Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Freedom & Responsibility: Lessons From My Dad

Happy Birthday Dad. You've graced this world for 67 years with your handsome and suave attitude and devil may care good looks and I've been doing a little thinking about what I carry with me from watching you live your life.  I'm wrestling with what feel like polar opposites in my life and trying to bring them into balance, come to terms with them, live rightly and joyfully in between Freedom & Responsibility. I think we all are.  I believe it is a lesson our adolescent country is trying mightily to learn in time. Maybe if I get better at it I can help.

When you were seventeen your wild teenage abandon was cut short in an instant. With a pregnant girlfriend you chose responsibility, got married, got a real job - too soon.  Did it feel like a choice? By all accounts I've heard you stepped into your new identity without bitterness or self pity, rather with determination and that sly glint in your eye fully intact. Maybe the freedoms you gained were more rewarding than those you gave up. Moving out of your fathers house, if only a block away. Maybe the responsibilities for this wife and my infant sister gave you purpose and a quiet pride.

For the next seventeen years you climbed the expected ladder and increasingly chafed at the demands of The Man. When I was nine, and just waking up for the first time, I watched you set yourself free. And it burned an image into the core of who I am. Your mantra became to earn enough to "chase women and hunt ducks" (you'll forgive me the slight editing of your words for political correctness' sake). And I never knew you again to put on a monkey suit, participate in a performance appraisal or make nice with management. Never again would you answer to The Man. But you answered to us.

You picked me up from school when I was sick. You did our laundry and replaced the belt on our thousand year old lawn mower one hundred times as I handed you the tools like a surgeon, "wrench . . .&!%#$". You drove an oil truck, fighting off freezing weather and ferocious dogs, in trade for the fuel that heated our house. You drove years of busloads of kids along the rutted roads of our town. You stocked grocery shelves in the dead of night. You built a wildly successful business out of nothing and practically had to give it away. And you hunted a lot of ducks. And you laughed your ass off a good deal of the time. Were you happy? I was. 

It's not a red corvette, but I hope it's enough.

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