“Any man can be a Father, but it takes someone special to be a Dad.”–Anne Geddes
My dad was not a perfect person, but we only get one dad and I loved mine very much.
Each Father’s Day, I take the opportunity to remember the important gifts he gave me. My parents divorced when I was eight, and while my dad stayed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my mom, brother and I moved to Virginia, where my mom’s family lived.
Times were different then; the distance made it impossible to see my dad except for a few weeks each summer when we would travel to Albuquerque to visit him. My mom was an exceptional parent, and I’ve become the person I am in large part because of her. But I also remember the lessons I learned from my dad.
When I was four, he woke me up from a sound sleep to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
“This is history you’re watching,” he told me. “Always remember this remarkable night.”
I still remember that night, and “Walty Kite” (Walter Cronkite) reporting. But I also remember thinking, “I must be really important to my dad because he wanted to share this experience with me.”
Lesson: Everyday activities take on significant meaning when a parent takes the time to share them in a special way.
A couple of years after Neil Armstrong’s historical walk, I told my dad I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. He didn’t say, “That’s not a job for girls,” he said, “Maybe I’ll watch YOU walk on the moon one day!”
When I later changed my mind and said I wanted to be the first female President of the United States he said, “I’ll vote for you!” That was in 1972. He always made me feel like he believed I could do anything, which made me believe it too. When I finally decided I wanted to be a TV News Anchor, there was no doubt in my mind I could succeed.
Lesson: Believe in your kids. Your confidence will build confidence in them and encourage them to shoot for the moon.
My dad was Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico for many years. He would go to work each day at 5:30 a.m. and get home at 6 p.m. each night. That strong work ethic came from growing up on a farm where he’d rise before the sun at 2:30 a.m. each morning to milk cows and do other chores before he went to school. When he got home, he’d do more farm chores before heading back to football, basketball or baseball practice.
As a child, I didn’t really understand but hearing those stories of his life on the farm and watching his strong work ethic influenced me as a young adult to follow suit.
Lesson: Success requires hard work and sacrifice.
After I graduated from high school, I didn’t see my dad very much. We kept in touch through letters, cards and phone calls, but the visits were few and far between as I worked my way through college and then started my career.
Years later when I had Riley, my dad reached out to me more frequently, excited to have a granddaughter and wanting to be a better granddad than he was a dad. He came to Toledo to visit us twice when Riley was a toddler and even talked about looking for a job in Toledo so he could move closer to us.
Lesson: It’s never too late to bridge and strengthen relationships when you love someone.
A couple of months later, it became obvious that would never happen.
After my parents divorced, my dad started smoking — eventually up to two packs of cigarettes a day. He also started drinking more and more until he became a functioning alcoholic. He wasn’t mean nor destructive. He went to work each day, and drank himself to sleep each night. It was probably in his DNA. My Granddad Peterson was also an alcoholic, and despite the negative effect it had on my dad growing up, he seemed to make many of the same poor choices.
After 30 years, those choices killed him. My dad went into liver and kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. It was a blessing that my brother and I were able to visit him and have important conversations with him before he died. He was just 61 years old. I still miss him.
My relationship with my dad was complicated over the years, but when I remember him on Father’s Day and other days, I remember the good. And as an adult, I can see that even if we are not perfect people, we can still be good, impactful parents.
Lesson: Where there is love, there is forgiveness.
Chrys Peterson is a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.