes and visualized the time I sat crying by a baseball diamond, because I'd just walked a couple of batters in my Little League championship game. My dad, also the coach, approached me and didn't say a word. Instead he patted me on the back, gave my shoulder a squeeze, handed me my glove, and nodded toward the pitcher's mound. I retook the field. We won the game.

I remember my dad telling me that men meet obligations, even when they're lacking strength. Then I closed my eyes and visualized one of a virtually thousand times I saw him nearly stagger through our front door after pulling his 10th consecutive 20-hour day of rebuilding CH- 53 helicopters on the Norfolk (Va.) and Sigonella (Sicily) naval air stations. I'd watch him shrug his way out of a flight suit, eat briefly and grab a few hours of sleep. Then he'd get up, don a fresh crisp uniform and start all over again.

I remember my dad, after his naval retirement and at the start of his church ministry, after a stint in the seminary, telling me men don't wait for other people to come along and get a job done. Then I closed my eyes and visualized the times after high school baseball practice I'd walk through the door of the old church building he'd leased to start his ministry. I'd see him there, alone, in Dickies work pants, T-shirt and utility belt, caulking cracks in the walls; on his hands and knees laying floor tiles; nailing planks together to build a podium, and -- until he realized I'd entered the room -- cheerily whistling a gospel tune. The church is full now, and the congregation owns the building.

I remember my dad explaining to me that real men have compassion. And then I closed my eyes and visualized the times he'd leave our middle-class enclave for his church's rough neighborhood. He'd often take a bag, packed with chips, cans of soda and fruit juice, and sandwiches. Once at the church, he'd immediately be set upon by tough- looking men, some of them no doubt homeless, asking for money -- to get food, of course. And he'd break out the bag. Sometimes, he'd offer them money to help clean debris from the church parking lot. And when many of those men walked away angry, refusing the free food or the paid work, my dad would turn to me and explain that compassion means offering a hand, not being a sucker.

Most of all, when I went through my curious stage, the stage that led me to read old philosophers and quote big words from smart dead guys in college textbooks, I remember my dad encouraging me to learn everything I could about -- well, everything I could. But instead of indulging my sometimes cocky attitude and telling me to believe everything I heard, he gave me horse sense. He told me to keep an open mind, but not so open that my brain fell out.

I remember my dad reminding me on a regular basis that no matter what I said, other people, honest people, would ultimately judge me by my character and my actions.

And I remember now that sometimes the best instruction and best demonstration of a job well done -- in this case, fatherhood -- is not always the most obvious.

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16 Comments:

  • Sounds like you have a heck of a dad. You turned out pretty good yourself.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 10:29 PM  

  • Hammer, you're gonna make me all blushy. But thanks. My dad is a good guy. If I raise my kids - when I have some - with half the sense he and my mom used w/my sister and me I'll be happy.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 10:51 PM  

  • What a great example he must have been. Too many parents don't lead by example let alone lead. What amazing people you are. Him for being a leader and you for recognizing it.

    By Blogger My Reflecting Pool, at 11:14 PM  

  • What a great piece. I am so glad you reran it. Even better is your Dad. He is the kind of person that everyone benefits from. You're really lucky to have him for a father. I'm really happy for you. I call this counting your blessings.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 11:36 PM  

  • He knew how to separate the receivers from the takers.... with a certain grace.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 2:45 AM  

  • I've never met the guy and I can tell that your dad rocks! Promise us to raise the next generation of Burnett's the same way. Our society needs all it can get.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 12:10 PM  

  • Hope your Father's Day was great! Nice article btw, looks like your dad did a helluva job with you.

    By Blogger Evil Spock, at 12:49 PM  

  • This is a wonderful testimony to fatherhood and manhood, thank you for sharing it :-)

    By Anonymous DJ Black Adam, at 12:57 PM  

  • JB,
    Your dad sounds like a good guy who imparts knowledge and wisdom upon you (and upon us by your proxy).

    One thing we never really explore as people or for people is age versus maturity nad the concept that social responsibility should be age driven. Our society treats a boy as an adult once he reaches 18 although we know as a fact that his body may continue to grow until 25 or 26. Yet we still seek to try adolescent boys as they were adult for their crimes. We presume a woman is still a "minor child" at 16 even though she already has four kids and granny knockers.

    Then you have people who say 40 is the new 30, 30 is the new 20, and so on until the idea of being mature, grown up, or responsible is blurred beyond recognition. I think your dad is right in his view that actions talk and BS walks (to paraphrase) such that issues of manhood, maturity, and responsibility cannot be measured on a time line of age and instead should be measured by accomplishment. If you married your middle school sweetheart at 15 and had three well fed kids at home by the time you would have graduated high school at 18, I would call that a complete evolutionary and familial success. Some would only bemoan the "lost opportunity" of failing to have a high school diploma, but a person like that would be more of a grownup at 18 than I am right now. Yet many would consider this a "failed family".

    Maybe this would be a good discussion segue into not only what does it mean to be a man, but whose concept of manhood is valid and why?

    And JB--you're married and looking to have some small ones--if you can't get misty or wear pink without checking over your shoulder to see if your ego is going to come in and slap you, you're not ready. Real men kick more ass with a face full of weepy tears than those who worry whether tears disqualify them as real men. Why? Because real men don't give a shit about anything. This especially includes the opinions of those whom neither share your bed nor your wallet.

    So, man up homie and don't be afraid to put on some heavy emotions for your woman!!

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 1:50 PM  

  • Your Dad is a very, very wise man; was indeed an excellent role model to you judging by your common sensical approach to the topics you choose and the way you write about them. Great post.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 1:58 PM  

  • Your dad sounds like a quiet, unassuming, epic hero of a man. I sometimes wonder where all the real men with ideals, principles, determination and heart went. They are, sadly, too uncommon.

    You are so lucky to have been raised by him, and he is lucky indeed to have a son who really gets him, and who learned his lessons so well.

    Happy Father's Day to James the Second.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 3:14 PM  

  • I'll bet when your dad was in Vietnam, he still found time to tell stories into a tape recorder and draw cartoons for you, too.

    My dad was in the AF -- maintenance control as well -- and I don't know if the military draws men with your and my dad's values or if it shapes them into great dads, but I'm sure glad I had a military dad.

    By Anonymous class-factotum, at 7:01 PM  

  • Thanks for re-running this. It was my first time reading it. This will never get old.

    By Blogger katrice, at 8:04 PM  

  • Nicely put, my friend.

    By Anonymous og, at 9:18 PM  

  • Well said! I would love to meet your dad one day.

    By Blogger Dayngr, at 12:12 PM  

  • My dad, like yours, was also an "action hero."

    By Blogger The First Domino, at 12:30 AM  

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