THE LESSONS MY FATHER TAUGHT ME
6/13/2001 12:00:00 AM - Armstrong Williams
Zelda Fitzgerald once wrote, "Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold." Perhaps what Fitzgerald meant, but was too gentle to say, was that love has no relation to reason or logic. A parent's love, for example, exists only for the sake of love itself. This simple fact makes it the most encompassing of all our endeavors.
This thought occurs to me as Father's Day approaches. Memories of my late father, imbued with sadness, regret, love and pride are all a little more urgent to me this time of year.
I can still recall, with perfect vividness, my father teaching me how to catch a football or the firm grip of his hands as he hugged me after I won the 1976 high school oratory contest. I remember feeling like a grown-up as I trailed him across the farm, trying to help out with various chores or the abundance of joy in his face as I received my college diploma.
I often hear folks mutter ugly and fearful words about parenting. They worry that the burdens of parenthood will prevent them from pursuing their own pleasures. They equate the inability to live whimsical lives with the death of something precious.
After having children, their perspective often changes. For one experiences the joy and fulfillment of creating another human being not with thoughts, but with feeling. What thoughts, after all, can compare to what a parent feels when their child takes his or her first step, or falls in love? A parent's love is not understood in a series of thoughts. It is simply and sublimely felt. It reminds us what it means to be alive.
I carry with me, as a source of rejuvenation, such memories of my father's love, thoughtfulness and even his kindly lash. I also recall, with horrible precision, the image of my father in the hospital - a patchwork of tubes snaking in and around his body. Even in this most desperate time, I believe he drew some comfort from seeing some of himself reflected back in my loving gaze.
Certainly, it made him proud that I chose to embrace the values that he taught me - personal responsibility, economic independence, thrift, hard work and having a strong work ethic. I also learned an essential optimism that things will work out for the best, hope in the future and in each other, the value of education and the love of learning, ambition, enthusiasm, a healthy dose of pride, determination and perseverance.
I now realize that these are essential ingredients for a successful life. When we embrace these timeless values, the walls between us fall and other differences - skin color, background and politics - become inconsequential. We see that we all want joy for our families and ourselves. There is more uniting us than there is dividing us.
My father understood that faith and family values were the essential foundation that helped us navigate our lives. Those same beliefs are what motivate me as I go about my life. Every day I try to model my conduct on the example that my father provided. I thank him for teaching me right from wrong and instilling in me the values that have kept me searching and striving to stay on the right side of our Creator.
Though the memories of my father may attain some greater definition this time of year, the values he taught me remain constant. They help me to understand what St. Augustine meant when he said, "My soul is restless O Lord, until it rests in Thee." I may not always have happiness in my life, yet I do have peace.
When I am at peace, my soul is at rest in the Lord. If we all embrace the wisdom of family values and faith, the soul of our nation can also find rest.