My Dad

My dad hates pics of himself, so I'm posting this cartoon version--which would look remarkably like him if it had a beard.

I know Mondays are usually when I post stories about my kids. But I’m going to switch it up a little bit. I’m going to talk about my dad. Which is still discussing family, so it fits.

My dad wasn’t perfect. No parents are perfect. But I think the single greatest thing my dad ever taught me was how not to be judgmental. I certainly haven’t perfected this trait (we could broaden the statement “no parents are perfect” to “no one is perfect”), but it’s something I strive for.

When I was a kid, I was bratty. And condescending. Because I WANTED to be perfect. I tried very, very hard for it. I studied hard and cried if I got a B instead of an A on a test. I tried to dress nicely. I had to have hair that was just so (and in the 80s and 90s, people, so you can only imagine how awesome it really was). When others couldn’t live up to my own standards, I was incredulous.

I remember one specific event. We went to the wedding of a family friend. We witnessed the ceremony, we ate our dinner, and we were about to shake it on the dance floor. But there was something hampering my enjoyment of this lovely day. There I was, twirling in my twirly dress, when I spotted him. The man in jeans and a Guns ‘N’ Roses t-shirt. This was a WEDDING for crying out loud. You don’t wear JEANS to a WEDDING! I said as much to my dad. And instead of agreeing with me (and then complimenting my lovely, twirly dress like I had expected him to) my dad said, “Erin. We don’t talk about other people like that.”

“But, Dad. It’s a wedding. And he’s wearing jeans.” How could my dad not understand the huge, monstrous problem with this?

My dad said, “He was invited to this wedding because of the person he is, not because of what he’s wearing. And, what if he can’t afford a nicer outfit? Have you thought about that?”

I ducked my head. “No.”

“Let me tell you something. If someone comes to your wedding, you better be grateful no matter what they wear. Maybe he only has one clean pair of pants. Maybe the rest of them are oil stained, or ripped, from whatever job he does. If he puts on his only clean pair so he can come to your wedding, then he is dressed up.”

Wow. I had never thought of it that way before.

Now, you’d have thought I had learned my lesson here. But, oh no. I had heard a bunch of kids in school making fun of the janitor one day, and I joined in. What a LOSER a person must be to wind up as a janitor. There was obviously no honor in scrubbing toilets. Not like there was in being a doctor, or a lawyer.  Again, I said as much to my dad.

“I never want to hear you say anything like that. If he goes to work everyday and does his job to the best of his ability, then he is more honorable than someone with a “better” job who cheats his company, slacks off, and blames others for his mistakes.”

Wow, again. I could see it now. In his way, my dad taught me that it’s a person’s character that counts. Not their status in life.

It should probably be noted that my dad is a mailman. Has been since before I was born. He epitomizes the “rain or shine” ethic of delivering the mail. It never, ever occurred to me back then that a mailman might be seen as one of those jobs I was making fun of. It’s not a white-collar job. You don’t need a college degree to do it. You don’t get an office. Or business cards. Or get paid a lot of money. I can only imagine there were times in his life where others judged him for this. I’ve never asked. Maybe I should. But it only makes sense when you think about it.

After these two lessons–and I’m sure there were others, but these two stick out in my mind–I’ve made it my goal to see all sides of a situation. To play the devil’s advocate. I try to see the best in people first, before I see the faults. Like my dad does. Because, if you look, my own veneer has cracks. Some of them deep. I would hate to think as I go through life that people are seeing my faults as “me”.

Why the life lesson here? Well, mostly because of what I’ve seen on the internet lately. In an age where the hive mind likes to witch hunt, I think we forget that everyone makes mistakes. And it’s frightening that it takes only the click of one single button to become villainized…virally. Everywhere I look I see judgement and blame and finger-pointing. So I guess this is my plea for it all to stop. The snap judgments, and materialism, and snobbery, and bullying, and lack of understanding.  Try to see both sides of a story. Try lifting up, instead of putting down. Understand that most people are doing their best. I’ll do the same.

The world might actually turn out to be a better place if we help someone we might otherwise criticize.

(And thank you, for enduring my soap box moment)




13 thoughts on “My Dad

  1. Thank you for getting up on your soap box for that one! We don’t put ourselves in another’s shoes often enough. Life is tough. People make mistakes. To err is human, to forgive divine. (I just made that up; do you like it?) Your dad sounds like a great teacher.

  2. Erin, I LOVED your soap box moment and let me tell you something. I WISH I had had a father like yours. Instead my dad was critical of anyone, and I mean anyone, who was not like “us”, i.e. white, upper middle class Catholics. Well, when one of his daughters, i.e. me, stepped outside the box and became non-racist, non-Catholic, lived with her boyfriend hippy, the XXX hit the fan. He would always say “those words” that people use to describe those of other races and it made me crazy and, I must admit, dislike him for it. But, I look at it like this: he taught me how NOT to be. And I’m passing down MY values to my kids.

  3. Great work Erin, and much needed. By the way, your dad is
    a super dad who learned those traits from HIS dad. Two great
    guys who had a lot to teach us all…Love Aunt Marilyn

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