My parents taught me how to read when I was three years old. More important than the sounding out of letters though, my father shared with me his passion for reading. Over the years, he demonstrated to me that books offer us solace and escape when nothing else can -- that books help us understand the world and ourselves -- and he taught me a deep appreciation and gratitude for a good story.
In many ways, what he taught me about books he was teaching me about life: that in the end, it's not the plot that determines whether a book is great, or a life worthwhile, but what's written around the plot.
These are the major plot points of my father's life: a childhood spent in north and west Texas, a basketball scholarship, two tours in Vietnam, a successful business career, two children. And there are some quirky, character details to his story as well: a short-lived obsession with collecting spurs, his gift for foreign languages, specifically his fluency in dog, his peculiar guilty pleasure of eating Honey Maid graham crackers with butter on them.
But it is the life that I've watched him live around that plot and those details that has inspired me. He has written a life of compassion and intelligence, integrity and hard work. One with big mistakes and small missteps, but always with learning and grace. He has shown me what's important: Do the right thing. Do work you love. Be good to people. These are the morals of my father's story, the mottos that he has learned to live by.
Through his example he has shown me that what you fear is your biggest failure, 200 pages later leads to your greatest joy; that an event on page 151 that seems terribly important, may end up being but a minor footnote by the end of the book; that the other characters -- your friends, your family -- are just as important to shaping the overall story as you are. And that ultimately, it is the tone, the language, the characterization -- in other words, our attitude and demeanor, our day to day ordinary actions and exchanges, the constant choices we make about how to be with ourselves and how to be with others -- that determine whether a story is ultimately forgettable, or whether, as in his case, it is memorable, inspiring, and meaningful.
It is exciting and empowering and terribly scary to realize that it's up to us whether our stories are filled with big adventures, grand themes, and great loves -- whether there will be a character arc by the end of the story, what the theme of our lives will ultimately be. Though I don't always get to choose the plot points of my story, I find it heartening that I always get to choose what happens next.
I have a dear friend who I've known for almost a year now. He is writing a life, and I am watching him become the hero of his own story. Not in a New York Times bestselling adventure-hero kind of way, but in a character-driven, National Book Award nominee-hero kind of way. I hope that I am learning from him. After all, we may all be protagonists, but we're not all heroes. Heroes are rare. It turns out though, that the distinction is often up to us. Something to think about as we move through our days, that roll into weeks, and on into months and years and decades, creating a story that spans a lifetime and spawns a legacy.
I can only hope that my father's legacy will live on through me someday. That in some way, my life will be a sequel to his story. But right now, he's still writing. At the age of 70, he recently joined Facebook, learned yoga, and experienced ziplining in Mexico. I have no doubt that he has many exciting chapters ahead. As one of the readers of his great story, I have much to look forward to. He is a hero, and he's one of my favorite characters.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.