Another Father’s day has come and gone. It was my sixth with kids, and I got to spend some time teaching my six year old son to surf. We waded out, he settled onto the board, and I pushed his board into wave after wave for over an hour. Some he rode on his belly, some he tried to stand, and a few he stood and rode all the way to shore. In that hour he cheered, laughed, feared, and cried. He was energized and exhausted, and every time he fell, he popped up quick and searched the horizon for me. Reflecting on the lesson I’m reminded of the many lessons my own father taught me – often wading through the same spread of emotions my son experienced today.
Today, I was struck at how my son sought these qualities in me while we surfed. Could he trust me enough to let go of my hand and face the wave? Would I embrace him in his success and failure, continuing to love him and coach him up? Could I encourage him in ways that would recognize and care for his vulnerability? Would I paint a picture that could inspire him?
Thinking back to memories with my own father, I’m struck by the leadership I caught from him – as he taught me to mow the lawn, catch a fish, or drive a car. In times of fear he was trustworthy and stable. In failure, he was an encourager. When I was lost or confused, he offered a broader vision of the man I wanted to become.
I suppose I was one of the lucky ones – to have a father who was present and engaged – but it’s precisely because he chose to be that kind of father that I caught leadership from his example. I saw discipline when I caught him reading and praying each morning before the rest of the house woke. I experienced responsibility when he trusted me to mow the lawn and feed the dog. His passion for my mother through multiple organ transplants revealed incredible compassion and inspirational vision. As a father myself, I can only imagine the fears he must have wrestled, wondering if he would be a widower with two small boys, but he remained grounded and stable, hoping and trusting beyond himself.
For me, he was a giant, though I doubt he was trying to teach me all the lessons I caught. More likely, he was just being himself – or perhaps striving to be the dad he wanted to become instead of settling for the father he already was. And therein lies the inspiration I draw from him this Father’s day – that each day, for my wife and our children, I will become more the person I ought to be than the one that I am today.
If so, they might get to catch some of their grandfather’s leadership from me.