Every year I take my wife and kids cross-country to Pennsylvania (we live in LA) to visit their grandparents and aunts and uncles. It's important to me that my children get to spend time bonding with my family, especially with their 16 cousins.
On our most recent trip, I paid special attention to my dad in hopes of learning more about myself. Did I choose to parent the way I do as a result of his behavior, or did I rebel and opt to do the opposite? I was born the fifth of six children (I'm one of four boys), so I was curious to know how I became the dad I am today. I felt the desire to understand this so that I could influence and teach my children some important lessons by example. I'm hoping they'll have certain values and character traits by the time they're adults and no longer need my approval.
As we pulled in to my parents' driveway we saw my dad standing there, with his glistening white hair and his bright blue eyes, waving his arms wildly with excitement. Watching him emotionally connecting like this made my dad seem like he was 27, not 77. His energy was contagious. It was welcoming and warm. He genuinely has the ability to make anyone feel comfortable in any situation.
(Don’t get me wrong… my mom was very excited as well. I could hear her voice 10 octaves higher than normal while showering each child with love and affection as they passed through the front door.)
Okay, I thought to myself, I am very much like my dad in this way. Check off box number 1: Emotionally expressive and loving. This is something that comes naturally to me, which I hope will continue to be the case as my children grow older and experience life on a deeper level. And I hope that my children will grow to be equally as loving and expressive with their feelings.
My dad was also quick to ask if we were hungry. Without hesitation, having read the signs of hunger on my children’s faces, he cooked up some burgers on the grill. The need to make sure we were fed must come from his Polish mother who never allowed us to leave the table until all of the food on it was consumed. My kids devoured their burgers (my daughter, a vegetarian, ate only the macaroni salad) and happily went on their way to reconnect with their cousins whom they have not seen in over a year. I looked at my dad in awe, once again aware of his incredible enthusiasm, thinking to myself, I hope my kids will be as considerate and caring as he is — both traits that I believe I have. Not to mention be able to cook as mean a burger as he does!
Although it was challenging to find a moment alone with my dad, we finally got 30 minutes to catch up. I shared my latest business successes and challenges. My dad imparted some wisdom that reflects the way I generally approach life: “Do not take NO as an answer. Continue the fight and make things happen. Things will work out if you believe in it."
After reflecting on our conversation – and the trip overall — I thought to myself…Wow! I am the dad I am because of him. I still think we have our differences, however, it was interesting to learn how he influenced me without me even realizing it. If my kids only take away one of these three characteristics I inherited from my dad then I will feel that I did my job as a dad successfully. Thanks, dad, for a great trip. I love you!