As both a Daddy's Girl and the eldest daughter raised by a single father, I am an eternal and somewhat obsessive spectator when it comes to watching father-daughter relationships around me. Over the years, I have noticed that my observations of how father's interact with their children is often a big catalyst for why some of my male friends turn into my favorite people.
In honor of my own father's 76th birthday (which is today) and Father's Day this weekend (which collides nicely with birthdays of two of my other favorite dads), I have been thinking about some of the most meaningful lessons I've learned from the fathers in my life.
When I was little, I was often afraid of my older (male) cousin, who had a tendency to be a bully. One time, when I was resisting a family gathering, my dad taught me how to casually walk up to him and belt him in the nose. He pointed out that I'd only need to do it once, but I'd teach him a lesson -- and he'd likely leave me alone after that. It was my own personal George McFly moment, and it was the moment when I learned that bullies bully those who don't fight back.
During my childhood, my father would enjoy dinnertime sparring with me by quoting Rush Limbaugh at me and referring to him as "your Uncle Rush." He did it to push me, challenge me and make damn sure that I could back up what I was saying. And while my young, idealistic head would often explode on principle, over the years something interesting happened: I got better and better on my feet. I learned to defend my position, debate, listen, incorporate new information and articulate my values -- long before I felt compelled to tattoo them on my biceps.
In the pre-celebrity entrepreneur era, small business owners showed up and did what they needed to do. There was no social media flurry. There was no expectation that your SMB was going to hit it big and you'd sell to Google and retire at 29. It was a job that built a life, and was part of your community. You were a leader who, in more ways that I can often count, embodied what we now call "servant leadership." It was almost never sexy. But it showed grit and commitment, which was lessons that came with the lifestyle.
Over the years, I've had several people try to convince me that this is a function of privilege. To some extent, I can agree that can contribute. But what I've seen even more is that people who value their time more than their money make different choices for their life, their profession and the people they surround themselves with. It's often a belief born out of a rejection of the notion of scarcity, that leads to a lot of different choices than someone who prizes money above time.
While deflecting emotional complexity with humor is not always healthy, I find that the dads I know consistently bring humor to everything they do. Even the ones with the biggest tough guy act or the most notorious hard-asses end up being the people who make me laugh the most. And through that, we are able to diffuse the tough stuff and talk. It doesn't force agreement or dodge an issue, but it makes it easier to stick with a discussion and find a resolution we can all live with.
In many ways, we have adopted a cultural paradigm that says that women are empathetic and adaptable, and that men are rigid and stubborn. I think that narrow view does both a disservice, and it's completely incongruent with what I've seen among the fathers in my life. They might make a big show of grumbling about having to change their ways, but they usually press on and just do it.
Naturally, there are plenty of people who lack fantastic fathers in their lives. And my heart goes out to them, because I know how much fatherhood has played a huge, powerful and positive role in my life. And I am so grateful that, even as a childfree adult, I've found myself surrounded by remarkable men who continue to fuel my belief that the role of fatherhood can be a profound and invaluable influence.
And who, without fail, always crack me the hell up. As well as teach me to drink whisky, play poker, tip well, drive anything on wheels, run a business, water ski, cook and ride a bike.
So, for the father's among you: Happy Father's Day.
And for my father, Happy Birthday. And thank you. Even for tormenting me with Rush Limbaugh.