June 14, 2020

 I am publishing this Father’s Day tribute a week early because I will be taking next Sunday off.  

 I hope you have plans to spend your Father’s Day with a wonderful father – yours, your children’s, your spouse’s or just a man you admire.  I gratefully acknowledge everyone who is a father or who acts as a role model/mentor for someone else. The influence of a strong, positive role model on a young child is one of life’s most precious gifts, and these heroes don’t get all the credit they deserve for fulfilling this challenging role.

 My longtime readers will recognize this post because I have published it before.  I wanted to do so again for one of my dear clients, who recently lost her beloved father after a valiant fight with cancer.  Kerri, your father was your best friend, just like my father was for me. This is in honor of both our Dads.

 “Love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got.  Love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it.” – Maya Angelou

This quote from the late, great Maya Angelou perfectly describes the way my Dad, Professor Harbison Parker, lived his life.  Although his years on earth were far too short, he lived each of them with maximum gusto and I am quite sure he had no regrets when he died suddenly at age 57, right at the beginning of my senior year of high school.

My mother was my source of unconditional love, whatever minor discipline I needed, and the usual “always wear clean underwear for the ambulance” practical advice.

My father was my Playmate, Teacher, walking thesaurus/dictionary/encyclopedia, and my #1 Role Model.  I don’t remember him talking to me directly about values to live by. Instead, he just lived his life on his own terms, and I learned how I wanted to live mine by observing how he did it.

Here are the key Rules for Abundant Living that I got from observing the happiness and fulfillment my Dad derived from living by them himself:

  • Be happy – Other than the day President Kennedy was assassinated, when I saw him cry for the first time, my Dad was invariably optimistic, cheerful and humorous. He loved to laugh at and tell jokes (especially bad puns), watched all the 60s comedy TV shows with me, and could find the hidden humor or irony in any problem. From him, I decided that hanging out with happy, positive people is the only way to go!  While I got my inclination to worry from my mother, I got my sense of humor from my father.  Guess which trait has helped me more in life?
  • Be curious – My Dad was the most insatiable life-long learner I’ve ever known. He never passed a used bookstore without buying something.  He left behind boxes of notebooks and reading materials on everything from Elizabethan poetry to paranormal science.  It’s too bad he didn’t live into the Internet Age because he would have spent hours Googling everything.  He taught me how great it could be to know a little bit about a lot of things (which led a high school English teacher to dub me a “Renaissance Woman”). Dad never pontificated about his own views, but sought to learn from others’ opinions. His attitude set me up for career success because coaching requires more listening than talking, being curious instead of judgmental, and having a wide variety of resources at my fingertips to support my clients’ needs.
  • Be creative – My Dad was one of the most creative problem-solvers I’ve ever known. He was an amateur inventor who came up with what he believed was a breakthrough system for teaching reading that was better than phonics. Unfortunately, he died before he got to finish it. My Dad taught me to stretch my imagination and ingenuity with his homemade inventions, like a teeter-totter I could play on all by myself, consisting of a long board balanced on an old oil drum and weighted on the other side with bricks that were equal to my weight. (This was in the days before “helicopter parenting” and Cal OSHA, you understand.)
  • Be of service – By Dad’s example, I learned that while life can be enjoyable when we meet our own needs, it can be truly fulfilling only when we help others meet their needs. He voluntarily gave up a lucrative professorship at the University of California to teach at a community college where he felt he could make a bigger difference teaching remedial English to working adults striving to improve their lives.

Dad took a personal interest in Mrs. Edwards, an elderly widow in his night school class who wanted to improve her English. One day he hitched a trailer to our station wagon and filled it with boxes of hand-me-down clothes and a used refrigerator. Then my parents, Mrs. Edwards and I drove from Southern California to Tecate, Mexico to give her extended family these precious gifts.  I was just eight, but I still remember what the dirt-floored, one-room adobe shack smelled like, with all the flies buzzing about. I am certain those strangers never forgot my Dad’s generosity.

Looking back, our relationship reminds me a lot of the one between Atticus Finch and his young daughter, Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Like Atticus, my Dad was older when I was born, so we didn’t do much physical play together; our father-daughter bond was more spiritual and mental. And luckily for me, like Atticus, my father demonstrated by his daily life exactly how to be self-confident and stand up for one’s principles, while remaining respectful of the different abilities, values and opinions of others.

In short, Prof. Harbison Parker was my #1 Role Model for how to “love life, engage in it and give it all you’ve got.” And I feel blessed to be his daughter.

PLEASE NOTE: The blog is taking next Sunday off.  (It’s the start of my birthday week.)  A Cup of Caroll will return with a new blog on Sunday June 28.

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