I first noticed I was observing parenting when I went to live with my father, at nine years old. My parents divorced when I was five and while I observed their calmness, I think I learned more about relationships from those early days, than parenting. I thought that it was very cool that since both of my parents remarried, I had “two mommies and two daddies,” and I felt very blessed. My sister and I visited my father and stepmother in the summers, and made a summer trip to my stepmother’s home in Charlottesville. Dad’s military career called for travel and movement, as I was born in France and went on to live in Kentucky, Ohio and DC. I visiting him in Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri when I was eight, where I almost drowned “learning” how to swim in the deep end of the pool as well as killed my first and only rattlesnake while hiking. That summer I began to learn my father’s intended outcomes, as a parent.
I was intrigued by his persona, and when he was called to a tour of duty in Germany the next year, I asked my mother if I could go for the three-year journey. She asked a few questions and gave the me her blessings. Little did she know that one of my motivations to go, was a gnawing feeing, inside myself, that I was becoming spoiled rotten living with my grandmother, mother and sister…I found myself too often “bending the truth,” for mischievous mayhem, like taking $1 from my grandmother’s purse to buy Kosher dill pickles, Little Tavern burgers, candy and a 10 day trial of smoking cigarettes. I felt like I was on a path to hell, and thought my father’s disciplinary style could curb this direction.
Mom’s gave her permission, and I was off to my second tour of duty to Europe, as I was born in France and grade school in Germany was a conscious adventure.
In 1963 landing in Germany, three weeks into the school year was a challenge as I had to catch up on many fronts, especially language…much to the surprise of a German cab driver, I was fluent within a month and understood his racist epitaphs. In addition to making life-long friendships [e.g., David Lee Spradley], I found myself observing my father’s parenting style. While he forbid the use of the word, “can’t” he also tested my patience with his draconian style of autocratic leadership.
I had to pass inspection every morning and had many philosophical debates with my father: leadership styles; relationships between men and women; colors men wear & spoon sizes for men. Dad was a consummate teacher and I a curious vacuum cleaner for knowledge.
My patience was often tested, by some of his edits and antics, but our saving grace was me holding my tongue while my mind said, “I think I know what he is trying to accomplish and while I agree with the goal, I think I will try a different approach when I have my chance at being a parent.
…fast forward to me at 64, with a 14 year old son and a 23 year old stepson, I am blessed with the joys and graced with the challenges of being a dad.
Oh what a joy, oh what love, oh the challenges and the tests. I enjoy re-crafting the delivery of some of my father’s lessons to our boys and know the work remains and I stand still for the calling.