Four Things My Dad Taught Me without Realizing It

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Some memories are like rocks that have gone through the tumbler. We’ve turned and churned them over and over again in our minds so long that all the rough edges have worn off. They are smooth and polished and perfect. I have some memories like that from when I was very little, memories with my Dad. I’m sure the days weren’t perfect—I know that now from having little people of my own—(I have not yet once experienced a perfect day with them!) I’m sure there were sun burns, ant-bites, whining, anxious nights, and sibling fights. But those rough bits have all worn off these memories and now I’ve got just these shiny rocks: jumping waves in the ocean with my dad’s strong arms to lift me just as the crest would have overcome me, Sunday afternoon adventures taking our sailboat out on the river, watching his 6’4″ frame dive into a swimming pool on a hot Florida day, or moving out of the way on the tennis court when it was time for him to practice his hurricane-force serve.

I love my Dad—love him so deeply I can hardly put it into anything vaguely resembling words. I respect him too. I could go on about that for a while. He’s had to make some hard—terribly hard and costly choices in life. But one thing that I’ve tried to put my finger on in the last few years is something that my Dad taught me probably without even knowing he was teaching it, and that was his posture towards risk and life.

Waves Will Come

The ocean can be something of a terrifying place for some people. I didn’t realize this until I grew older and moved away from the beach. Then I met people who swore to me they would never swim in it: too much unknown—the seaweed, possible stingrays and sharks, the undertow, etc. Of course, as a child (like anyone else), I never enjoyed getting salt-water up my nose or the experience of being pulled under a crashing wave, but I don’t remember ever being terrified of the ocean. That’s probably because I remember so fondly my dad jumping me over the waves at the beach near our east-coast home. One after another the waves would come—some big, some small, but time after time, before I was overcome I’d jump and he’d lift me. We worked together: his great strength and my small addition. And it was a never-ending game that just didn’t get old when I was an itty-bitty thing of a girl. Now, as I look back on it, I’m sure it shaped me. Waves will come. Strong arms are there. Trust. Jump. Trust. Jump. Trust. Jump.

Make a Memory

Sunday afternoons always seemed magical to me as a kid. I remember often coming home from church, changing out of our fancy clothes and into swimsuits, and squeezing in an adventure on our sailboat before turning back around and heading to church for children’s choir practice that evening. Even now, I can close my eyes and feel that wobbly feeling I’d have when I got on dry land again and that sleepy sun-drenched happiness of a long, full day. My dad always had a mantra, “Make a memory.” I know for a fact that sometimes that drove my mom crazy—after a long week teaching she’d be ready to unwind and relax. Meanwhile, my dad was making spontaneous plans for a weekend away. I’m still not exactly sure how you make a memory, but I know my dad’s posture toward life helped me make lots of them. It was a posture of action. It was a posture that was ready to….

Dive In

This may sound funny, but it always scared me to watch my Dad jump off the diving board and into the pool. In retrospect, it seems like kids should be doing the things to scare the parents and not the other way around, but my dad didn’t have anything to be scared of. He’d dived hundreds of times before. He knew what he was doing. But there was always something a little unnerving about seeing a 6 foot 4 inch human going headfirst off a springboard and coming up a few inches from where I stood. I can still feel my tiptoes touching in the shallow end while the tsunami wave of dad struck as he finally surfaced. It was a terror and a thrill. And what did I see as he came up out of the water? The first thing he always did was give me a big grin and tell me I should try—that it was fun. Maybe it seems silly, but I know somewhere deep down those were moments I was learning what it meant to be brave, to trust in your abilities, take a deep breath, and go all in. It might be scary, but it might also be fun.

Give it Your All

You know even as a little kid that sometimes your parents are letting you win. They do it to teach you the joy of the game and to give you the confidence that you have what it takes. From the time I was small, my dad would often take me to the tennis court. It was a sport he enjoyed and somehow he harbored vain hopes that perhaps I might turn out to be another Chris Evert. (I did not.) Dad was so patient: lobbing soft balls my way, coaching me on my forehand and backhand, chasing down the balls I sent flying into the adjacent court (did I mention that I did not get the athletic gene?). But the thing I remember was that every time we played, after an ample time of patience with my developing skills, he’d tell me that it was time to move over just a bit because he was going to practice his serve. And by practice he meant—release the hurricane. I wish I’d had an odometer to clock some of those serves. I remember thinking—if I’m not careful, one of those things might kill me. But what was I learning? There’s a time and a place for showing our strength—for not holding anything back, for attacking with every sinew taut with determination. I can still hear the swoosh of the racket, the skid of his shoes, and the twang of the back fence ringing.

An Encouragement

Dads come in all kinds of varieties—with their fair share of strengths and weakness like all the rest of us. We all struggle with measuring ourselves against the meter-stick of very different people. Spoiler alert: that makes us crazy discontent. But here’s what I have learned, you may be teaching the most when you least expect that you’re teaching anything at all. Your kids are watching. They are absorbing your character and also your posture towards life itself. Is life something to be afraid of? Is it something to treasure?

Risk and Faith

Sometimes risk is stupid. Risk is dumb when it puts us in pointless jeopardy, when the gain is at someone else’s expense, when the loss will deeply damage those whom we love, when what we’re risking for is for our own glory or accolades. But there’s another kind of risk, and for the Christian, quite often, taking that risk is merely the flip-side of faith. If I believe that God is good and that He is for me, then I can trust and jump when He calls me to. If I believe that my life is hidden in Christ, then I don’t have to worry about what other people think of me—how they will judge my failing or my flying. If I believe that even if the worst happens, my God will be with me. If I believe that standing for what is right is worth more than whatever the world is offering, then swallowing the risk is not stupid, it’s faithful: full of faith that strong arms are standing ready to hop us over the waves, big and small, that keep coming at us. And that faith changes everything about our posture toward life. We aren’t trying to just tiptoe around the edge of the pool unscathed. We are standing at the deep end with the arc of our back, the position of our head, the direction of our hands—taut with the anticipation of going low before we rise up. We’re not on the sidelines watching the game, but in our court bringing every ounce of strength and skill, force and determination, slamming down on our present moment. That’s what I saw from watching my Dad when he didn’t know he was teaching me anything. That’s something I’m still trying to learn as my kids are watching me.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Thank you for who you are, the sacrifices you make, and the love with which you surround your children. It’s the air they breathe whether they are old enough to know it or not. You are making an enormous difference every day of their lives just by you being you and loving them the best you know how. I know my husband is doing just that for our kids and my dad did it for me. We are forever grateful because of it.

Enjoyed this piece? Check out my book, Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting . To read more about the book or purchase it from your favorite retail store, check it out here. You’ll find reviews, a sneak peak, and links to my free downloadable nursery prints.

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  1. To be remembered with fondness and adoration is the nicest Father’s Day gift possible! I am very blessed by your kind and generous tribute! Thank you Catherine for a very special Father’s Day gift!
    Love, Dad

  2. Your dad is a friend and prayer supporter to me. I am impressed with your very well written tribute to a fine man. You have an advantage over others however, because the focus of your homage is such a good person that tries hard to improve the lot of us less gifted with his intelligence and energetic approach to making a difference. Congratulations.

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