As I contemplated the fathers in my life on Sunday, it occurred to me that one thing they've all taught me — in one way or another — is how to work.
My own dad set an example of the importance of being dependable and hard-working during his long career. He almost never took a sick day, and everyone knew that whatever job he was given, he would do it promptly and correctly.
My grandfathers also demonstrated hard work, whether on a farm or in a workshop. And my wife's father and grandfathers have the same diligence and willingness to roll up their sleeves and get a job done, even if it means traveling halfway around the world to do so.
Thinking about these amazing men made me wonder whether I'm measuring up to their examples. I'm trying, but I don't think I'm succeeding yet.
I do try to show dedication to my job, work hard in the office and accomplish the tasks I'm asked to do. I also try to exceed the expectations of those with whom and for whom I work. And especially lately, I've tried to do a better job of modeling good work/life balance.
However, there is one important area in which I need to improve: teaching my children to do tasks around our house.
It's strange that I'm not good at this, because my mom and dad were great at it. From a young age, my sister and I had chores every Saturday, as well as during the week. We helped dust the house and vacuum the carpets. We took turns collecting the rugs and shaking the dust off them outside, then sweeping the floors.
Before we bought our first dishwasher, we had responsibility for washing and drying the dishes after every evening meal. After we got the dishwasher, we still had to help empty it.
As for my dad, he taught me the basics of maintaining and repairing a home. Unfortunately, I didn't pay as much attention to those lessons as I should have, so I'm not handy at fixing things now.
My wife had a similar upbringing, chores-wise, and she has been working hard to pass those lessons along to our children. However, I fear that I sometimes unintentionally torpedo her efforts due to a lack of patience.
For example, I'm one of those freakish people who wants everything arranged just right in the dishwasher so I can cram in the maximum number of items. I feel I'm the only person who can do this correctly, so I tend to take over that job myself, even when the kids are trying to help.
Same thing with folding the laundry. I like things folded the way I think they should be folded, and it's hard for me to be patient with my children's efforts in this regard.
Logically, I know that it's not a big deal if they do things differently, and that they'll never learn how to do such chores if I don't back off. I've made a conscious effort to do so, but it's still challenging for me at times.
Yeah, I know. It's a sickness.
One thing that has helped me overcome my natural tendencies in this area is my children's response when I do take the time to teach them.
For example, when I was alone with our three daughters and one son on a recent evening, I decided to give them some rudimentary lessons in laundry folding. I had all four of them working on it, and they had a great time. They also did a pretty good job.
The other day, I was alone with my 6-year-old son and had some yardwork to do. Instead of setting him up in the house with an iPad or a movie so I could get my tasks done quickly, I decided to slow down a bit and invited him to join me.
As I worked, I explained what I was doing and asked him to help where he could. When I was mowing the lawn — a job he's a bit young to handle, but which I can't wait to turn over to my kids when they get older — he decided on his own to help me by making us a snack to share. When he heard the lawnmower turn off after I finished the front yard, he came bounding out of the house with apples and drinks for both of us.
While we munched away, he let me know that he had taken it upon himself to water the plants in our living room. This made me a bit worried (little boys plus water can equal a big, wet mess), but I resisted my urge to immediately check and see if anything bad happened. Instead, I congratulated him on taking the initiative. (When I went back inside later, it turned out he did a great job.)
I believe that most kids want to learn to work. I think many parents understand that and do a better job than I do at teaching those lessons. The key to success, I'm discovering, is to be a good example, give some instruction and then get out of the way.
That's what the fathers in my life have done for me. I'm sure they've sometimes (OK, often) been frustrated at how slowly I've learned to do what they're trying to teach. They've probably wondered whether I was ever going to get it right. But they've had the patience to let me work, answered questions when I had them and watched me incorporate lessons I learned into my daily life.
I'm grateful to all of these good men for their patience and their examples, which continue to this day. I only hope I can live up to the standard they have set — and, more importantly, that I can pass their lessons along to my own children.
If I can help to build a new generation of workers who will excel both in the workplace and in the home, that would be the best Father's Day gift I could ever receive. And it's truly the kind of gift that would keep on giving.