My dad taught me by example. Sure he tried to lecture sometimes during my teen years. I was too busy rebelling to truly absorb those lessons. The lessons he taught me through the way he lived his life are what shaped me as a person.
I remember my dad putting a quarter in the newspaper machine when I was about eight years old. As he pulled his paper out a man come up beside him and said, “Let me grab one too while you have the machine open.” My dad gently closed the door and said, “No that would be stealing.” The guy huffed and puffed, but my dad quietly walked away with his head held high. I knew then that stealing even little things was wrong.
I ran track, played softball, basketball, soccer, did gymnastics for a while and was even in the High School marching band for a few years. The constant in my life was that no matter what I did I could count on looking to the sideline or in the audience to see my dad cheering me on. Whether I was good or bad at something my dad was my biggest cheerleader.
My dad was the family nurse and faithfully treated every injury I ever got. He was my editor for school papers. He taught me the value of good editing early in my writing career. He encouraged me to publish my work as early as High School. He has celebrated every publication, every book, and every blog post even today.
His example extended to fighting his own fears in front of us. I will never forget my dad’s battled with an extreme fear of heights. He never let it stop him from climbing to great heights. Despite his fear we climbed mountains, steeples, bell towers, and just about every tall building with staircases to a view point that we came across in our international travels. When his fear gripped him sometimes he had to crawl on his hands and knees to reach the top.
My dad sought out these adventures for us. He loves the view, he loves the exercise and the experience, but his brain screams out every time in protest. I would say that his reaction to heights is as intense as anyone with any extreme phobia. And yet he has never stood at the bottom of the steps or the base of any mountaintop held back by his fear. Emblazed in my memory is an image of my father crawling across a mountain ridge of shale rock on his hands and knees. He looked directly at his hands in front of him his terror leaking out of him in groans. It was a long ridge and he never once turned back, never slowed down, never gave up.
I had a fear of water. My dad was ahead of his time in aversion therapy training. He made me face my fear nearly every weekend of spring and summer. He didn’t just bring us swimming, but he intensely worked on my fears. Over and over again he would lure me into the deep water to have “underwater tea parties.” I was a sucker for tea parties and was willing to face down any fear to do anything he asked of me. We spend hours underwater having tea playfully fighting my fears.
I hope to always live out his example of facing fear – whether it is on my feet or on my knees.
My biggest fear as a child was disappointing my dad. There was nothing worse to me than hearing him say, “Kayla, I am really disappointed in your actions.” When at twenty-five I became a single mother. I handed him his grandson and my dad wept with joy. I knew then that everything was going to be okay no matter how hard the path I had gotten myself on was going to be. He stood in the gap for my son. Several years later when he gave me away at my wedding he wept again with pride and joy. And again I knew everything was going to be okay.
My dad taught me that real life heroes don’t wear capes. My hero wore a business suit to work five days a week and hiking boots on the weekends. He fought his battles before the little eyes of his daughter as he lived out what a hero looked like day in and day out.