My Father was a man who said what he meant and meant what he said. He always told me I was smarter than him, and maybe that was true on an IQ test, but in practical terms, he always seemed better at most everything than I believe I’ll ever be. He hunted, he fished, he was a conservationist and an outdoorsman, and he taught me to respect the earth and keep it safe for future generations. He taught me all the skills in these areas that I know. The memories of time I spent with him doing those things are among the most precious that I have, now that he’s gone.
He was a fierce advocate for me, but also an honest critic. He was generous with affection, but sparing with praise. When supply is low, value is high. When I got a compliment from my Father, it meant something. I *knew* I had done a good job if my Dad said so. He praised effort, and he praised excellence. I was generally unmotivated in most things, so I didn’t get too awful many of those compliments, but I coveted them, and they built into me an understanding of the standard to which I was to live. I still live to this standard to this day.
When I was grown I ignored a critical piece of advice that he gave me about how to pick a spouse, and my father was forced to watch me struggle through a difficult marriage, struggle to protect my children, fight tooth and nail to keep them safe with seemingly the entire world arrayed against us, and eventually, thank God, we broke into the clear and won some small measure of peace. I was blessed to remarry a wonderful woman and rebuild a great life for us all. One day, my Dad pulled me aside and told me how proud he was of me for never giving up, for plugging away and slogging through the turmoil for so many years until the reward materialized at long last and at great cost.
He told me something else that shocked me and left me speechless. He told me I was the best man he knew. I felt that comment like an electric shock and couldn’t make sense of it, standing there staring, slack-jawed, like an idiot. I didn’t even say thank you. Later that night I told my wife what he’d said and I cried for the first time in years, the tears flowed like a river of regret until the regret ran out, and on its heels came relief, and validation. I don’t believe I cried again until he passed away a few years later.
My life has been shaped by my Father’s praise. I think we, as fathers, underestimate the power we have to shape our children not just with what we discourage, but what we encourage. My father’s praise shaped me far more than any spankings or lectures ever did. Let’s all pledge to remember that.