As you decorate your dad this weekend with a new necktie, take some time to think big, or the bigger, picture. Dads (and moms) deserve more because every valuable thing that you are…you learned from them.
It’s mid-June now, it’s U.S. Open weekend, which means it’s also Father’s Day…which means we’ll all huddle around Dad this Sunday and take it for granted (figuratively, not literally) by giving him a new tie, a Ryobi drill, or a gift certificate to Outback.
Easy in, easy out. Mark it off the list of ‘must dos’ for the year.
I, too, am guilty for my own sake as both son and dad, but on this day, on this year…I can’t. They won’t be taking it for granted at the Stan Wilker house in Maria Stein on Sunday, where our wonderful friend and associate – not to mention one of the really great fathers of that community – passed away this week. And as I went through the line at the funeral home to pay my respects…his son Nick shared something with me that I had forgotten, but it’s the essence of this column.
“The first time we met I told you my name was Nick Wilker,” he said with a smile. “Then you asked me…are you related to Stan Wilker, by any chance?”
“He’s my father,” said Nick at the time, as he reminded me on Thursday. “And then you said…’Well of course he is’.”
I remembered that meeting, from three years ago, at a high school basketball game. I remembered looking at Nick then, a grade school principal at Marion Local, and thinking that he looked just like a younger model of his dad. His personality was the spittin’ image. The handshake, the smile, and the genuineness…it was all hand-me-down from Stan Wilker.
And here’s what we all take for granted on Father’s Day. Here’s what we don’t realize when we give them a tie, or Old Spice, or a socket wrench. We owe a helluva’ lot more to our dads than the time it takes to buy an obliging gift. Given that dads take their responsibilities seriously, we owe EVERYTHING that we are to them.
And before you say, or before you write, I acknowledge that there’s a lot of moms out there who are just as instrumental, and I owe a lot to mine, as well. It was a team effort at our house. But sadly, there are many who have to be both mom and dad in the lives of their children because there is no dad in the home.
But in my case – in Nick Wilker’s case – there WAS a ‘dad’, and everything that I am today that’s admirable…I owe to him.
That’s not to say that we didn’t disagree, because we did. My dad had a pretty narrow perspective on modern culture. He didn’t like the music, he didn’t watch movies, and his respect for social media was something akin to Donald Trump’s respect for the truth. I’ve often wished that the apostles had added something about the internet in the New Testament. Dad would have been fine with it.
But for the fact of getting up every morning and going to school, to work, and facing responsibilities of being an adult, he so rigidly anchored me that I look at myself at times and say, “Well of course he’s my father.”
Example: My dad took delight in simple, and rewarding endeavors. He kept honey bees because he found them interesting and he looked forward to the harvest of their work. He didn’t mind getting stung and he would say to me…you take the bad with the good.
He did the same with the small orchard he kept – apple and peach trees, and a row of grapes. He pruned, he sprayed, and attended them obsessively because he enjoyed so much the crop at the end of the season. “Raising fruit is like life,” he’d tell me. “If you don’t do things right along the way, there’s no reward at the end.”
I still have that orchard – the pruning, the spraying, and the disappointment of spring frosts.
One of our favorite pastimes together was cutting firewood. I’m not kidding when I write…that on the hottest, most humid day of the summer he’d load up his old Ford pickup and head to the neighbor’s woods to cut and split firewood. It was miserable work, fighting the underbrush and mosquitos, but he used the same analogy as the one with the orchard. “It’s the only work you can do where you get warm twice,” he’d laugh. “Once when you’re cuttin’ the wood…and once when you’re sitting by the fire next winter.” Then he’d often add, “If you’re lazy now you’re not going to be happy later on.”
And how true is that? If there’s one thing that I remember about my dad, it was that nothing good comes easy. Your dad probably put it this way. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
And, he taught me how throw the curveball, for Heaven’s sake, the very core of my growing up loving baseball.
This was the influence that marked me – the same thing that I know Nick Wilker had, and I never set foot in his house. But I know. You can’t look like, talk like, and take responsibility as seriously as he does now without there being a strong father figure to imitate.
My dad died in May, 2011. He’s been gone for seven years. But as I watch my own kids as adults I often think about what I’ve imparted to them, because at the time I’m sure I took it for granted. And I’m sure my dad wondered the same. I’m sure he thought that I hadn’t saved enough money, cut enough wood, or raised enough fruit to make it through a hard winter.
And yet, as I see them now I see enough of myself that I shouldn’t worry. But I will, and I do. Just like Glenn Fulks and Stan Wilker. Because, that’s what real dads do.
You see, we owe them a lot more…than Outback!