Go to any bookstore or Google, “Fatherhood,” and you’ll be sure to come across stacks of books and articles written about unlocking the secrets of being a good dad. As the father of three kids, 13- and ten-year old daughters and a six-year old son, I’ve acquired a certain zen-like knowledge (and massive hair loss) of what it takes to be a good father. You ready for this? It’s a little something called, being there.
Two days after Father’s Day 2004 and four days after my son was born, my dad died unexpectedly due to complications from surgery. As I sat down to write his eulogy, I struggled to think of those impactful, life-changing lessons he taught me that prepared me for my own journey into fatherhood. I found it hard to pinpoint those moments, not because they never happened, they did. But, those lessons weren’t wrapped into nice little packages or captured in single moments in time. Those lessons were baked into 32 years of knowing this funny, intelligent, flawed, compassionate, and humble man. He was there. He was there at every one of my soccer games. He was there when I got into my first car accident. He was there with a U-Haul when I moved clear across Texas for my first job. The moments that were vivid in my head were so random. Things like the exact Simpson’s episode that made him laugh so hard Dr. Pepper shot out of his nose or the time he bought me my first set of golf clubs.
The comedian Chris Rock once said that 80 percent of being a good Dad is just being there. I think it’s closer to 95 percent. The other day, my middle daughter was laughing hysterically about the time she got her one and only spanking. Our old house had a playroom over the garage. It was a nice spring day so I opened the windows and told my daughter to stay away from them while she played. Not two minutes had gone by when I heard a loud crash in our driveway. I sprinted to the driveway and saw the window screen had dropped on top of our car, and there was my four-year old daughter, eyes as big as saucers, staring down at me. I freaked! I ran upstairs, half scared out of my mind, half mad as heck! I grabbed her arm and gave her a nice little smack on her bottom. I had NEVER done this before, nor have I since and that was not lost on her. She was so surprised that her gum shot out of her mouth and on to the carpet. Fast forward to the present, my now ten-year old howls with laughter at the re-telling of this story. “The gum was still there when we moved. It wouldn’t come out!” she proudly exclaims through the laughter.
It’s moments like these that my kids love to remember. My son still laughs hysterically at the time I belched the lyrics to “Hey Jude” (I really am a good dad) and when I taught him to swing a bat. My oldest remembers the first time I first took her to Starbucks and that I would watch Elmo with her when she was little. Earlier this year I was traveling back to DAL from PHL. On the last leg from HOU I was the last to board and ended up in the front row in the middle seat next to an elderly couple. The man was to my left and his wife was to my right. The man started talking to me but it was obvious that age had taken its toll. Half-way through the flight the man raised his hand and forcefully flung it in front of him. He then leaned forward and started to make circular motions with his hands. His wife noticed me looking at him and tapped me on my elbow and chuckled, “Don’t mind my husband,” she said. “He’s 93 and he’s in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.” She went on to tell me that he doesn’t recognize her anymore or the familiar and friendly faces he’s known throughout the years. But, what he does remember is going fishing with his kids. That’s what he was doing that day sitting next to me 25,000 feet in the air. He was fishing with his kids. I will never forget that moment, nor will I forget my own father who created countless memories and set immeasurable examples for me to follow. Thanks, dad.