If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Father's Day

I am a teacher.  I guess in a way I have always been a teacher.  You see, my sister is six years younger than me and I probably became a teacher at that point.  Well, somebody had to do it!

My first teachers were my parents and they were probably the all-time best teachers anybody could ever have.  So, I thought on Father's Day I would reflect on one of my most influential teachers - my Daddy.

Here are some of the most important things I learned from him:

#1.  Always be honest.

He used to tell us that nobody ever got away with dishonesty.  "It will always catch up with you.  The truth will always come out."  How true that has proven to be over the years.  I can remember that Daddy would never fudge on the age of a calf when it came time to make out registration papers.  Not even a week's grace period would be taken.  If one was born two or three or even just one day before the cut-off for a show age bracket, her officially registered birth date would be the actual day of her birth and no other. 

He also would ask us a question and tell us to look him in the eye to give him the answer.  There was no way I could do anything but tell the whole truth when I looked him in the eye.  The times he asked me this most were when I'd bring home a report card.  My sister, Brenda, the nerd who studied all the time, would come in on report card day and flip her straight As out on the table right away.  So then Mom and Daddy would ask to see mine that I had planned to just ask Mom to sign in the car on the way to school the next day or more likely on a really hectic day when we were running late and she didn't have time to look at it.  Anyway, I was not a very dedicated student as a kid and even though I was capable of the As like my nerdy sister, I usually slid by with B's and C's and sometimes even less.  At these times and sometimes others when I'd only given a half-hearted effort, the question was always, "Is this the absolute best you could do?"  I'm sure you know the answer to that one. 

#2 Treat others like you want to be treated.

It seems so easy and why is it that we have to be taught this?  Why doesn't this just come naturally?  For some reason it doesn't and my Daddy was sure to drive this concept home.

Another of his statements was that he did what he had to do knowing that he had to look at that guy in the mirror every morning.  So, this lesson is one I have carried with me, too.  If you always give something your utmost and do what you ought to do, you will usually achieve satisfaction - or at least know that you gave it your best.  There are times when I have had folks tell me that they cannot believe I let somebody run over me like that or that I went to so much trouble.  In the education business, just like in any other business in life, there are times when something doesn't work out like you had envisioned or like you had anticipated.  I recently had such an experience when a student had lolly-gagged (another Daddy-ism) and not given even half his best.  So, he earned a failing grade in my class.  Yet, instead of this student taking a class in summer school or having some other punitive consequence, he was allowed to just coast on into high school.  A colleague asked why I wasn't upset or angry about the lack of support and backing that I was getting from the central office.  My response was exactly what I had heard my Daddy say more than once, "Well, I did my job to the best of my ability.  If somebody else doesn't choose to follow through and do his/her job, it isn't my fault.  I only have to answer for my own actions."  It really is a shame that there are times when somebody, including me, I suppose, doesn't do his/her best.  It is sad that folks today don't accept the responsibility for their own actions or inactions as the case may be.  However, that is one thing I could never say about my Daddy.  He always does his best and usually goes above and beyond the call of duty.

#3  A strong leader is a strong worker.

My Daddy never has expected something of somebody that he wouldn't be willing to do himself.  He usually is 'in the trenches' working right alongside others.  This was true of him running his own business.  It was true when he worked in retail and management for another company.  It was true when he served in various leadership positions in organizations with which he was affiliated. 

When I was a kid growing up on the farm, I could never keep up with his level of energy.  He walked faster, worked longer, lifted more heaviness, and stayed with it far after I was tapped out.  He probably still could outlast and outdo me today!  When he was working at the Farmer's Co-op, he was one of the first guys on the premises and one of the last to leave.  He wasn't found lounging on a feed sack in the back when there was work to be done.  He wasn't perched on a stool behind the counter while those around him were straightening, unloading, or stocking shelves.  He was always helping a customer, organizing something, or loading something - getting the job done.  When he was the president of one particular organization - where he could have delegated duties, Daddy was the guy shaking out straw to make a cow's bed, lifting the pitchfork after she had done her business, moving equipment, washing away dirt, or simply holding the hose to give an animal a drink of water.  At the same time he would be promoting a show or sale and thinking of ways to make next year's event more successful.  His theory is that a leader is a do-er.

#4 Stand up for what is right, even if you are standing alone.

My Daddy has always had a strong sense of right and wrong.  Oh, he doesn't think things are simply black or white.  He looks at things from as many angles as possible.  However, he upholds what is right.  He might argue with a colleague over an issue for more than an hour.  Logically stating his position in hopes of convincing the opposition to agree with him and presenting evidence to support his ideas.  Then, when a vote was taken or a decision was made - even if it wasn't the position he favored - he always would shake hands or hug the other party and let him/her know that it was the idea he supported, nothing personal.  I have seen him stand alone and support something that was unpopular time and again.  Many, many times he would win folks over and persuade them to see things his way but sometimes he didn't.  Yet, he always left the room, meeting, or arena letting folks know that he respected them and still wanted to be friends or work with them - no matter the outcome.  He would support the team even if things didn't go his way - but it was rare that things didn't.

#5 Finish what you start.

Just like my Daddy wouldn't half-way do something, he also wouldn't start something and not see it through to the end.  I've heard him say, "Let's do something, even if it is wrong."  I know that there were times when he got into the midst of something and realized that it wasn't quite the way something should be done.  So, he might change directions and modify but he still saw the project through to the end.  This certainly was something that I tried to pass along to my children.  If they joined a club or a team, they stayed through the school-year or the season.  They didn't have to be a part the following year, but they did have to see it through.  Folks depend on you and you must do your best not to let them down.  Maybe that is why he gets so much more done than other folks.

#6 Nurture nature.

Try to leave this place better than it was when you got here.  He takes pride in everything he does.  The statement which comes to mind most often is when somebody compliments him and Mom on their farm or house.  Then, if they say something like, "God has really given you something special," or "Truly this is one of God's best creations,"  my Daddy will respond with, "Yep, but you should have seen it when God had it all by Himself!"  Oh, Daddy is grateful for his many blessings and never forgets his good fortune but he also knows that we must take what we are given and be stewards and improve what we can.  I've seen my Daddy work with a cow or calf who had three feet in the grave and the other slipping and try his best to save her.  I've seen him keep working to improve a crop that seemed doomed to failure because of weather conditions when another guy might just plow it under.  I've seen him give his all to a farm that at first glance looks like only a pile of rock with cedar trees sprouted between them but upon closer inspection looks like a picture-perfect pastoral setting. 

#7 Set high expectations

While Daddy always meets people where they are - even if they are struggling or only giving half-hearted effort, he holds out a hand - he also sets high expectations for folks and they almost always rise to his expectations.  He taught me at a young age that people are just people and they are going to disappoint you.  The thing is, you have to give them another chance and keep up your high expectations or they never will rise up to that.  The two teams in the Super Bowl don't go into the stadium hoping to finish as the second best NFL team.  Nobody enters any kind of competition in hopes of being the runner-up or even one of the top ten.  Everybody goes into it giving it their best in hopes of finishing at the top.  Shoot for the moon.  You might not wind up with it but you could wind up with a star.  I remember him telling me time and again to try something out, to give it a shot, "Columbus took a chance and look what he found!"  Set high expectations and then hold out your hand to give folks a push or a lift and you will be even more rewarded with their accomplishment than they are themselves.

#8  You can do anything somebody else can do.

Daddy usually has sage advice.  Sometimes I would grow frustrated with his offerings and sometimes I don't take his wisdom to heart.  Generally, though, my Daddy has always been the go-to when I needed advice.  At the highest and lowest moments of my life he has been there to remind me what was important, keep me grounded, or pick me up.  As a young girl there were limitations to what females were encouraged to do at times but not in our household.  My Daddy always told us, "They get in their britches just like you do.  Go on and give it a try."  When things would get tough, he also would remind us, "You can't give up now."  So, we would persevere.  When I would be celebrating an accomplishment, he would celebrate right along with me and then look at me and ask, "Okay, what is next?"  Maybe that is why I went off to college and majored in agriculture when that had traditionally been a man's world.  Maybe that is why I finally put my chin up and plugged along to be a teacher and a successful, independent woman.  Maybe that is why some of my best friends at school are the folks who come in to sweep my classroom or empty the trash can.

#9  Have some fun!

There is a time and a place for anything is what we were taught from early on.  We have always been expected to work and work hard.  Yet, there is nothing wrong with having a little fun along the way and then celebrating and enjoying yourself when the job is done.  Daddy will be the first with a corny joke, a funny statement, or a silly action.  He isn't afraid to laugh at himself or anybody else when the timing is appropriate.  We could have sweat dripping from our eyebrows and elbows and he would find something humorous in the situation.  We could be knee-deep in cow... poop and my Daddy would find something to share a giggle about.  Oh, he was all about letting us learn and figure things out for ourselves but he also wanted us to enjoy the journey.  There is no doubt that he is going to be having fun and trying his best to be sure everybody around him is, too.

#10  Take care of the little things and the big things fall into place.

Daddy has always been a man of details.  He would look at each and every cow from the tip of her nose to the switch of her tail every single day when we were in the dairy business.  He would shift a bale of hay several times to get just the right fit for a stack when we were loading or unloading hay.  When we showed cows, he always followed us to the ring with a comb, a spray bottle, and a paper towel spiffing her up till she was all the way in the ring to strut her best.  "The only time close is good enough is with hand-grenades or horse shoes, the rest of the time things should be just right.  Close the gate when you go through it.  Roll up the windows before you get out of the truck.  Take a jacket no matter what time of year you are going somewhere."  Never leave home without a Pepsi, some eat-a-snacks, and a Little Debbie.  Be prepared, pay attention, and do it right.  If you do it right the first time, it will usually be the last time you have to do something.

I'm always honored when somebody teases me by telling me I'm a Daddy's Girl.  I've been teased about saying, "my Daddy," or even more so, "I'll ask my Daddy."  I've been told I look like him or act like him in certain instances and sometimes it isn't really meant to be a compliment - like when I've got a firm opinion and won't budge, or just jump in and get going on something.  However, I'm never insulted or hurt by such a comparison.  What an honor it is to be compared to your girlhood hero and mentor! 

Yes, it is true that we don't get to choose our family and there are times when we would choose differently if we could have.  Yet, I certainly know that I am one lucky woman to have been born into the family I was.  I may not always feel like I measure up, but maybe that is because the measuring stick is unbelievably tall.