From the very moment we become parents, we nourish our baby with words. We coo and sing lullabies to our newborn and delight in his every linguistic response. Soon we add expressions – sometimes those we learned from our own parents – to teach a lesson or impart a value. At this, my father excelled, and I know I am the better for it.
Dad was a country-boy at heart and had a folksy way of speaking. A petroleum engineer, he traveled around the world analyzing oil and gas fields. Whether he was in a boardroom on Wall Street or sitting at our kitchen table talking to my sister and me, he remained grounded by his boyhood in Pecos, Texas. As Father’s Day nears, I remember him and his favorite fatherly sayings:
He was pragmatic – he owned his own business, managing it amidst the extreme cyclicality of the energy industry. “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s tail all the time” was both his worldview and how he helped his daughters cope with their own periodic disappointments or moments of good fortune.
He was sympathetic – “Hard to get all your raccoons up one tree” was his way of saying that he understood the frustration of not achieving goals, whether they were mine, his corporate ones or those of a hunting dog.
He was kind – Dad was one of the least judgemental people I have ever known and approached everyone he encountered as an equal: “We are all ignorant. We’re just ignorant about different things.”
He was optimistic – “Even a blind sow can find an acorn from time to time.” He fully believed that acorns were there in abundance, waiting to be stumbled upon.
A family friend once described my father to my mother this way: “Jimmie would smile at the devil.” He was good-natured, curious about people, and found striking up conversations with perfect strangers the most natural thing in the world.
On Father’s Day, I feel the loss of Dad in my life but am grateful that he lived until 80, long enough to know my two children. On occasion, I pull out one of these phrases to use with them. They knew their grandfather well and recognize his words. They smile in response, sharing a memory of Dad.