Welcome back to the kitchen table. I hope you’re having a good week. I am! I’m making a bear and a quilt this week. The bear is from a fur coat that I got from my dad when I was about 18 I think…(me nor my stepmom can remember exactly!).
I’m also making a Memory Quilt for my dad using his Air Show t-shirts which he’s been collecting for more than ten years (my mom is happy to have some of her spare drawers emptied out)!
Hmmm. Sounds like two different men, doesn’t it? Well, it is! I realized after my last chat with you around the kitchen table that I was interchangeably using “Dad” for the two men who have been guides and groomers in my life, I call both “Dad”. Let me take a moment to tell you a little about that. Oh, I can’t guarantee after this that I’ll be more clear about which man I’m talking about when I do mention one of them, but like the rest of my family – you’ll likely be able to figure it out on your own.
James is the one from whom I got my traits, and the one who was there the day I was born. My natural dad. Bob is the one who became mine as much as much as I became his as we forged our relationship from my teen years. My by-marriage dad. This short story might explain them in simpler terms: I had a friend in my childhood whose name was Robin. She went to the same church I did and her mom was my mom’s hairdresser (there’ll be more on those great Beauty Shop stories another time!). Robin was my very first friend and I remember our short time together, when we were young, well. With the deepest sorrow, I’ll tell you that she was taken from this world far before her time, at 15. One thing, however, that I know she always said was that her mom was her “pretty on the outside parent” and that her dad was her “pretty on the inside” parent. I’d like to borrow that from Robin and apply it to these dads of mine. James was my pretty on the outside Dad and Bob is my pretty on the inside Dad. Wanna hear some stories? Come on then….
James was flamboyant. He attracted attention wherever he went because of his energy, cheerfulness, confidence and stylishness. I watched him work with people over the years and marveled at the way he could pull them in with his infectious smile and flirtatious ways.
In his early days, and when I was little, he was a minister in the Quaker church. I read a recently-found newspaper article that had been saved by my grandma Bethany, James’s mom, about an interracial Vacation Bible School that he helped to orchestrate back in the 60s. The Bible School brought together three churches and two colors. It was a bold and shameless idea that compelled folks to look more closely at their own attitudes – and my dad was surely pleased. Upending things in this manner, was his way. He liked people to look at their circumstances in a different light, to change their paradigm, to see their worth and the worth of others; it was like air to his lungs I think…spicing things up, lifting people up. He wanted everyone to feel better about themselves by Christ’s standards and when he could assist in that, I believe it drove him. I know he enjoyed seeing others excel, especially those close to him.
From an early age, James taught me to demand a lot of myself, and – from my viewpoint - he was hard to please, though my brother doesn’t feel that way I don’t think. James and I butted heads regularly.
I can’t really remember hearing a “Good job!” from him, most things could always have been better. That was a disappointment. Though I resented that disquiet between us when I was young, I’ve come to appreciate it now. It was just always understood between us, that we would banter and battle. And boy, did I ever try to grab that brass ring of approval from him on every turn. Sometimes I tried with joy, sometimes with tears, but it was always my goal and I relished it. I’ve carried that trait with me into every job and every project and its helped me to be a better person, mother and worker.
As time has passed and my corners have softened, I realize that he was proud of me and that because I was a reflection of him, I had to be the best I could be. He couldn’t accept less. I figured that when I realized I’d inadvertently done the same thing to my kids – though I hope I’ve tempered it with plenty of praise. I’ve sought to take the very best parts of my dad; the part that tells others that they’re doing well with enthusiastic encouragement and uplifting words. There was a lot of good in him I saw and probably a lot that I didn’t get to see; as life goes - he died before I became fully aware of some attributes of his which I’ve learned of from his sisters and others. A scary amount of people today are okay with demanding a lot from other people but not from themselves. That’s backwards thinking. You can always get more out of yourself, you can’t always get more out of those around you. James always said about any task, “Lisa, if no one in the world can do that, then you should be the first. If everyone else can do it, there’s no reason you can’t…”
There were about 350 people who attended two services for my dad when he died 20 years ago, a testimony to the positive impact he had made on those around him. During his funeral if so led, these attendees were given opportunity to stand up and tell a story they knew of James. The most memorable one I remember was from a man who ran a gas station: James made a regular drive from the city in which he worked to a southern city in which he lived. The two destinations were far apart and almost always, he had to stop and fill up his tank with gas to make it home – or to his office. One late evening, when no one else was on the road, as the gas station attendant explained, my dad dropped $200 out of his pocket while he was pumping gas (he always carried cash). As was usual, when he was done, he hurriedly got into his car and sped on to the next task. The attendant found the money and tried to flag my dad back to no avail. So he hung onto the money. When my dad stopped a week or so later to get gas again, that attendant ran out to him and handed him the dropped cash. My dad laughed at the notion that someone would be so honest and thanked the man and said “I tell you what. I’ll let you keep that money if you’ll let me take five minutes to tell you how Jesus Christ can change your life…” The man was elated (about the money at first, I’m sure), but listened and accepted Christ as a personal friend and savior that day. When he recounted the story, he was emotional and thankful. I was touched. That was a good story about this man who served God – though made some bad choices – but sowed some worthy seed during his time on this earth. My pretty-on-the-outside dad…taught me that the impression you leave is not only how people will view you, but is often how they will view themselves as well. How you treat people, how they view you and what you do - matters.
Then, there’s my dad, Bob. Not flamboyant, he is solid and steadfast and a true source of strength in my life. In every setting in which I’ve had the privilege of watching him, he has fostered truth and faith and power in people. He, along with several others, ran an insurance office for 28 years. During that time, he worked in several capacities as an administrator and before that, he taught middle school and he’s a small airplane pilot – which he has always loved.
My mom and James had been separated/divorced for about seven years when I “got” Bob; I was 16 years old. I remember the first day I met him, I was running up my porch steps to get something that I had forgotten and nearly bowled him over. He smiled gently and said “Well, hello” . I yelled back “Hey!” and I was gone. I’m sure it wasn’t a good first impression, but thank Goodness, I didn’t scare him off. He and my mom dated and married by the time I was 18 years old. I couldn’t have been happier, it was a great union.
My first daughterly encounter with Bob came soon after their wedding and set his and my relationship in motion for the next 35 (and counting) years. I had learned in that short time, that Bob thought things through. He wasn’t given to flights of fancy or unworkable ideas and he nearly never made a mistake. I had been invited to an all-night Halloween party with my boyfriend at the time. James didn’t generally play into my daily activities and my mom could be swayed to go my way if I committed to nagging her correctly. Now, though, she had a powerhouse in her corner so when I asked her if I could go to the party, she said “Ask Bob”. Hmmm. I felt suddenly like I was living with Ward and June Cleaver; I had to ask my dad if I could go to a party? How great! Happy about the whole idea, I walked into his office where he was writing a report or making a chart or something and said “I have a question for you, Booblette (that was the nickname I had bestowed on him and which I still use today).” To my surprise, he laid his pen down and folded his hands and gave me his undivided attention. This small action made the biggest difference in my life. I wasn’t accustomed to anyone stopping everything to listen to what I had to say, I was used to working through the busyness of people around me and I counted on their busyness to blur my request and thus finish quickly with the formality of asking. Not any more. I squared my shoulders and made my case. He carefully considered what I was doing, who I was going with , where I would be and when it would all take place (very thorough) and then told me “yes” I could go. What?!! I was excited, but I also felt good about my permission and more grateful than victorious. Our grown up conversation caused me to respect him more – and myself. This feeling of self assurance I suddenly had was better than the usual feeling of triumph I generally had after a “win”. That encounter was just one of many building blocks my dad mortared into place as I continued to grow. He became, and remains, the one place to which I can run where I find acceptance and devotion and sound advice – every time. At the darkest times of my life, he has stood steadfast for me and with me – always accepting me as I was, but explaining with clarity, why it would be better to alter a poorly chosen course. He didn’t shrink from telling me like it was either. Never one to placate, I made some very hard decisions that led to some very good results under his watchful eye. My pretty-on-the-inside dad. Taught me that God alone is the one to whom I answer. That right actions and an honorable outlook will always be of the highest benefit.
Both men bring valuable lessons to the kitchen table. It saddens me to see these lessons losing ground in today’s society. I hope you’ll think about them…. How good it is to push yourself, to discover a stronger and more capable “you”. To seek, and accept, wise counsel. To be true to yourself. The way I see it, too many people have no idea how much they can actually do because they stop trying when their comfort begins to run low. What’s the point in that? Life is hard, and working against that truth just frustrates you. You can find more substance in yourself when you let go of the “victim” status that modern ideals have tried to slap on all of us. Oh, and don’t lose your style either. It matters what you look like and how you act. Have you allowed the defense of your bad habits to be, “Well, this is just how I am”? If so, ask yourself if you’re just plain guilty of accepting too little from yourself. “Good enough” is always the enemy of the best. Finally, be sure to listen to people’s advice. You don’t have to make every change that people impose on you, but take the time to listen anyway – there may be a gem in there. Listening is a critical quality that is far underrated. Make it a point today to listen fully to your kids sharing or to your spouse’s irritations or to your friend’s troubles. Work hard to not jump to a conclusion before they’ve finished speaking. There are valuable words coming from those important people, don’t miss them in your hurry. Be someone’s rock. Be pretty on the inside AND the outside.
I’ll see you next time at the kitchen table.