I believe my father will not mind me sharing a little about his and my life together, as long as it is done with respect, in a way that honors him. I woke this morning with a revelation of sorts, and felt a pressing need to share. Dear Lord, please help me to include here only what is needed – nothing more, nothing less. I ask in Jesus Name, Amen. +
We lost my father in July of 2013 (may he rest in peace), and I have hesitated to share much about him, for fear I could not do it objectively. But I actually believe this morning I can.
Dad loved to share his “war stories” of office interactions from his relatively short career as a chemical engineer. Although he was a professional artist for a much longer period of time, I believe his work with Ethyl Corporation in a way defined him, in that it gave him a sense of accomplishment that – for all of the talent demonstrated in his artwork – never seemed to materialize for him as a painter.
Until today, I didn’t really understand that Dad was – among other things – “CEO” of our household. Accordingly, I can say that Mom served as something of his VP, and my brother and I filled the role of the workers. I don’t mean to imply that this is all we were to Dad – not at all – just that his approach to leading our family closely matches what I now understand to be that of a corporate executive.
Following this metaphor, I now see that I was viewed as something of a “problem employee” – sharp, but arrogant… always challenging his authority and his position. In the dog-eat-dog environment of corporate America, this represented an issue for him that had to be addressed.
You have to understand that Dad very much enjoyed the “gamesmanship” of the corporate world. He loved exchanging what he called “zingers” with his fellow employees: statements about their character that were somewhat biting, but also humorous in that they were usually the opposite of what was true. He knew his colleagues were “in his league”, so to speak, and therefore could interpret these “zingers” for what they were: playful remarks.
Dad knew he had a reputation for making snap judgments – not just about executive decisions, but about people. One of the stories he often recounted to me was that a co-worker once approached him saying something like, “You know, Holberg, you size people up within the first 15 seconds you meet them. But,” the gentleman continued, “the thing is, you’re right about 99% of the time.”
Dad attempted to carry his “gamesmanship” into our home, at least in his interactions with me. He would often fling “zingers” at me, testing my wit and ability to handle them. I believe he sincerely thought that he had me “sized up” as a sharp but arrogant “player” like himself. And I can’t say he was wrong: my interactions within the family – and later in corporate life – reflect a similar, if more feminine, approach.
The problem is, a family is not a corporation… a child is not an employee… nor can children be “sized up” since in the time they are within the home, they are still being formed and shaped by their parents. As a child, I had no comprehension that I was expected to stick to my role on lowest rungs of the corporate ladder. Dad’s “zingers” were, to me, remarks that stung and hurt, and conveyed messages that I didn’t understand. I didn’t realize that the fact that he even engaged in this “gamesmanship” with me was – for him – a sign of admiration and pride.
In my child’s mind, my father was a strict parent with unreasonable expectations. In my father’s corporate mind, his child was a constant challenge to his authority. Our eventual falling out was all but inevitable.
This revelation causes me to wonder… how many men approach family life with the exact same strategy they do their working lives? How many a man brings home his dreams of achievement, expecting his family to cooperate with the paradigm of the office, or the garage, or the construction site? How many a man expects his wife to be as obedient as an underling, and his children to be as predictable as line workers? When other members of the family refuse to play these roles in a predictable way, how many men conclude that they are missing out on their dreams as much within the home as they feel they are in the workplace?
Dad had the potential to be a great leader, but I now see that I helped to undermine that potential by failing to contribute to building a supportive, loving, harmonious family that every man needs to truly succeed in life. Was I justified in my reactions to Dad’s misapplication of the only paradigm within which he was most comfortable? Only God really knows for sure. I wish things had been different – every member of my family does. We loved each other profoundly in spite of our difficulties. Thankfully we were both able to convey that in numerous meaningful ways before the Lord took my father into His home.