Today is my Step-Dad's birthday.
Today is also the day that he and my mom return from what has been a glorious visit to France, so I can't call him ON his birthday -- they don't let you make calls to folks in airplanes.
But I can send my birthday thoughts out to the man who guided me safely through middle school and high school. Thank you, for all of the wonderful ways that you have influenced my life. Without you, I'd not be the person I am.
Among the many things my Dad taught me (and continues to teach me) just by being who he is, and living his life according to his own beliefs and standards:
1. You can do it.. yourself.
We had a wonderful old house in St. Louis. As with almost every old house on the planet, it has all sorts of problems. I don't remember ever calling in a professional to fix anything. Dad fixed the plumbing when there was a bathtub crisis; I have pictures (just not digital ones). Dad redid the floors, and then took care of them (they were GORGEOUS).
When I was in high school, Dad built me a BED.
When he retired, he moved to an amazing house in Maine. That house was on a plot of land than no one had cared for in years -- it was well populated with trees, and deadfall, and in general need of love and care. Dad knew that for the majority of trees to stay healthy, some of the trees needed to go. Again, he called no one -- he cut down the spare trees himself. He split the wood that was good for building fires, and (having bought a chipper and a tractor), and chipped the rest (and the deadfall etc) to make trails through his woods. Again, he could have called someone to do this, but instead mastered the art of tree-cutting himself.
2. Things worth doing are worth the time it takes to do them well.
It started with the floors, if I'd paid attention (but I was a kid, what did I know). He stripped the finish, and refinished them, and lovingly cared for them after that. None of that is quick or easy. And none of it could be done with short cuts. Our floors were gorgeous.
When I was in high school, Dad decided to build a boat. Okay, not a boat .. a 36" ketch. From plans, and wood. He started in the basement, meticulously building the frame upon which he'd later build the hull. He took months doing this, for parts that would eventually be, effectively, thrown away. Why? because without properly done frames, the hull wouldn't work. Kind of like, oh, swatching before starting a knitting project? and, um, washing and blocking the swatch? yeah. like that.
More recently, upon moving to another amazing plot of land in Maine, where he thinned the trees again, and cut the wood that he burned in the wood-stove that was the primary heat source all winter long for years, Dad started another big project:
He built a post-and-beam barn. A big one, with box stalls, and a loft. The only part of this he called in help for was pouring the concrete foundation, some of the plumbing and electricity (since the law requires that licensed plumbers and electricians have a hand in putting in stuff that will connect to the public lines), and putting the one-piece tin roof on. Otherwise, he framed the whole barn. I helped put the roof perlin's on. (Those are huge 6x6 beams going in 20 feet in the air). The project took years. And it will be standing long past the date the house on that property falls in.
And every part of it was built with love, and care, and without short cuts.
3. If you're not doing what is best for you -- you CAN start over.
My dad was a minister when I met him. He had a church in North St. Louis, where his parishioners loved him. He was, from what I could tell at 10, an awesome minister. But it wasn't quite right for him. He wasn't helping his community in the best way he could.
So he left the church, and went back to school to get his doctorate in Social Work and Public Health. He went on to teach Social Work to other graduate students -- making his difference touch more people in many ways. When he retired, we collected letters from his co-workers and students. It was clear from their letters that making that move was a good thing, for him, and for the many people he touched and helped along the way.
4. Community is Important; and all of it's members are important.
Everywhere Dad lived, he connected to the people around him. And he did it at their level. He was deeply connected to his congregation. He was connected to the people in his graduate school; one is still his best buddy. When he moved to Maine, he met his neighbors - lobstermen, fisherman, politicians, musicians, artists, neighbors, the guy at the hardware store, the family that runs the best lobster-roll shack in the area.... everyone. And he interacted with them all as real people. And they responded the same way.
Dad is still helping. He helps build houses for Habitat for Humanity in his area - he's even on the board. He is active with local politics. He CARES.
5. There is more that I learned that I can possibly list.
The important part to me is that this wonderful man is in my life, and has been. And I love him, and have been blessed beyond measure to have had him as my Dad.