My dad is a laid-back character. It's not in his nature to push people. His high expectations are quiet. His motivational method is invisible. Yet he and my mother raised three children with three masters degrees and two doctorates between them, all occupying high positions in the field of education. He built a business he inherited into a major cog in the food chain in our community. I remember him joking about being one of the "community leaders" at his local Kiwanis Club; "gotta go hang out with the CL's," he would say. But of course he was a leader. He was never the loudest voice, but everybody listened to him.
Nothing has been more influential in my life than the words my dad repeatedly said to me: "You can do whatever you want to do." I'm sure there were times when he and my mom wondered if that assertion was misleading, as I went for a Ph.D. in a field with no clear job market. But more than anything else, my life has been shaped by the fact that I never thought to doubt my dad. I knew that my opportunities were limitless, and I simply acted on that knowledge. I didn't give a moment's thought to pursuing a career on the basis of job security or ease of entry or renumeration. I did what I wanted. And that has made all the difference.
Even when I was trying my parents' love and patience most severely, even when we disagreed about almost everything, Dad was always there. "We can always talk," he would say, and he didn't mean it as a prescription -- it was a description. No matter what, we could have a meeting of the minds. Our difference remain, but they're matters of approach, perspective, and philosophy. They're trivial compared to the common interest in thinking, talking, reading, learning, and finding the good in life every day. And Dad always treated them that way.
There are a lot of remarkable dads who deserve tributes on this Father's Day, including the one sitting next to me in the living room, the father of my amazing children, who deserves so much credit for their optimism and accomplishments. But I hope they will all forgive me if I put them second to the man who raised me and believed in me. Dad, it's not just Father's Day obligation when I say you're the best. It's just the truth.