I grew up with people telling me how much I looked like him. I grew up with people calling me “Chucky’s daughter”. I grew up with a Dad who wanted to wrap up the whole world in wrapping paper and hand it to me, but knew that teaching me how to go out and find it myself would be an even better gift.
I remember the time I was grounded for something or the other, and my Dad told me I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike for a week. I think I was more upset by that than anything at that age, so it was definitely a serious punishment. When the week was over, he brought me outside to my pretty pink and white bike (it was leaning up against the house, taunting me all week long), and told me that he was really proud of me that I listened to him. I had plenty of opportunities to take the bike out when my parents weren’t home, but I hadn’t. He said that it meant a lot to him that I kept my word, even though it was because of a punishment. In this, my dad taught me the importance of owning up to your mistakes, and taking responsibility.
I remember catching my first fish in the creek across the street from our house. Apparently I was a good fisher, because I tossed that baited worm into the water, and in no time had my first bass. Dad didn’t expect for me to do so well I guess, because he made me hold that fishing line up, with that wiggly fish swishing his tail all around, while he ran into the house to grab the camera. (To this day, I think that’s one of his most favorite photos.) While some would say that teaching fishing to your child is intended to teach patience, quiet thought, and other “philosophical old man” type things, what my Dad taught me was to try new things, and be proud of yourself when you succeed.
Driving around with my Dad, we were always on the lookout for wildlife. Not out of fear of hitting a deer as much as to count how many there were grazing. Every year he’d take me to the “Wildlife Expo” at the Empire State Plaza. We’d look around in the exhibit hall, but really, we were there for this one session where this guy (whose name escapes me at the moment) would bring live animals to show the audience. I would sit down up front, because I knew that he would call on some of the kids to come up on stage to interact with the animals. I was called up nearly every year because I’d go above and beyond, out of control waving my hand and jumping up and down. Dad taught me how to love nature, wildlife in general, and most specifically, animals. (Which is considerably more than the average person who has a dog or cat and calls themselves an animal lover.)
I always say, “I grew up in a volunteer fire department, because my dad’s been a lifelong firefighter and EMT.” It’s true. My entire 34 years has had me surrounded by men and women who truly believe in selflessly spending their time saving the lives of others. My Dad spent Christmas mornings and birthdays and Thanksgiving dinners on emergency calls, many years of my life, and while I may have begged him not to go, I grew to learn and appreciate why he did. I was safe on those special occasions, and someone else was not, and it was his duty to go help them. No matter what kinds of disagreements had gone on, no matter how many times he considered leaving and didn’t, the bottom line is that these people will come together to do another thing my Dad taught me: Always help someone in need.
My father worked hard his whole life, and does to this day. He always lived and breathed the notion of loving and caring for your family and for others (both human and animal). But some of the most important things I can say about my father is that he’s been my best friend, my mentor, my devil’s advocate, my butt-kicker, my biggest fan, and someone I’m truly honored to not only “look just like”, but be like.
Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful Dads out there!