Where did I come from? It’s a question we all want answered and, no, the answer is not found in the pages of 1977 classic which uses a doughy animated couple’s humorous erotica to explain the birds and the bees to children.
No, I think the question we often want answered is, “Why am I like I am?” “What influences informed my thinking and my behavior.”
Looking at the very best of me I see my father reflected. I suspect if I asked him (and that might be a nice thing to do, wouldn’t it?) he would tell me that he has always tried to lead by example rather than with endless proselytizing. In fact, I can’t remember him giving me a single speech in my whole life (a fact which might be just as attributable to my poor memory as the frequency of his familial oratory). But it ought to be just as important that if he did give speeches, what I noticed and what I remember is what he did.
Of course, it has long been known that it is not what we say but rather what we do that most influences the people around us. Though example-setting isn’t as sexy as a lifetime of pithy quotes, (when was the last time you saw a book called “101 Neat Examples to Live Out on a Daily Basis for your Thankless Children,” yet tomes like “The Wit and Wisdom of [fill in the blank]” fill the shelves of bookstores.) it is a steady commitment to acting on enduring values that best shapes character.
No one makes every person he meets feel more important in that moment than my dad. His joyful exuberance over making your acquaintance will surely make you believe he has you confused with an Alsatian monarch with a similar name. And once he discovers an area of interest of yours he will find, clip and mail you articles from a variety of periodicals until you are certain he cares more about you than your own family.
He would call his approach a commitment to “higher values.” (Someday I need to compare this concept to Russell Kirk’s “permanent things.”) And I think he would say the highest value is the dignity of each individual. While he and I might have occasionally disagreed over what the “highest value” is, I don’t think he has ever wavered, despite my periodic, yet resolute, petitioning for exceptions.
He lives joyously because he believes every day is a day to revel in the glory that is the gift of life. Something great is happening right now, he would have you believe. This is the day; this is the moment. Don’t miss it. Smell the flowers. Express your love. Be comfortable in your uniqueness for it makes you special. Every moment is an opportunity—not waiting to happen, but unfolding—don’t miss it. If Reebok says “Life is short. Play hard,” my dad would say, “Life is short, love hard.”
He has set a standard in our family for kindness and civility-in-action to everyone with whom we come in contact. It’s not an act like we often see people of means engage in to demonstrate their sensitivity by deigning to interact with the commoners. Dad’s civility is a genuine desire to demonstrate love through the active valuation of the thoughts and company of all who are fortunate enough to engage him.
My dad turns 75 this week. With any luck at all, you’ve got another 20 or 30 years to track him down and meet him.