“You’re your mother’s daughter” were words my dad wrote to me in response to an essay I wrote about food and the generational quality of it. His words were meant as a compliment pointing out how much I am like my mother. It made me happy to think of being so much like her but it also hurt. “The pen is mightier than the sword” was never truer. What we say in writing can wound and at two am I was worried that in some way, my essay had hurt my father with those words. However these four words sent me on a journey down memory lane during the wee darkness of the morning…because if I am my mother’s daughter, I am also my father’s daughter.
Hard working is my strongest memory of my father. Not only was his job incredibly physical, as a foreman at the local steel plant, but it was a mentally demanding job. He worked the swing shift which meant that he would often work strange hours and sleep strange hours. “Don’t wake your father” were words to live by! His schedule could and often did change daily. To drive your body to that point takes not only physical but mental acuity. But more than the hard work he did on the job, my father worked around the house and at many of my other family members’ homes too, fixing roofs, building decks, or helping to paint the house! At no time did I hear my father complain about the work or refuse to help. Maybe that is a part of the code he was raised by but he set a powerful standard that I have always attempted to reach.
Personal responsibility was also an important part of my dad. I remember when I was a teenager with a new car. He told me that in order to be able to drive that car, I needed to know how to take care of it. Two days I labored trying to figure out how to open the hood and check the oil. At any time, I could have asked for help but I wanted to prove that I was able to do this. I wanted to earn his respect. His modeling of personal responsibility taught me to take my knocks for the things that I did wrong. How absolutely frightening were the words “Wait till your father gets home!” My mom could utter those in a whisper and we would sit with fear because we knew we had done something bad…something that we may face a consequence for but face it we would, you could count on that! Today, so many parents let their children off easy for fear of harming their child’s self esteem but I am glad that my father taught me to take the good with the bad and own up for what I did. No point in running from consequences, God or Karma has a way of catching you and making you face the music and no excuse will change that fact.
While hard work and personal responsibility were vital to my father, emotions were a tough one. He grew up in a time when men didn’t show their emotions. Yet God felt the need to saddle this man with five daughters (yes, I did say five). The emotional roller coasters he dealt with were staggering. Honestly, that man must have earned sainthood as we went through teenage hormones! There are photos of him holding each new baby with a look of awe on his face. And the laughter that could be heard as he chased us around the house as a snarling monster was music for angel’s ears! One story that he likes to share of my childhood is the burning desire I had for a puppy. We had other pets, gerbils, hamsters and many cats growing up. One day one of these kittens had climbed into my dad’s wheel well of his car (only a kitten knows why they do this). On this day, my father had to work and the car quickly became a killing machine. Horrified about how to break this information to his young daughter, my father must have agonized over telling me. (Having children of my own- I know how heartbreaking it is to share bad news with them.) Knowing my dad, the worry about the emotional toll it would have on me, fearing that I was scarred for life, he shared it in the kindest most sympathetic way. Only to get a response from me, “Okay, now we can get a puppy?” I have seen this man marry off his daughters, hold his grandchildren in his arms, and bury his loved ones with out shedding a tear but his emotions were there on his face for all to witness. A few quiet words or a small gesture from my father conveys a whole conversation of emotion. Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino has nothing on my father!
So back to those four simple words- “You’re your mother’s daughter.” I am proud to say that I am also my father’s daughter. We are all a product of the millions of people and connections that we make during our lifetimes. But our parents become the heroes of childhood, the dreams of what success means, and the sculptors of our personality. During a time of crisis at the steel plant, one of my father’s employees told me that “my father was the best manager and he wouldn’t do anything to harm him if he had to cross the picket line.” What respect! So I hope to be my father’s daughter, with a strong work ethic, personal responsibility and the compassion to do what is right. Thank you Dad!