65 years ago, today, my dad was born. He’s a great guy. I’m turning 30 soon and I understand pretty clearly that everyone isn’t great. He is. If you listened to him talk for a moment, you may not catch it at first. The strength in his words and his passion and insistence for them can sometimes be off-putting, but to the right ears in the right context they are magic. I’ve seen him turn rooms upside down with speeches and lectures and conversations that manage to touch every person present. I’m mostly happy I was there to soak it all in.
I learned a lot from him and I’m not going to stop anytime soon. I’ll attempt to describe some of what I learned from him but the list is mountainous and my memory will nevertheless fail me on most things during the course of writing this morning. So, here goes…
He taught me to think.
Whenever we talked about anything remotely important throughout my life, his point of view was always different from what I had seen or heard before. He has never be accepting of face value and never feared asking “why”. Every piece of information he gave me was fuel for an intellectual engine for which I had the best team of mechanics. He offered Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to me before I finished high school, emphasizing it’s connection to everything from business to relationships. Taking ideas and finding applications for them outside of their convention is a skill I am incredibly grateful to have and it was in no way an accident that I have it.
He taught me to work.
More accurately, he taught me that work is the mechanism for becoming who you want to be. Even more importantly, that work has very little to do with your job. For 25+ years my dad was a photographer by trade, but it was painfully clear that that wasn’t his work. He never stops working. He was constantly working on building a family that could build families. He endlessly worked on building his community through business ventures of various levels of “success”. He proudly worked on soon-to-be married couples’ relationships cleverly from behind a camera. He always insisted that he would never retire. This day is the obvious evidence of that, since his work with underrepresented middle school boys is just beginning.
He taught me to love.
I grew up knowing that people need love and to be loved. He always reminded me that love is bigger than your current romantic relationship(s), family, and or friends. Love is a way you can engage with everyone. This idea, even though it is a tenant of many religions, can exist independently from any particular affiliation. His words, telling me to “treat everyone like you will need them tomorrow”, are prevalent in nearly everything that I do. He also gave me the tools I needed to love individuals as well. Anyone who knows his lovely wife (my lovely mother) would know this positively. Observations of their relationship and by extension my sister’s relationship with her husband and my brother’s relationship with his wife would give anyone hope that success and happiness in marriage/long-term monogamous relationship is possible if, of course, that is what you desire.
He taught me to create.
Giving your barely-not-a-toddler son a camera at one of your best friend’s wedding is a good start. Supporting an addiction to Lego, K’nex, and Erector (now Meccano) sets is a good follow up. Encouraging the use of a complete set of photo and video production software by a teenager is just fantastic (and good business if you’re a parent that’s in production). Creativity wasn’t really an option for me. I could have happily played video and computer games and listened to endless loops of that eras popular music, but there were to many other good options around. Not to mention, he showed me their worth beyond just making money. I was able to understand before moving out of my parents’ home that creativity is about expanding your ability to create and think creatively. He simply and eloquently guided me towards creation by saying, “You’re either creating or consuming”. I’m sure there was something else after but that was pretty much all I needed to know to be able to make educated decisions.
He taught me to live.
He enjoys life. It is even more beautiful to me that he was never ashamed of that enjoyment and excitement that came along with doing something pleasurable. He made reading a good science fiction or mystery novel sound exciting. He (still) dances often. He surrounds himself with music and musicians whenever possible. He eats good food (pretty standard for New Orleans) and doesn’t hesitate to do so. His goal has never been to accumulate money and/or security. He has always been about having profound experiences and do that with people who are going to enhance those experiences. He showed me that living can happen at work, while your sitting at home alone, or on vacation with loved ones and that it’s worth getting up every day for.
Happy Birthday Dad! I love you. Thank you for everything.