My father is the world’s most quiet, unassuming, soft-spoken man – I think he had to be, just to balance out the dynamics in our household of talkative, easily excitable, occasionally crazy women. He doesn’t say much, but the few words he does say – or his very silence – have taught me some of my most valuable lessons.
When I was about six years old, I was splashing around one afternoon on the steps of my uncle’s swimming pool. Somehow I slipped off the last step and found myself in water way over my head. I didn’t know how to swim and wasn’t wearing floaties (which is why I’d been warned to stay on the steps). I remember a moment of pure, breathless terror as I desperately tried to get my head above water. I couldn’t even scream. Then my father, who had been nearby and watching me closely the whole time, plucked me up into his arms. I almost cried with relief. And he said, “Honey, don’t panic.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but those simple words he said to reassure me I was safe, to calm me down, would become one of my life’s guiding principles. In stressful situations, during moments of unexpected difficulties or at times when things just seem almost overwhelming – don’t panic. Steady yourself, keep cool, keep treading water, take a deep breath, look around – and ask for the help that you need. Holler if you need to.
Just being in my dad’s serene presence gives me peace. It also gives me joy. He has shown me time and again how a bit of quiet good humour can diffuse tension, sadness, and ill-feeling. Now I often tell myself and other people that nothing is ever so bad if you can still find something to laugh about.
My dad taught me the value of work done well, without complaining, without vainglory. He taught me to look beyond my own small universe, to be interested in what’s happening out there in the wide world. He taught me the value of friendship, the importance of making time for people, to listen to their problems and try to help them. He taught me how to pray. He taught me how to love.
I’m not saying that I’ve learned all of these lessons by heart. Some of them – maybe all of them – I’m still struggling with. But I just have to look at my dad to find proof that they are all perfectly possible to put into practice.
And the amazing thing is that he taught me all these things without having to say a word. He just does them all himself, day after day, without ever saying, “Do what I’m doing.” To him, this is all just the natural way to live, which I think is the most powerful way to lead by example.
So every day, and especially this Sunday, I give thanks to my dad, and for my dad. Happy Father’s Day, Poppie!