As I was talking about this and that with a woman who was framing a piece of Mayan art that I had purchased at Chichen Itza, she casually mentioned buying herself a certain kind of tool for Father’s Day. She looked up from her work and let the comment hang in the air as though she expected me to have some kind of reaction. Of course I simply carried on with my babbling as though nothing unusual had been said. I didn’t even bother to mention that my brothers and I had always honored our mother with gifts on Father’s Day because she had been both our mother and our father all rolled up in one amazing person after my dad died.
In today’s society my family situation would not be considered unusual at all because there are huge numbers of children who are growing up with only one parent. My brothers and I are proof that it is possible to raise healthy and happy children in nontraditional ways. Still, I think that part of the secret to our mother’s success in rearing us was that she provided us with examples of exceptional male role models. Starting with stories of our father, she noted his best traits and explained how and why they had been so important. She encouraged us to watch and learn about goodness from men like Mr. Barry and our Uncle William. She took us to visit our grandfather regularly and noted the wisdom of his words that she prompted us to heed. She pointed out the loyalty of neighbor men like Frenchy Janot and took my brothers to watch Uncle Harold and Uncle Louie build and repair things. She created a picture of the exemplary father in our minds that helped me to find a man who would be kind and loving to our children and my brothers to successfully play a role that they had mostly seen from afar.
I suppose that because of my experience I have long observed fathers and mentally rated their abilities as parents. I am proud and happy to say that my son-in-law Scott is an exceptional dad who continually takes the time to interact with his four sons in loving and instructional ways. It has occurred to me as I watch him in action that he must have learned how to be such a great parent from his own father Gary, better known as Boppa to his grandchildren. Indeed as I have viewed Gary’s behavior around his family I believe that I have seen the actions of someone who literally revels in his role and exceeds the expectations that society has for fathers.
Gary grew up in Houston, Texas just as I did, but while I was living in the southeast part of town he was living in the southwest near the Medical Center. Still we experienced the world of childhood in very similar ways with adventures along the city’s bayous and games that filled our days with sheer delight. He still uses some of the same jokes and stories that I also heard and enjoyed when I was a kid.
Gary went to the University of Texas in Austin and became a die hard Longhorn and Chemical Engineer and met Barbara, the love of his life. They married and he began his life as a family man who worked hard to provide for Barbara and the two children that they would have together. It seems to me that the key to Gary’s personality was his insistence on making life fun. He saw the routine of our days as one grand adventure after another, filled with great wonders. Thus he made travel and learning and laughter the centerpieces of his family’s time together. Over the years they have gone all over the world experiencing the culture and flavor of different places right down to the smallest detail. At every juncture Gary was there patiently explaining the historical, literary and scientific significance of the things that they saw. Mostly though he made even the mundane seem exceptional and he had a knack for making the people around him feel very good about themselves.
Today I know Gary as a grandfather and he has continued his masterful abilities with his six grandchildren, taking each of them on grand tours and planning annual get togethers and traditions. He spares no expense because he sees such experiences as the stuff that sparks the imagination, so if the best way to view something is by helicopter then by golly everyone will have that adventure. He has ridden on the London Eye and trekked across Germany with the latest generation of young people who absolutely adore him. Even the children of my other daughter love being in his presence and laugh with delight as he plies his magic with them.
The true key to Gary’s success as a parent and grandparent lies in the unconditional love that he showers on the members of his family day in and day out. They are the center of his universe and they know it. He makes no bones about treasuring them just as they are with no demands that they conform to some preconceived notion of who he thinks they should be. He delights in their uniqueness and provides them with the confidence that comes from having such a nonjudgemental fan. He always seems willing to help them through rough patches in their lives with total support and he eagerly shares the wisdom that he has garnered from his own experiences. He continually shows them and all of us who know him what it means to be the very best kind of father.
Gary is fighting his own battles these days with an illness that has sapped his energies and sidelined him from the things that he most loves to do. Nonetheless he courageously steps up again and again to demonstrate to his family what it means to live life as fully as possible. He ignores his pain and pushes through at plays, sporting events, graduations and parties. He speaks little of his own struggles instead inquiring about the people around him and doing his best to make them feel happy. He is a very good man in every sense of the word and by example he has taught his son and his grandchildren and even those of us who are his friends how to be the kind of people who truly make a difference, the kind of people who love and are truly loved. He has shown us how to be a father.