My mother has always provided me with a calm, nurturing perspective that has helped me navigate the difficulties of life. But there are some things that only a father can provide.
There were few things that brought me more joy as a child than tossing the football around with my father. There is a unique bond between father and son when they hurl their bodies around recklessly. Therein a young man learns something about how to carry himself, how to strive, how to test the extremes of his personality. There is little in life that imbued me with more confidence than those ordinary summer days.
Like most parents, my father expected a lot of his 10 children (eight boys and two girls) and he pushed them - by encouragement and the occasional lash - to fulfill their potential. I remember the strong grip of his hands as he taught me how to throw. Just as I remember, with perfect vividness, the strength of his arms as he hugged me after I won the 1976 high school oratory contest, or the abundance of joy in his face as I received my college diploma. More importantly, though, my father was there when I didn't meet his expectations. He taught us the personal satisfaction of doing a job well, but he never abandoned us when we fell short of our aspirations. Beyond the father/son cliches of practicing sports together, dad was always there. It is amazing what men can achieve when their father's believe in them.
My father's idea of manhood was bound up in a deeply spiritual mandate to fulfill one's potential. The values that he taught me - personal responsibility, economic independence, thrift, the importance of having a strong work ethic, the joy of learning, ambition and perseverance - I now realize are essential ingredients to success.
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 an essential 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 foundation that helped us navigate our lives. Those same beliefs are what motivate my siblings and I as we go about our lives. Every day we try to model our conduct on the example that my father set. We thank him for teaching us right from wrong and instilling in us the values that have kept us searching and striving to stay on the right side of our Creator.
Though memories of my father attain greater definition at this time of year, the values he taught me are 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, but 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.