We have a “rogues gallery” of photos in our hallway that traces generations of our families.
One photo, circa 1954, captures my brother, my sister, and me, about a year and a half apart at seven, five, and four years old.
As I look at the three faces, across so many years, it seems that the older two, Jody and Barby, bubble with energy and promiseâ€”the “most likely to succeed” among the kindergarten set.
The youngest, a little girl with a dimpled smile and short red corkscrews all over her head, seems to have no designs on the future, and is perfectly content to be there.
No doubt I’m projecting my knowledge of the intervening years onto those faces. Both the older kids went on to become outstanding students, valedictorians, athletes – accomplished fellows in everything they attempted.
But the littlest one was far less driven and far more limited. Unlike her siblings, she shied away from competition. She was much too sensitive to risk failure, or risk hurting others by winning.
If it hadn’t been for her father, she might never have figured out how to negotiate her way through a competitive world.
He was an electrical engineer by trade, but a teacher by nature.
Every time some incident threw her into a whirlpool of emotions, they’d have a talk. His gentle, calming logic always brought her back to center.
He called them “toughening-up sessions,” where they’d sit side-by-side as she tearfully told him her life was over because her best friend hated her. Or she was a total failure because she missed the Honor Roll by two points.
He’d calmly, simply explain that true friendship just isn’t that flimsy, and that the Honor Roll was not the measure of success.
I can’t explain exactly how dad patiently built up my sense of self, one crisis at a time, while fostering my sensitivity to others. But he did.
As I look into the three faces in the photo, I think Jody and Barby were lucky to be born with a natural strength. The little one had to work at it.
But she was lucky, too. She had a great coach.
CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE HISTORY OF FATHER’S DAY
Read more about The definition of Father’s Day
stay in the know