The look of exasperation on Dad's face when he realized I had just missed the school bus was followed by one of determination.
My mother had taken the family car to work that morning, so there was no means of transportation but one. He had just finished a graveyard shift at the Fort Gordon hospital, but my Dad quietly took my hand and started the long walk to my school.
I am sure that there was conversation about how he had walked 10 miles to school every day as a boy, but today I don't recall any conversation with clarity. I only remember how my tiny fingers felt encased in Dad's huge hand, and visions of his eyes protectively watching the traffic, the early morning sun glinting off his glasses, and the look of resolve on his face.
And, of course, there is that final moment when we arrived at my classroom. After all, what 10-year-old boy wants his father to pick him up and hug him in front of his teachers, classmates, and the whole world? Little did I imagine the subtle lesson I was being taught on that long-forgotten day.
My older brother Tommy proved almost 20 years later that he had been taught the same lesson. While driving from his home in North Carolina for a visit with my mother, he stopped at a roadside park. Only after arriving at the house and unpacking the car did he discover his daughter had left her favorite doll, a stuffed frog, at the park. Although Tom explained to Laura that they would have to buy her another "Froggie," it was obvious that she was heartbroken.
Sometime around 3 a.m. the sound of Tom's car pulling out of the driveway awakened me, and while Laura was eating breakfast the next morning her Dad returned with "Froggie" under his arm. Once again, this time from my older brother, I learned a subtle lesson about fatherhood. The lesson is this: A father should, literally, go any distance and endure any personal hardship to provide whatever will make his child happy, healthy and successful.
That lesson was only one of many my Dad taught me, not by words but by illustration and action. Children learn their work ethic and acquire moral fortitude by watching the individuals who have become the axle around which their world turns - Mom and Dad.
When my dad stood every morning in front of his mirror and adjusted his uniform until tie, shirt seams and pants were perfectly aligned, he taught me the value of making sure my work was perfected before presenting it to the world. When I witnessed educated doctors and nurses seeking the advice of my dad, a medical corpsman, it taught me that success is not measured by dollars, degrees or cars in the driveway but by how well we strive for perfection in our chosen field.
When my friend Shawn Hammond, a Columbia County attorney, closed his office in order to serve in Afghanistan, he taught his sons another valuable lesson. With every e-mail he sends, he teaches them to do their promised duty - that the manner in which they meet the responsibility defines their character.
Too often, we fathers tend to feel that we have not taken time from our busy schedules to teach our children about life, that our love for our children is compromised by our dedication to our professions. Little do we realize the dozens of teaching moments presented every day by the manner in which we conduct ourselves, that without our knowing it little eyes are observing, recording and acting upon our illustrated lessons of life. We formulate our children's success or failure with every inadvertent gesture or word.
A few days ago, while adjusting my uniform before going to work, I caught my daughter's reflection in the mirror. She was curiously watching me as I primped. Reflecting on the examples above, I made sure that my badge was straight, my seams aligned and ran my fingers one last time down my pants leg seam to straighten it. I hope Charli caught the lesson.
The hope and aspiration of every father is for his child to be a greater person than them. It's too early for me to make that verdict, yet, but Dad certainly left his mark on this world through his sons. I didn't have the chance before you left this world, but Thank You, Dad, for making me the man and the father I've become.
Happy Father's Day!
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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