Knowing where to begin when you set out to write something like this is just impossible. So I'll start with my inspiration. My dad has a tradition of writing letters to my siblings and my mom. Not a lot of letters. But really important "I see you and appreciate you" kind of letters. I've always thought he deserved a letter like that of his own, and if I'd thought of it sooner, I would have written him one on the day he retired this past week. But I thought of it now and now is better than never, and while there is something nice about the privacy and sanctity of a letter, I'm opting for the blog this time because my dad is too humble and people should know him the way I get to.
My dad started college at sixteen. SIXTEEN. He was given no help at all financially, had no real role model to guide him in his ambitious plans, but he was determined to become a lawyer, and to go to one of the top schools and take a path unlike anyone else's he knew. And he did. All while marrying his high school sweetheart and making her the most important thing in his life. See, that's what my dad has always excelled at. He does the difficult things, works tremendously hard, but never for a second did we as his family ever feel inferior to his career or his plans. His work was always a means to giving us the best lives he could.
I won't go into the details of my parents early years. Needless to say, they were more difficult than anyone should ever have to go through. And as usual, they depended on no one but themselves. I have to keep reiterating that point because my parents have helped ME so much. I look at the path my dad blazed for himself, the principles he lived by without fail, and use that to inspire me to do the same. Only I have the luxury of support and have still found it difficult to make my own way without caring what others think. I think as you get older, as you have children, you begin to appreciate what your parents have done for you in a whole new way. Financially alone, I am astounded. When Cade finishes college they will have paid for four undergraduate careers at top schools, plus my dad's three years at law school. You do the math. That's amazing.
But while my dad's career has been impressive, it's what he has NOT done that impresses me more. See, he's really good at what he does. I mean, he worked so hard and graduated so fast that he was the youngest lawyer in the state of Virginia for a while! But he refused to work at a private law firm where he would have made a ton of money and traded in all his time and sanity. Instead, he found the perfect way to practice law in the federal appellate court. And he did that extremely well, to the tune of many promotions. I remember when he reached a certain level at his office and I asked him what was next on the ladder, and he said that he would accept no further promotions. Moving beyond his current role would be a level of stress that he would never choose. While all of these choices were good for his own well being, of course, I think it also takes an amount of humbleness and objective prioritization that a lot of people wouldn't have when tempted by MORE. More prestige, more money. Those things were never why my dad became a lawyer.
In fact, I've never met a person less concerned with his own elite status in society. What careers do people seem to revere? Why, lawyers and doctors of course! And you can tell when people revel in their titles and images, but my dad has never done that. I remember coming home from high school one day after a mind-blowing day in government class and confronting my dad about never having let me know in any way how important the court system he worked in was. I had never really understood the level he was at and it's because my dad doesn't need glory or to ask for anyone else's respect. I'm certain he would rather be known for his excellent volleyball and basketball skills than for his suit and tie image.
Pictures from my mom at our Bookbinders retirement celebration
What my dad has done for me, that no one else ever has, is understood me at my core. We have so much in common. We're both very sentimental, but rarely emotional in the face of others. We both hold our stresses and dissatisfactions in so that we don't burden others. We hate selfishness and we like taking care of the people we deem worthy. We both value honesty, authenticity, and freedom. We're both very rational and good at stepping back and seeing the objective big picture in a situation, even if that conflicts with what we want personally. We're perceptive and see others for who they really are. I've always felt like we share a language that others don't have. So often growing up and still to this day, we'll notice the same thing at the same time and look at each other, maybe across the dinner table or in the rearview mirror the car, and there are no words necessary. We just understand that we're seeing the same thing, processing it in the same way. Maybe it's a funny thing that no one else gets or maybe it's more serious than that, but I've always appreciated that silent understanding between us.
I don't know how much of this I was born with and how much I learned from him, but either way he gets the credit (even though he'll say he doesn't). I've spent my whole life taking pride in my similarities with my dad and I know no one has unintentionally shaped me more.
Here is what he is not good at. He's not good at letting go, at giving up, or relinquishing his worries. He is always worrying about his family. That expression that you are as happy as your most unhappy child is completely true for him. If one of us, or my mom, is unhappy about something, he takes that stress onto himself even when there's nothing he could ever do about it. He worries for his friends and his family and their happiness to a level I know they'll never see or understand. Sometimes, I wish he could stop because I hate seeing his generosity taken advantage of or just plain unnoticed, but I know that this is my internal struggle as well. I know you can't make yourself stop caring, no matter the consequence of it.
So my hope as he enters retirement is that my dad starts worrying a little less. I hope that he will do all the fun things he's put off for himself in exchange for taking care of everyone else. I hope he enjoys sleeping in and staying up late. I hope he enjoys his new freedom and takes advantage of his ability to be spontaneous and do whatever the heck he wants. I hope he comes and hangs out here with me more. I hope he and my mom get all the time together they want and all the space they need, too. I hope this next chapter in life is their absolute best one.