What will your daughter have to say about you one day?
My dad. Wow. Where to start? When I was little, he was the toughest, strongest, smartest, most charming dad on the planet. He was a cowboy by birth and a blue-staking, truck-driving, kid-wrangling, pipe-fitting maniac by trade. He was a fan of all things western, a man with great respect for the natural world, and a belief that an individual should be able to provide for one’s self and one’s family. He was a secret dreamer, a silent sufferer, and the one person in my life who managed to be the human embodiment of ‘grit.’
Long before it became the virtue-du-jour, my father made sure that his kids knew the value of self, of integrity, and most of all, grit. If our small Utah community knew anything about his family, it was that we didn’t give up. We were tough, we were stubborn, and we held our own.
Dad was a uniquely gruff guy. He was a young John Wayne, without the drinking problem. He had a slow-burning fuse, but once it burned … get out of the way. He was scariest when he was silent because he might not talk to you for days, or he’d let out a bark of laughter and you’d laugh along. I still find myself trying to get my dad to laugh because he only laughs at the most clever of jokes.
He cried when one of his horses passed away from colic. After he’d nursed the poor mare through two days and two nights of hell, he teared up when telling his young children why it was important to make sure the grain barrels were locked. He accepted responsibility for things that weren’t even his fault, but he knew and passed on the value of owning up and moving on.
He was (and still is) the first person to go to in a crisis. His critical thinking could easily wound a sensitive kid, but his straight-talk never steered us wrong. Later, I’d find myself in many a pickle where my acknowledgment of the facts and willingness to own up were the only way to out in one piece.
Work ethic is sacred in my father’s eyes. A useless man is a worthless man, and Dad raised seven kids who were anything but. Some of us took a little longer to figure out what we were good at (ahem), but when I dig my heels in, it’s a direct reflection of my father’s effort to raise productive kids.
Mostly, my dad taught me generosity—of spirit, of thought, of action. He’s the most prickly human I’ve ever met, but one of the most compassionate and caring. Whether it’s a foaling gone wrong at 3 a.m. or another family that had less to eat or needed winter coats, my dad stepped up.
The neighbor is sick and there’s a storm? Why, we’ll haul that hay. Your mom lives nearby and can’t shovel her walks? We’ll take care of it. The first person to offer a hot meal and the last person to leave a party without helping to clean up … That was and is my dad.
He taught me that people won’t always treat you honestly when you’re generous, but that it usually caught up to them. It used to drive me crazy, but he won’t say a mean word about someone … unless they’ve earned it, and then some. And never get into an argument with my old man. Debate class was a breeze after growing up in a house with a man who could talk circles around you, present proof, beat you into the ground and be your friend … all at the same time.
He taught his awkwardly odd daughter how to make friends. And then he taught me how to stand up for myself and others, even if it meant having none.
My dad? Turns out that the old man is a pretty good teacher.
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