This is my favorite image of my father and me:
My mother took it one evening after my father came home from work. She posed us in front of his law books and snapped only a single shot. Those were the days of film “sent out for developing,” which meant photographers often shot several images to ensure a good one.
Mom didn’t need to. She knew this one was a winner.
The irony, for those who knew my father or know me, is that we aren’t smiling. Strange for a father and daughter who loved one another and loved to laugh, and yet the picture captures us–and our relationship–more closely than the smiling ones seem to manage.
There’s relaxation there, and trust, and a similarity in expression and bearing that became more noticeable as I grew. In the picture, as in life, he held me securely but gave me the freedom to find my own balance. He didn’t squeeze too tightly, yet he would never let me fall.
Our relationship was like that. My father had high expectations for his oldest child and only daughter. He believed in my abilities and encouraged me to work harder than I thought I could. As a result, I achieved more than I believed myself capable of achieving. (That’s still true from time to time.)
My father once told me that I could learn something from everyone–from some, the qualities I should mimic; from others, the ones to avoid–but that every person was worthy of attention. He encouraged me to “be the solution, not the problem.”
Dad often answered the phone by saying hello and then asking the caller, “What can I do for you today?” At some point, I picked up the habit. I’m not sure when it happened, but it’s the way I answer the phone to this day.
Ironically, it was only after my father died that I realized just how much the phrase reflects not only a greeting but an attitude–one I learned from watching him. It indicates respect, and a heart for service. It suggests that I will be there when you need me, and that I’m glad to offer my time to you if I can. I heard my father say this dozens of times, quite possibly hundreds, but only after he was gone did I realize the gift he offered me–and others–through the phrase and also the way he backed it up with real-world action. If Dad said he would help you, he did, and he bent over backward to help a friend in need. It was his way, and thanks to his teaching, I find it’s my way too.
I’m grateful for his support and for the push he gave me to expand my capacities farther than I originally thought I could. But most of all, I’m glad he taught me to pay attention, solve the problem, and help other people whenever it’s in my power to offer aid.
“What can I do for you today?”
A simple question, years in the learning, and offered from the heart.
What did you learn from your dad, or from another male role model in your life?
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