In some ways I can relate to those born almost a hundred years ago. That generation found themselves traveling by horse-and-buggy (or bullock/camel cart, depending on the continent!), watched in amazement as the automobile , and then the airplane were invented – and finally as both went mainstream. Even better, most of them experienced the convenience and joy of travel by planes, trains and automobiles – a far cry from the rustic, slow moving transport options of their youth.
I say I can relate to them because I grew up in an age when phone calls were akin to a luxury, as calling my family in India meant shelling out $3.92 a minute to Ma Bell (you’re welcome, T ) thereby ensuring that phone calls with loved ones were (by financial, if not emotional) necessity, short and to the point. Fast forward from those “good ol’ days” to today, where we fret at our inability to maintain a high quality video chat – a feat that would feel miraculous if it hadn’t become so mundane (even though at the time we may be driving through a national park or 40,000 feet above the ground in an airplane). Not to mention the low, low price of FREE that we generally pay for that talk-till-you-drop conversation in high definition.
During those days as I regularly forked over large percentages of my hard-earned student stipend to enrich the coffers of AT&T, my dad had a simple solution for me: “Write me a letter”, he would say, as he often gently wound down the conversation, aware of the running phone-meter at my end, even across the chasm of thousands of transcontinental miles. Loquacious, he was not, but compassionate and empathetic, he was beyond measure.
It has been ten years, to this week, since I last heard my dad’s voice over the telephone. And I do not miss him any more today, on father’s day, than any of the other 364 days of the year. For a decade I have maintained a restrained silence when talking – perhaps even thinking – about his death lest somehow his passing becomes a mere milestone marker in the inevitable road of life, rather than the earth-shattering event it was for our family. But truly, out of the mouths of babes comes healing and wisdom. My young and very talented niece wrote about her grandfather in the thoughtful “as long as the eye can see” project, and today as I read my former colleague and fellow blogger Jill’s father’s day blog, I felt I could follow my dad’s old advice and write a letter… to the internet 🙂
My dad didn’t chase fame or fortune. He was a doctor and a soldier, one of those rare groups of people who risk their lives while trying to save others’, all while doing their patriotic duty. As a military man, he held himself to high standards and discipline, but as a father he was doting and forgiving. He fought for his country in the front lines of a bloody war, healing the wounded on the battlefield, and (as to be statistically expected) himself narrowly escaped the fate of his martyred colleagues. After the war and his military service ended, as a civilian doctor he showed the same camaraderie he had for his fellow vets to any patient that came to him for diagnosis and treatment. All were welcome at his clinic whether they could afford to pay or not, and he treated everyone with kindness, compassion and dignity that all human beings deserve, but don’t always receive. He took care of his family, nurtured his children’s oversized dreams and served his community and faith.
I know if I told my children to “write me a letter” it would make as much sense as my paying almost four bucks a minute for a phone call. I guess the contemporary version would be more like “send me a text”. With that, here are text-message sized lessons I carry from my dad every day of my life:
- Be kind (dad is in good company here; Jeff Bezos famously urged Princetonians to choose to be kind over being clever in his widely watched commencement speech).
- Work hard, be honest.
- Enjoy and appreciate what you have, envy no one. There will always be someone who has more – and someone who has less.
- No matter how this day has been, it too shall pass.
- Serve your fellow men, respect your elders, have faith.
Most fathers don’t realize it, but they are towering influences in their children’s lives: some by their presence, others by their absence. My dad was like oxygen in the air: his impact perhaps not that easy to see, but his absence felt acutely with every breath I take.