“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.” – Edmund Lee
It’s a little early for a Father’s Day post, but my Dad’s birthday is in early April so it seems fitting that I should be writing about him. When I was a kid, he went out of his way to make sure that if there was something I wanted to try, I could. If there wasn’t money to do what I wanted to try, he’d find some way to barter for it so I could (ever the Dutchman). I talked to my dad this weekend and asked him for some things that he believed were at the core of how he treated my growing up.
“Don’t let someone else tell your story.” – Dad
One of the things that absolutely crushed me as a child was the insistence of my gym teachers who told me I was terrible at physical activities and sports in general. Frankly I was. Then. I was born with some pretty bad deformities from my hips down. I had to learn to walk twice as a kid, once before surgery and once after all the surgeries were completed. Something like basketball? I tried. God did I try. But my body was still growing and changing and I just couldn’t get it to do what it needed to do at the right time.
When it came right down to it, I needed a lot of time to grow, a lot of time to learn, and a lot of time to figure out what I could do to break sports down into pieces that would work. I don’t play basketball today, but I do practice martial arts. It takes me longer than most people to get a technique down, but if I break it down into small enough pieces, I find I can manage some pretty spectacular things that guys twice my size and weight can’t or won’t do.
“You won’t have everything you need. You won’t know what you’re doing. Just go for it.” – Dad
One summer, my Dad tugged one of his old work shirts on me backwards, propped a giant piece of plywood against the garage, piled up every partial paint can he could collect from all the old Dutchmen within a three-block radius (they save EVERYTHING), and told me I could do whatever I wanted with that plywood. I still remember the glee of flinging paint with my bare hands and a dead squirrel’s tail that I’d plucked out of the alley. When he came out a few hours later he asked me why I hadn’t used a brush, I showed him my squirrel’s tail and he just smiled and said “That’s my girl.”
He always found sneaky ways to make sure I had most of the tools I needed but not all of them. He wanted me to find out how to make things work for myself and do it in a way that allowed me to express this well of creativity he could see bubbling up. Maybe they weren’t all intentional like the paintbrushes being absent, but they did teach me to look at things differently. I went about most of my childhood trying to find new uses for things and I still do it to this day, a fact that frustrates my husband to no end, I’m sure.
“Surround yourself with genius and soak it up.” – Dad
Throughout my life my father introduced me to a great many people. It was important, he insisted, to seek out those people with “the spark,” as he called it, in whatever they did. My father was a master of meeting complete strangers and finding out what it was that was their true talent, whether that was the car mechanic at the little local place two blocks down from our house who could bring any vehicle back to life from certain death or the baker a few blocks further who knew which days would be perfect to make the lightest breads and which days required working on the heavier, denser ones.
What my father did was give me opportunities. By surrounding me with ready-made experts, he wasn’t seeking to have me learn mechanics or baking (in fact I’m spectacularly bad at both). No, he was teaching me how to learn, learning how to create, and how to celebrate my successes AND my failures because they both taught me something.
I’m still pretty bad at basketball and can’t win at “HORSE” unless someone spots me a few letters, but I just got my yellow sash in Kung Fu. I don’t have the squirrel’s tail any more but I do have a couple of pretty spiff art pieces like my dragonfly that I made from found objects. And I’m sorry Mr. Dykstra doesn’t make your cracked wheat bread any more. I still can’t recreate his recipe, but I have learned how to make a mean tub of gourmet ice cream. Thanks for teaching me that it’s ok to find my own way. Happy birthday. I love you.