Lessons from My Father

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“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision and with finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.” ~Woodrow Wilson

Can you imagine the shape this world could be in if we imparted and impressed this philosophical truth into the hearts and minds of our children on a continual basis?

There is such conviction in President Woodrow Wilson’s words. You get the sense that he not only chanted this mantra, but he fully believed in it.

I grew up with a father who was constantly imparting words of affirmation and empowerment into my three siblings and me. It was so imperative to him that we fully understand the magnitude of our existence in this world that he would literally whisper these kinds of words in our ears at night when he thought we were sound asleep.

It’s true. Each night, as he tucked us into our childhood beds, he would lean down and whisper life into our hearts with these ten profound words: “I expect you to do great things with your life.”

Most nights he thought we were asleep…but we weren’t.

We still talk about how those words manifested in each of our souls. Such powerful words of strength and courage he urged our souls to take in.

I have very vivid memories from my childhood that continually travel back to the forefront of my mind when the time is ripe for its resurgence.

One of my favorite memories was when I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade. My family and I had just moved into our new townhouse and we loved the area.
Mom had convinced Dad to move us into a better school district, and I was so happy she did because I loved my new school.

I was making new friends, and I liked my teachers very much.

All was right with the world until this one day when my teacher, Mrs. *Dryer*, was introducing “fractions” during our math hour.

Granted, math had never been my strong suit, as the literary subjects tended to be more my thing, but even though it took a bit more explaining, I would eventually catch on and do average work in the subject of math.

Well, this particular day, Mrs. Dryer outwardly assigned another student to help me understand fractions a little bit better. But the way she presented it to the class absolutely devastated me.”Now, class, fractions can be a little difficult to comprehend at first so stay with me. Miss Shepherd, I am going to have to ask you to buddy up with Miss Spinks and help her stay up with us during this particular class period.”

I smiled and began scooting my desk over to be closer to my new friend, Susan, but I could feel the heat begin to rise in my cheeks as I begged myself on the inside not to cry. I’m sure I used humor to mask my devastation over Mrs. Dryer “outing” me in such a public way, but had there been a hole in the floor, I might have jumped in it wishing it would close up behind me.

I. Was. Humiliated.

I knew math was my struggle, but until Mrs. Dryer pointed my struggle out to the class, I had never felt less than before.

In an instant, feelings about myself…about my brain…had plummeted. I felt less than. I felt dumb. And I wanted to go home and hide.

Once the final school bell rang, I bolted home and straight for my dad who was sitting on our couch writing on his trusty yellow legal pad. He was forever writing.

“Dad!” I cried, as I jumped in his lap and hid my face in his chest, “I hate my brain! I hate my brain!”
My father pulled me from him so he could look me in my eyes and urged, “Teri, what is it?”
I couldn’t speak. “Teri Ann! Tell me what this is all about!”

I pushed my face back into his chest and sobbed, “Mrs. Dryer told everyone I was dumb today!”

Confused, he repeated what I said back to me, “Your teacher told the class you were dumb??”

“Not in those words, but she might as well have!” I sobbed and sobbed.

Finally, Dad calmed me down and insisted I tell him exactly what happened so that he could understand.

After I told him the scenario, he hugged me as tightly as he could and softly whispered, “Okay, baby. First of all, you are not dumb. You’ve never been dumb. And you’ll never BE dumb. In fact, you are one of the smartest little girls I know.”

I didn’t believe him in that moment and he knew it.

So he continued his point, “So what if math doesn’t come as easily to you as other subjects?! Who cares!! This does not change one thing about you! You are still my beautiful, wonderful, funny, loving, special little girl.”

I liked his words. They felt good to my heart.

He held my tear-stained face in his hands and uttered these words that freed my soul…forever, “Teri Ann, you look at me and you understand what I am about to say to you. YOU have something more wonderful and more powerful than anything you could ever learn from a book.”

I kept looking him in his eyes waiting to understand.

“Teri, you have GREATNESS inside of you. It’s true. You exude kindness and goodness that comes from the deepest part of the heart, and people recognize that about you.”

I couldn’t help but smile imagining that others thought this about me.

He went on, “You are a natural born encourager, Teri, and the world is drawn to people like that.”

After a few more moments of his healing soliloquy, I hugged him, got up from his lap and headed upstairs to my room. Before I reached the third step, he stopped me one last time, “Hey! One more thing.”

I halted in my tracks and looked back at my dimple-smiling father.

“I hope you never change a thing about you. That would be such a shame,” he said while shaking his head. He continued on with his thought, “I’d rather have a little girl who is a champion for people than one who can champion math equations any day of the week.”

Life altering. Words from a father to his daughter that forever affirmed what was most important to this world….goodness, kindness, sincerity and a hope- filled spirit, ripe with encouragement.

Yep, greatness was something my father felt we were destined for, and he looked for any opportunity to share this encouraging quest with us.

My siblings and I all knew from an early age that Dad never equated greatness with money, fame or any other monetary riches. Greatness, to him, was in the way we treated our fellow man.

He and Mom felt that treating others with kindness, respect and love was better than any other achievement or accolade we could ever attain.

My father didn’t just hope this to be true for us…He totally and completely EXPECTED it from us. And he never shied away from reminding us.

“Until your life is over”, he would surmise on those occasions when we were wallowing in self-pity, “you have a job to do, people to love and a whole world to affect. So, stop wallowing in your self-pity and get on with it…get on with your life…do what you are supposed to do…live and love! Conquer the world with your heart!”

A father’s passion to motivate his children to pursue their own personal greatness is like giving them an assured destiny filled with opportunity, along with great growth.

Dad left behind many of his writings. And we treasure every word. It’s as though he left a tangible piece of himself behind to help guide us into our finest hours on those occasions when his voice has become weakened, and we can’t remember his words anymore.

His writings make me smile, make me laugh and sometimes make me cry. But no matter what, they always make me think.

Here is a little snippet from a paragraph he wrote when introducing his credo…a credo that he wrote 18 years before he died.
He wrote:
“I think we are all on separate paths. I think our beliefs are based on what we grew up hearing, what we have heard from others, what we have read and liked, and from our own feelings and experiences. How in the world should we expect someone else to believe the same way we believe? So, why do we judge someone wrongly or put them at a lower level on the “Christian totem pole” if they don’t agree with our own beliefs, or if they don’t say the same words that we say. We are just on different paths. No one is more right and no one is wrong.

So, I am trying to put some of my thoughts on paper for myself. I might share them with some of my friends, whom I feel will not judge me, but who will question some of my statements out loud and make me explain some statements….which will only help me grow more.

Some of my statements might evoke criticism from some individuals, but I can learn from them also. But I will try to be open and honest with my thoughts because if I’m not, there’s no sense in writing it. So, without being overly dramatic here and a little hokey, here is what I feel about a few things:”

Dad then goes into four fully typed pages of THE most thought-provoking, honest, raw and poignant thoughts and beliefs I have ever read.

One of dad’s greatest qualities was his beautiful way of engaging people and getting them to really think for themselves about what it was they truly believed. And he always respected their belief system, even if it didn’t coincide with his own.

He truly believed that if one’s belief system helped them to become a better citizen in this world, then more power to them.

He was accepting of anyone wanting to use their life to make others’ lives better.

I completely bought into this line of thinking and am doing my best to impart this wisdom on my own children.

If after reading this piece, you feel a “nudge” to write something down for your own children, let it manifest.
Don’t hesitate to share words that will encourage, inspire, entice, enrich and inspire your own loved ones to live their best lives.

May your words live on in the hearts and minds of those who will live in a time and place beyond your own life existence.

Just remember to keep it honest and, as always, *Keep it Real*.