One more time
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.
Labels: Father's Day