Today is my father’s birthday.
That’s a pretty important date, as far as I’m concerned. After all, without this importance occurrence, my birthday wouldn’t have happened 25 years later. Neither would my brother’s a year after, but I’m less concerned about that.
The more anniversaries of my own birth there are, the more I think about all the things my dad taught me, and I realize that a lot of who I am is his fault.
Who in their right mind would choose to become a Cincinnati Bengals fan? My dad might say he didn’t teach me that, but he did teach me to revere the Cincinnati Reds and Ohio State. How many eight-year-olds know all the words to “The Buckeye Battle Cry” and “The Ohio State Fight Song”? When they are growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin? And with a love instilled in me for Ohio sports teams, especially those from the Dayton (where Dad grew up) and Cincinnati areas, how could I not become a Bengals fan?
And that wouldn’t matter at all if he hadn’t taught me that sports are really important. Does it really matter in the Grand Scheme of Things who wins the Ohio State-Michigan game? You bet it does.
My father taught me to ride a bike, giving him indirect responsibility for some of the most spectacular crashes ever seen. He taught me to drive a car, which, fortunately, didn’t have quite the same effect, although there are several police departments that keep a wary eye on my vehicle. He taught me the importance of science, so I became an artist.
Dad taught me lots of things of both dubious and extreme value. But as I reflect on everything I learned from him, it occurs to me that the subtle and most critical lessons were about passion and importance.
Music became important to me, because my father made it seem like it should. He played Jim Croce records for us, introduced me to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and bought the Star Wars soundtrack when I was swept away by the movie.
Sports became important to me, because my father watched as many baseball, football, and basketball games as he could.
Writing became important to me, because my father liked to read and celebrated good novels and movies, and he fanned the flames of my interest when it became apparent I had some talent for it.
Likewise, everything that’s important to me I pursue with passion. I yell at the TV even though the Bengals can’t hear me as a result of my father’s influence. I get lost in a song, because my dad made me believe in the power of music. My mother is the one responsible for instilling in me a love for philosophy and current events and a belief in social justice, but it is my father who taught me fervor.
My mother taught me to care. My father taught me to care deeply.
So on this anniversary of his emergence onto the Stage of Life, I take a moment to pause and reflect on his legacy. I can’t say for certain if I have chosen well the things I am passionate about, but I do know that I wouldn’t care half as much if it wasn’t for him. For good or ill, I’m happy about that.
So thanks, Dad and happy birthday. I hope the lessons learned match the ones you were trying to teach.