As we approach Father's Day, I can't help but think of the presence (or lack of presence) dad's play in the formation of men and women in the world. As with mother's, it is profound and effects just regular folks to athletes to presidents and potential presidents. Understanding the dynamic of fathers (and of course mothers) in the growth of people across the landscape of life is one of the important predictors of whether someone is positive or negative, giving or taking, anxious or at peace, compassionate or abusive. The love or wounds we receive or give as Dad's travel with us the rest of our lives.
Growing up in Detroit the brother to 10 siblings, our Pop (that is what we called our dad) had to work many hours to feed, house and clothe this Irish Catholic tribe. He wasn't around very much, but when he was it was often to give discipline, which usually involved a belt. In our house there was the usual good cop (mom) and bad cop (Pop) dynamic.
Do I wish my dad had been around more and engaged with us in a more loving way? Of course. But I believe he did the best job he could under the circumstances. And I learned quite a bit in my upbringing and still hold onto many of the values he instilled in me. One of the ways he helped me was, in an odd way, becoming a man in my own right.
One sunny Michigan summer Saturday, after we had finished doing chores, all of us took a break to horse around. My dad at this point usually got a lawn chair, a glass of cheap wine, a newspaper and a cigar and sat out on the patio to relax. This was supposed to be his quiet moment when he was no longer yelling at us and chasing us around the yard.
Well this patio was out the back of our house, which had an exposed basement. And our bedrooms were on the second floor about 25 feet above the patio, where my father was now sitting. Two of my brothers and I gathered at the window of our bedroom and looked down at my father drinking wine, reading the Detroit News and smoking a cigar serenely. I dashed away for a moment, and came back with a trash bag that I had filled with as much water as I could. It must have weighed 40 pounds.
I hung it out the window as my brothers watched me with both excitement and horror in their eyes. They thought there was no way I would drop this down on the patio. I held onto this heavy bag of water for bit debating to myself whether I should drop it on my father. A combination of fear and courage went back and forth in this eleven year old's heart. I finally said to myself "you have to drop this on him if you want to be a man". At that exact moment, I let it go. My brothers were shocked as I watched it slowly descend on my dad. It hit him point blank on the head, knocking him off the lawn chair, breaking his cigar and dislodging his wine glass.
He laid there a moment looking up at me in the window and I down on him and we knew the dynamic of our relationship had just changed. He chased me down and I got a serious whipping. That night, as I lay sorely in bed, one of my brothers asked me if it was worth it. I said "yes", smiling as I said it.
I learned many things from my Pop -- some good and some not so much. In the raising of my own children, I have tried to throw away the bad and keep the good as a father. I haven't always been successful. I would say I have taken five values away from that parental education that I have tried to live out and instill in my three sons and daughter(Besides the obvious one of unconditional love).
1. Live Imperfectly: It is more than okay to make mistakes, and the folks who don't make mistakes usually are following fear too much to take risk. And it is only through risk that we grow into the men and women each of us needs to become. And leaders should worry less about doing it just right, but rather to experiment with what may or may not work. Each partisan side today has the perfect answer for a problem, and as the saying goes "the perfect is the enemy of the good."
2. Accountability: Yes, we can make mistakes, and take risks but we have to be accountable for our actions and decisions. Living imperfectly only works out for the families and communities we are in if we are willing to take responsibility for our choices and fix the problems we might cause along the way. Too many leaders today want to make decisions, but they don't want to accept the accountability for their actions. It is then we lose trust in our leaders and each other.
3. Humility: I learned from my father that no one is better than you, but I also learned that I am no better than anyone else. It is two sides of the same coin of humbleness. It is not true humility to be a doormat to others or bow down to someone because they have power or money. Stand up for yourself and know you are just as good as anyone else. But also know you are as flawed as the next person, and don't allow humility to breed a different form of arrogance. We are in desperate need of true humility in our leaders.
4. Don't be nice, be kind: Being nice is really about how we want to be perceived; being kind is about who we are. I would say my father wasn't a very nice person, but he has a kind heart. You don't have to do things to satisfy others or to convince others you are nice, but do be genuinely kind. And kindness, as my father used to say, is sometimes calling "bullshit" on each other. I inherited that phrase from my dad calling "bullshit" on a lot of things including in our politics. I don't want a nice President, but I do want a kind one.
5. Integrity is key, not honesty: Yes being honest is important, but more important is living life with integrity and without hypocrisy. Integrity means that what I think, say and do is in alignment. And it says to me that the means of how I live my life is as important as what the ends of my life are pursuing. Saying one thing and doing another for some "bigger purpose", or to win an election, or to pass a law to me isn't integrity. I got many punishments growing up not for bad actions, but for trying to cover them up. I learned the Watergate lesson very early.
So Happy Father's Day to my Pop, and to all the Dads out there. You are the greatest teacher your sons and daughters will ever have in their life -embrace it. And be the teacher where lessons are learned from the good and not the bad. What are your five lessons you want to teach your kids or what five did you take away from your father? All of us can learn from each other, and some Presidential candidates on the trail can definitely learn from all of us.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.
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