April 2018

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Because my dad has often given me unasked for advice, and because we lived by the "Do unto others..." rule, I thought for a while that he wanted me to advise him as well. When I returned from a tough day in second grade, I reported to my father that my friends and I had been guessing our fathers' ages and that my friends thought he was old, maybe even forty. I recommended Grecian Hair Formula. Now that we would both take forty as a compliment, his hair is bright white. I guess he assumed that I, living by that golden rule, wanted him to ignore my advice as I so often ignored his.

When Sister Jenn was in junior high school and Dad was advising her, she asked him, "Why do you have to be so lecturous?

When Dad and I travelled to Alaska with elder hostel (he was elder and I was hostile), he arrived at the bus that was to take us into Denali National Park wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants. This outfit seemed sartorially inappropriate for a hike to me, and I said to him, "You look like you're dressed for the movies." Later that week, he went into town and paid more for a poop-colored pair of zip-off hiking britches than he had ever paid for work slacks.

Last weekend, on our weekly phone call, Dad begn to tell me a new theory about women: "What I've noticed about women is..." I interrupted him, encouraging him to pause and to think because his sentences that begin this way gernerally lead him to the dog house, and he always seems surprisedto find himself there. Ignoring my admonition, he continued.

I cannot blame him for ignoring my cautions. I have often ignored his.

For all this, I have in many ways been inspired by his life and sought to emulate him. Ralph Waldo Emerson's often quoted  “Letters and Social Aims” works in Dad's favor: “Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”  Dad's deeds speak loudly of a commitment to the value of every individual, to the importance of saying thank you, and to the belief that we are here to make the world a better place.

Dad had two overtime jobs for most of his work life: one a job that paid and the other a job of social conscience. I, too, have often overworked, though since my surgery some would argue that I overnap, and like him I have worked for social justice. His work was on behalf of children, many of whom lived in poverty, without health insurance. All children, he argued as President of the American Academy of Pediattrics, have the right to health care. Following in his footsteps, I have worked on behalf of underserved children, many of them poor and immigrants to the United States, though my work has been in the educational arena.

When I was in junior high school, I went with Dad to the small town where he grew up to pick up a carload of children that he was sponsoring to go to summer camp. Like my father, I sponsor children to go to camp, though the camp I sponsor is for older children and is called "college."

When I was in high school, my dad gave the sermon at the church in the small town where he grew up. We, his children, counted the number of times he said, "Um," but I also heard his message. He thanked each person in that church who had helped to raise him. Like my dad, I seek to say thank you to those many people who have made my life better.

After attending a conservative church in Wichita Falls, Texas, when Dad was in the Air Force during the Vietmam War, Dad determined that he would never again attend a church where everyone was more conservative than he. Sensing that he had much to learn from liberals, he and my mom chose a liberal Southern Baptist church to attend and in which to raise their children. I am certainly more liberal than my father, so for me understanding another perspective means respecting and trying to understand those who are more conservative than I am (that's most people.) I am not so fully committed to this broad-mindedness as he was, as my current church is clearly on the left as was the church of my youth,  but I do seek to enter into friendships with those whose backgrounds and experiences, including those who are conservative, give them different perspectives than mine.

In this time of tumors, I have relied heavily on Dad for advice and support, and I have also relied on him to know when not to give me advice. I am sure that this has been hard for him. More important than his advice, however, has been his constant support and love, his dedication to helping me live a full life. Just as Dad has sought new venues for play and passion in his retirement, I seek new venues for work and play as I learn to live fully with these darn disbilities. Dad and I are perhaps both old dogs learning new tricks, though he is older. Today is his birthday, so he is even further over that hill.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you. Mary

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