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Zak of All Trades: The marks a father leaves: expectations & appreciation

June 14, 2013

This weekend, we will celebrate Father's Day, and while that's what I'd really like to talk about, I'd like to say, first of all, that I understand that by nature, this Hallmark holiday is not one that is to be celebrated by everyone this year.

As a lifetime fan of racing — both local dirt tracks and major circuits — the passing of NASCAR/sprint driver Jason Leffler at a race in New Jersey hit me especially hard when I saw the last photo he'd posted on his Twitter feed — one of him and his son standing by the fence at a race track.

For that poor little boy, and for so many others, I understand this is a day of grieving.

For many others, I understand that the fathers in their lives aren't there — whether that be because they lost them to the afterlife or because they were never there from the start — by choice or by force.

Wherever you stand this weekend, it is my hope and my prayer that, even if your own father's not around, you have a father figure that you can relate this piece to. If that is not the case, I hope and pray that one comes along for you.

This week, I received a letter addressed directly to me in the mail at work. These sorts of letters are always hit-or-miss.

The ones addressed to "editor" are usually business-related in nature, but often, the ones addressed directly to me are one of two things: naughty or nice, fan mail or hate mail.

In a week filled with those from the former category, I was glad to welcome this letter, as soon after opening it, I realized it fit the nice category.

It also got me thinking about Father's Day coming up.

Inside the petite envelope was one of my favorite things in the world — a hand-written letter.

In it, Jack Long asked that I find a way to include another small piece of paper that was in the envelope in today's paper somehow.

"I think this little article says so much about 'Dad,'" Jack said.

After reading the short piece, I couldn't help but agree.

The piece, titled "Dad Through the Decades" and attributed to a Dutch magazine, reflects on the transition that so many of us go through in relating to our fathers.

It reads as follows:

"4 years: My daddy can do anything; 7 years: My dad knows a lot, a whole lot!; 8 years: Dad doesn't know quite everything; 12 years: Dad just doesn't understand; 14 years: Dad? Hopelessly old-fashioned!; 21 years: My dad is truly out of date. But what would you expect?; 25 years: He comes up with a good idea now and then; 30 years: I must find out what Dad thinks about it; 35 years: Wait, I want to get Dad's input first; 50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?; 60 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more."

Now, I've only gone through about half of that cycle so far, but I've been around long enough to see all ends of it in one way or another, and how true so much of it is!

I do remember being a little kid and thinking that my dad was invincible and all-knowing.

Every little boy knows the feeling, and I don't think little girls were ever any different.

But it is funny, as cited at 7 and 8 years in the piece, that at some point, we start to doubt the all-knowing, all-doing ability of our fathers.

We start to realize their imperfections.

Ages 12, 14 and 21?

We all go through the phase where we overcompensate for the fact that the men we call dads aren't exactly perfect, and we seem to think that they know nothing.

Now, I never full-out rebelled against my dad and thought that he didn't know anything, but there were definitely years where I thought that he didn't know nearly as much as I did.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Age 25? This transition may have happened a bit earlier for me, as I needed lots of advice from Dad while I was in college — from fixing a faucet in my apartment to why my car was making the noise it was — but at some point, we all start to realize that maybe Dad wasn't as far off the mark as we thought he was.

Age 30 is where I am now.

And the description for that age is pretty much right on.

Just about everything I do, I realize that it might be a good idea to ask Dad — a phase that might be a pain to Dad.

After helping me get moved into my house, Dad needed a well-deserved break.

But he still gets the occasional phone call — like a few weeks ago when the water went out — and he still came to help me find the answer.

(Turns out, the water was out up and down the street. I'm not used to city water, as we grew up with a well.)

Age 30 is a good place to be.

In fact, looking at the list, I'm not sure which phase is better, the phase where we think our dads can do anything or the phase where we realize they can't and we still want their input on everything anyhow.

Dads aren't perfect, and they never will be.

But even knowing that, so many of us are in the midst of that nostalgic phase where we keep seeking the counsel of our fathers.

I think that's because we realize that, inevitably, the later phases are coming — the years when we look back and wish we could ask Dad for
advice.

I'm blessed to have two grandfathers who have been father figures to me, as well.

One of them is still with us — making the most of his retirement — and the other has gone on to his Heavenly home.

But I know already that there will come a day when my dad won't be there.

It's the unfortunate truth of life as we know it.

Luckily, that day shouldn't be anytime soon, but the Leffler incident this week was a harsh reminder that, while the timeline is nice, we never really know the exact time we'll lose that ever-important mentor in our lives.

And that makes me appreciate it all the more.

"You just never know," Dad said this week when I was talking to him about the accident.

And he's right. You just never know, which makes it all the more important to seek that counsel when it's available.

The laundry list of attributes you could relate to a good father is miles and miles long, but this week, two in particular came to mind: expectations and appreciation.

To be a good dad, there have to be expectations.

First, as the starry-eyed kids, we have nothing but expectations for just how much our dads can do.

But as we grow older, the expectations start to balance out, as our fathers expect us to act a certain way and to carry on the family name.

Expectations are why fathers give us "little nuggets" of their wisdom.

The best advice my dad would give me growing up most often came when I was getting ready to go out with my friends.

"Don't be stupid," he'd say.

And in those three words, he said so much more than it sounded like.

In those words, he reminded me of all the expectations he had and reminded me to stick to my guns.

But if it stops at expectations, it gets problematic, as the kids are
always striving to please and never knowing if they're doing so.

That's why appreciation's a necessity.

And this one is a bit trickier, because dads aren't always keen on expressing such things.

But if you keep your eye out, you learn to tell the ways your dad appreciates what you're doing.

My dad won't often come out and say it, because it's not his style, but I've learned that he does appreciate me, and he appreciates some of the things I can do.

I can't swing a hammer, but I can write a book.

He'd love for me to be able to do both!

But he appreciates my talents, and knowing that makes any kid feel good about him- or herself.

This Father's Day, I hope that, no matter where you are on the spectrum, you have someone in your life who's providing you with expectations and appreciation.

It holds us accountable and makes our lives feel worthwhile.

Dads, enjoy your day, and keep doing what you do so well.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and will always remember what it's like to be a starry-eyed fan of his dad, because many of us never really grow out of that phase.

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