As this Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own dad, and how blessed I was to have him in my life. I was born during the Depression; by today’s standards, I guess you’d say we grew up in fairly deprived circumstances. I just didn’t know it.
I remember that Dad wasn't around much when I was growing up. He had to drop out of high school when he was a young man to support his family after his father died. So by the time I arrived, he was working full-time at a job, and going to accounting school—and later law school—at night—12 years in total.
One of my earliest childhood memories was my parents taking food to neighbors who had less than we did; and my mother taking me on the subway to meet my dad coming out of law school at nine o’clock at night. Then we’d accompany him home, but not before stopping for an ice cream.
As I reflect on it, I think I developed my work ethic during those days. When I got out of the Marine Corps, I thought nothing about working full-time and going to school four years at night to get my law degree. After all, my dad had set the example. Maybe one of the best days for my dad, and for me, was when I was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts and made a copy of the certificate, mailing it to my dad with a note on it saying, “Without you I could never have done this.”
My dad worked so hard that I was accustomed to only spending time with him on Sunday afternoons. We'd sit on the back porch, and there was never any wasted time. My dad would drill lessons into my head: Always do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; be willing to do anything you’re required to do (that came in handy, by the way, when I had to clean toilets in Marine training); and always tell the truth. Well, I testified 44 times under oath during Watergate, and was never once accused of perjury.
But if anybody accused me of self-righteousness, I would have to stand convicted. When I got to the White House, I was meticulous about avoiding conflicts of interest: I’d put everything I owned in trusts. I wouldn't see former clients. But I ended up in prison. Self-righteousness is a form of pride.
One of the toughest things I ever experienced was stopping by my dad’s hospital room on my way to prison. It was an emotional time, but at least I was able to witness to him about Christ. I won’t know until I get to heaven what came of it. And my worst day followed that, when I learned, in prison, that my dad had died. I had to attend the funeral under armed guard.
But one thing I knew for sure—and I knew it even as I grieved at my father’s funeral: Dad had poured everything he had into me—and into his grandkids, who became the joy of his life. And he lived his life with great honor and dignity.
All I can hope is that the same will be said of me some day by my children and grandchildren. I knew every minute my dad was proud of me—and I was proud of him.
I told him how I felt many times when he was alive. But on reflection, I wish I’d told him more often. So, don’t miss the opportunity this Father’s Day to tell your father how much you love him and appreciate him. Or, if he's gone, as my father is, at least give a prayer of thanks to God that you had the dad you did.
(This commentary is re-aired from June 13, 2008).
Further Reading and Information
Thank You, Dad: Reflections on my Father - Next Steps
On this Father’s Day, pick up the phone, mail a card, thank your dad for the time he devoted to you. In instances where relationships are strained, take the first step to reconcile with your father even in small ways like simply sending a quick note and breaking the silence. Where communication is completely cut off, pray for your father.
If you get a chance, check out the book The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent about how to improve broken family relationships and heal any past wounds with your father. Find other great books on fatherhood listed below.