Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Things my father taught me

Chief Oliver Wendell Wiggins
It was tax day in 1991 - April 15th, which also happened to be my parent's 30th anniversary, but in that particular year it was also a very sad day, the day my father passed away. It's hard to believe that I have had nineteen Father's Days since then without a father to say happy Father's Day to. But as the 20th Father's Day without him is upon me I thought I might honor him in a special way - with this blog entry to examine some of what he taught me.
  1. Never cry over a lost ball game. I was only about 10 when I learned this lesson. I was playing little league football and my team lost an important game. I remember walking to the car with my parents after the game and I was crying about our loss. My father stopped me and told me that it was just a game and every game has a winner and a loser and no one wins every single time. I suppose that didn't help me any and still sobbing he added "If you can't lose with grace then you can't play at all." I don't know how long it took for that lesson to actually sink in and become a part of me but it did. I'm still an avid sports fan but to this day I've never shed a tear over a lost ball game (though I have shed many at the triumph of others in games such as the 1980 Olympic hockey team win over the Soviet Union, or Cal Ripkin's triumph the night he broke Lou Gehrig's longevity record).
  2. You'll get out of it what you put into it. My dad was a career Navy man during a time (the 70's) when it seemed low morale was rampant in the military and especially in the Navy. Dad enjoyed the Navy life. He had completed most of his sea duty by the time we were stationed in Guantanamo Bay when I was eight years old. It always seemed that the other Navy personnel we came in contact with were continually moaning and groaning about their enlistment or the job they had to do. My dad on the other hand chose to focus on the positive - he had a steady job, his work let him travel the world (during his sea duty days), he had free medical and dental care for him and his family, low cost groceries, gas and merchandise (when we bought them on base), and many more perks. But I'll always remember one day as an arrogant bratty kid how I told him I thought the Navy was a terrible job (it had to be with so many others claiming how bad it was), he simply replied "You get out of it what you put into it." Over time that lesson stuck with me. If I do something half-assed, then I can only expect a sub-par result.
  3. Always respect your elders. This is a lesson that seems lost on today's world. People older than you, no matter if it's a year or 90 years - deserve your respect simply for the fact that they have the advantage of experience over you. That doesn't mean everyone who is older is always right, but it does mean that when they are wrong you don't belittle them for their error. I came from the end of a generation which believed children should NEVER talk back to an adult. This lack of respect for others is one of the most demoralizing aspects of the world we live in today, a world where older means weaker and the arrogance of the younger towards the older is applauded. To this day I say "yes sir, no sir" and "yes mam, no mam" to anyone older than me and I'll even say it to those younger if they show they deserve the respect.
  4. If you catch it, you clean it. I love to fish, but I don't particularly enjoy scaling, gutting and cleaning the fish I catch. I also don't want to clean yours. Growing up in Cuba and along the east coast we enjoyed going fishing quite a bit and whatever we caught we cleaned and took home and ate. What didn't get eaten immediately was put in the freezer to eat later. I remember learning from my father how to clean a fish, quite a simple process actually, but after he taught me how he expected my brother and me clean our own as well as any my mother caught (I guess he figured girls shouldn't clean fish). I suppose he regretted teaching me this lesson later when I was a teenager and he came home one morning after being out on the Chesapeake Bay all night fishing with a friend and unloaded almost a hundred fish and promptly woke my brother and me up and told us to clean them (the reason why he couldn't do it eludes me now). I don't recall what my reaction was to having to clean "his" fish but I do recall giving him grief about it every time we had fish for a long time, making sure he knew just who cleaned all them damn fish!
  5. God, Family and Country - in that order! This is one lesson my father taught me more by example than words. He was a family man who went to work for his country every day and every Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night made sure we were at church. We didn't eat without a prayer being said first. He never raised his hand at my mother and any serious arguments with her would be behind closed doors out of our earshot (unless we pressed our ears to the door). He made sure we were never lacking in food, clothes, transportation, education, medical care, having a roof over our head or having time to recreate. When the national anthem was played he stood at attention with his hand over his heart or if he was in his Navy uniform he would salute the flag until the anthem finished. He had pride in his God, his family and his country.
These are just a few of the lessons my father taught me. He was a stern, sometimes rigid man. If he had an earthly idol it would have been Star Trek's Spock because everything Spock did was logical and done after careful contemplation of all the available facts and information. That was my dad. When he died we hadn't spoken for at least a year, I suppose he could never bring himself to understand my nature of living by emotion rather than logic and I found it easier to just keep a distance. That distance became insurmountable when he passed away and not a day goes by that I don't regret it and miss him very much. In my memories I can still smell his aftershave as I hugged him the day he left me at college. My dad was a man among men. I may not follow his example and the lessons he taught me to the letter but they have helped to shape who I am. I love you dad and wish you were still with us.

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