By Judy Berman
Children are sponges. They soak up what they see and hear. They often learn best just by observing.
Growing up, my Dad led by example. From him, I learned about trust, standing up for what was right, and how to treat those who are less fortunate.
“Dad, you’re someone to look up to no matter how tall I’ve grown.” (Author Unknown)
Dad’s handshake was as good as a contract loaded with legalese. His word was his bond.
As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get a “real” bike. The one I’d learned to ride on was so short I could easily stop it just by planting my feet on the ground. But when I nagged Dad for a bigger one, I’d always get the same response.
“The bicycle is not in the garage.”
He explained later – after I did get a shiny new Schwinn bike – that he didn’t want to promise me something unless he already bought it.
I got that he didn’t want to get my hopes up. Life does get in the way. Unexpected bills, too much month at the end of the money … there’s no way to predict that you’ll be able to afford that special gift your child craves.
My parents grew up during The Great Depression in the 1930s and avoided piling on the debt. I don’t think they even had a credit card then.
This incident left a huge impression on me. But there were other lessons along the way that shaped me.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Dad was a jury foreman in a civil case involving two brothers who sued a hotel after they’d tripped over a cord that had been left on the floor. Their injuries required hospitalization.
Initially, Dad was the only juror who thought the men should be compensated.
He stood his ground and challenged the jurors to re-examine the evidence. When they did, many agreed with Dad’s assessment of the case and the plaintiffs won a settlement.
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by the little scraps of wisdom.” (Umberto Eco)
One brutal winter night, when I was a teen, a man came to our home seeking work. We had 66 acres, but only farmed a half-acre for ourselves. So we didn’t need a farm hand.
The man told Dad that he’d been fired from a neighboring farm. He had nowhere to go and was hungry.
My Dad was hesitant as the man was a stranger and Dad was concerned for his family’s safety. Still, my parents didn’t want to turn him away that bitter, cold night.
Dad let him sleep in our detached garage and provided blankets so he’d be warm while Mom fixed the man a hot meal.
The next morning, Dad started calling shelters to see who could help this man. The Salvation Army in Syracuse, New York – about 30 miles from our home – offered the man shelter, food and some work to earn money.
Dad felt that was the best option and drove the man there. The man appeared to be happy that he’d have a secure place to stay, meals and a job.
My Dad passed in 2011, but what I learned from him has stayed with me all my life: always keep your word, don’t rush to judgment, and when given a choice, always choose ‘kindness.’
Wishing all dads, stepdads, guardians and Big Brothers a Happy Father’s Day.
What’s one favorite memory of your Dad?
Main Photo: Dad, Joseph H. Fiet III, in what our family called his Marlboro man pose
Photo: Dad when he was in the U.S. Army during World War II
Photo: Dad clowning around when our car overheated