Fatherly love and influence, social scientists say, can be as important to healthy child development as motherly love and influence. As I reflect on my own childhood, I know this is true.
My father was a strong, quiet man, and his lessons were more "caught" than "taught." So when I think about his influence, I tend to think in vignettes, rather than recall intentional conversations. Here are just a few of the many life lessons learned from my father who taught by his own example.
1. Much of the goodness in this world is made up of small kindnesses.
I am 8 or 9 years old, riding my bike around our neighborhood. I come across an older girl sitting on the curb, sobbing. I stop, and she tells me that her bicycle chain has fallen off, she's a long way from home and no one passing by has stopped to help her. I jump on my bike and pedal like mad back to my house. Breathlessly, I tell my father about the girl. Sure enough, he drops what he's doing, slips a tool or two in his back pocket and walks the few blocks to where I met the girl. He soothes her, fixes the bike and soon, she is merrily on her way again. He smiles but says very little about it. I remember feeling proud as I watched him wash the bike grease off his big hands.
2. Be reliable.
I burst out the doors of a local skating rink after a birthday party. It's dark, cold and rainy. I immediately see our family car. My father is waiting to pick me up, just as he promised. He is on time, every time. After piano lessons. After basketball games. After club meetings. My father is always there, waiting to take me home.
After the skating party, we wait with my friend for her father to come. We wait. And wait. She sits in our car with us as the rain comes down in sheets, and we wait some more. "I guess he forgot," she says, starting to cry. "He does this sometimes." My father, who never forgot, takes her home.
3. You can do whatever you want to do, if you set your mind to it.
I learn to print my name before I can actually read it, because you have to be able to print your name in order to get a library card. I desperately want my own library card. Soon (and still to this day), I am reading everything I can get my hands on. I want to be a writer, I tell my father. He buys me books and magazine subscriptions. He buys me spiral notebooks that I fill with my own stories and drawings, which he reads and enjoys immensely (or at least pretends to do so). It never, ever crosses my mind that I can't write -- because my father thinks I can. My father knows I can. My lifelong career in publishing is both a self-fulfilling and father-fulfilling prophecy, if there is such a thing.
If my father were alive to read this, he'd be surprised. He might say that mostly what he did was show up, be attentive, and be his best self. But that was all that was required.
What life lessons did you learn from your father?
This post originally appeared on the Highlights for Children Aha! Blog