Twenty-seven years ago today, at the age of forty-six, my father passed away. I was ten years old at the time and, needless to say, his passing was one of the two or three most profoundly defining moments of my life. Even today, I continue to be shaped by this man, as much by his absence now as by his memory. For more than a quarter century, I’ve been the boy whose father died much too early — too early for both of us, as the narrative goes. I had to learn to grow up, to become a man on my own, without the trusted voice of Dad coaching me up along the way. As you might guess, my teen years were a bit uneven: lots of trial and error and learning through experience. Even now as I head toward mid-life, I find myself wondering what he would say if he were here, what advice he would give, how he would help me as I play Dad to my own children. As I said, shaped by his absence.
But twenty-seven years in, I can be thankful for a few things. I’m thankful for the memory, first and foremost. Ten years isn’t a long time, but it’s enough to become a little boy’s hero. I’ve used the word a bit more liberally over the past few years, but truth be told, I’ve always had but one. There’s no one I emulate more than my father. And this desire is fueled by ten good years of example. Ten years of laughter. Ten years of toughness. Ten years of gentle care and loving discipline. All of the things I understand about manhood I witnessed firsthand in my father. For this, I am grateful.
And in a way, I’ve grown to be thankful even for the absence, or more pointedly for the residue of the absence. For it is in the absence that I have sought my own voice, my own identity. As I said, ten years isn’t a long time; it’s definitely not long enough to cover everything you need to know. So in the absence, you learn how to make it up as you go. You try as best you can to be faithful to the example, even in particular areas that were never explicitly modeled for you. You learn to wing it. You improvise. And in the absence, somehow, you find your way.
For me, this is the way I honor my Dad. I honor him by having found my own voice.
Raising children can be challenging. I know; I’m in the middle of trying to raise three myself. You find yourself wondering if you’re doing the right things, or the wrong things, or enough things, or too few things. Modern parenthood seems fraught with second-guessing. (Maybe we have too much information these days. Or maybe it’s just too much caffeine.) You wonder how it’s all going to turn out, how they’re going to turn out. And most of all, you wonder if you’re making a difference.
In the grand scheme of things, you may not leave much of a mark on the world. In all likelihood, you will have very little influence outside of your small circle of friends and family members. In fact, twenty-seven years after your death, there probably won’t be very many people that will even remember that you existed.
But there will be a few.
And your impact upon them will be profound.
Not because of your accomplishments or your fame or your status or your image or your net worth or the legislation you passed or the deals you brokered or the magazine covers you graced or the number of Rolexes you owned or the cuteness of your haircut or the clearness of your skin or your intelligence….none of that will really matter to them.
For these few, your impact will be profound simply because of your person — because of who you are. The ones that will remember you are the ones who know you. They know your true identity. They hear your true voice. They’re the ones that see you without makeup on Christmas morning. The ones you play catch with. The ones that cuddle in your lap during church. The ones that heard you say that four-letter word when you hit your thumb with a hammer. The ones that learned to drive while you sat bravely in the passenger seat. The ones that clunk around the house wearing your shoes, pretending to be you because you are the one and only hero they will ever have.
Those are the ones that will always, always, always remember you.
I know this because today I remember.
And I know I always will.