There are few things more precious in life than a father’s love.  For a daughter, her father is more often than not her first love – the standard by which all other men are judged, which pretty much means that all men in my life are doomed.  No man alive would ever be good enough in my father’s eyes for his little girl, and in mine, well let’s just say that while there are several that come close, no man has ever held a candle so close to my own father that you could feel the heat.

He wasn’t perfect… for starters he left me way to soon eight years ago so that my children lost the benefit of his expert tutelage in all things mechanical and outdoorsy.  He had a temper that would flare with disappointment or disrespect and he worked way to hard holding multiple jobs and going to school at night to complete his degree, which he earned when I was knee high.  Thus he was not around much during the week and on the weekends he was managing  two  or more properties in a manner that made them worthy of the front cover of Better Homes & Gardens or Farm & Ranch.  As kids we’d be right there with him in between soccer games, church and Sunday drives picking up rocks, raking, stacking wood, building a garage, fetching tools or simply holding a flashlight.  Learning out of sheer boredom and obligation what needed to be done to maintain a home, lay tile, change the oil or rebuild the engine in a classic Camaro.   However, what we learned from our father went well beyond the tangible.  My father instilled in each of us a work ethic unbeknownst to most people born after 1980.  A drive to be the best at whatever we set our sights on and the ability to put it all aside and enjoy the moment and the beauty of nature around us.  John Muir wrote, “and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”  My dad lived by those words every weekend and every summer.  I was in nearly every state in the U.S. by the time I was 12 and got to do it all with my family.  Those trips spawned my most precious memories of my father.  After he passed I remember siting in his office going through photo album after photo album with my daughter for the perfect pictures for his memorial service.  His smile, which went undetected most of the time, was infectious.  I noticed at that time that it looked just like mine… a bit crooked, maybe a little toothy, but beaming with joy and love for the life he was blessed to lead.  A life with my stunningly beautiful, intelligent and tolerant mother and his pride and joy, my brothers and I.

Early on Sunday mornings my father would wake us up by blasting country music.  He knew just what to play to get me up and moving.  A little Crystal Gayle or Barbara Mandrell and I’d be up!  We’d dance with me standing on the tops of his feet and sing (way off key) around the living room to wake the sleeping beasts (my brothers) in the other room.  Yes, I was country when country wasn’t cool and I have my dad to thank for it.  When that didn’t work my dad would yell “battle stations” and jump on our beds.  He never served in the military, but he spent the formable  years of his childhood in Italy during World War II so he was no stranger to war.  He would tell us not to waste our lives sleeping, and none of us ever have.  We all know how proud he is of us and I hope that he knows I was proud of him too.

As I grew our relationship grew too.  He sent me off to college with a kiss on the forehead and a CB radio!  I spend that 15 hour drive to Georgia talking to truckers as I had so many cross country trips saddled up between my mom and dad.  “Pretty Lady” was the handle my dad gave me when I was but 5 years old and the one I used on that trip and others until cell phones came into existence.  While the rest of UGA was filled with parents moving their children into the dorms, I was given the independence to do it all on my own.   Looking back on that now I see things differently than I did then.  My father thought I was pretty when I didn’t see my own beauty inside and out.  My father saw my strength and independence, when I wanted desperately to cling to him and my mother and hide from the world.     Yes, he saw greatness in me I never knew I had.

It became a tradition of ours during breaks for me to come to his office for lunch.  He enjoyed showing me off to his coworkers, but more importantly he taught me the value of those relationships – not just the relationships with other managers or administrators in the front office, but the guys in the machine shop operating the presses, sweeping the floors and moving parts.  He taught me to recognize greatness is others regardless of their job, the color of their skin, the language they spoke or the struggles they faced.  Everyone is worth our respect and gratitude.  Everyone deserves a chance to succeed and to make a better life for themselves and their families.   Everyone deserves to be recognized for their contribution to the greatness of society.

There are so many stories I could tell, but y’all don’t have the year it would take me to share them.  Suffice it to say that my father is such a huge part of who I am and I love him for all the love he showed me during his time on this earth.  He loved me unconditionally through all the mistakes he let me make on my own so that I would learn life’s hardest lessons.  He loved me at my lowest and he loved me at my highest.  He traced my scars wishing he could take away the pain they caused and the blemish they left behind.  He cried with joy at my law school graduation and the birth of my babies.  He left his mark on my heart and my soul and he is forever present.  He is my daughter’s smile and my son’s love for playing in the woods till the sun goes down.  He is the eagle that soars above my home from time to time seemingly when I need him most.  He is the peace and beauty of the sunset after a long hard days work.  Forever in my heart.

When I got married, I was not thinking of what type of father my husband would be to our children, probably because at the time neither one of us intended on having children.  Yet we’ve been blessed with two of the most amazing little loves and we wouldn’t trade them for the world.  They are our light, our everything.  My husband and I once talked about what was harder – being a mom or a dad

We disagreed in our response each thinking the other had the harder job.  Perhaps the motherly instinct kicks in and aids us in our journey.  Maybe things don’t come as naturally for dads.  I don’t know the answer and I don’t have the secret formula to share with anyone on what make a great dad.  I only know this… they’re watching you, learning from you every day, don’t let them down.  Guys you are the standard by which all other men will be judged.  Teach them well as my dad did for me.  Teach them how to treat people right, how to handle failure, how to celebrate success, show your boys how to be a man and how a woman deserves to be loved and show your girls what beautiful talented independent women they are meant to be.  There are no limits to the things these children can accomplish and there are no limits to your influence.  Use it wisely.  Love them with your whole heart.  They are your legacy.    Make them proud to call you dad.

Happy Father’s Day!