People are natural collectors of things. Some people collect dolls, or baseball cards, or specific animal art. They decorate their homes with various genres or themes they are drawn to and identify with. You can tell a lot about a person by what they collect.
My father collects lighthouses. Prints, paintings, Christmas ornaments…it’s his thing. When I see a lighthouse, I think of my Dad. Not only for his natural desire to collect them, but because of what they represent.
Back in the 1980’s when my father became a single parent, his world was shaken quite a bit. Raising two active teenagers, a boy and a girl and working 60-80 hours a week as a successful executive was not the norm for a typical man.
There were no role models or Mr. Mom movies to normalize a father raising his children, and certainly not on his own. He paved a path with little assurance that he was doing it “right” and without a gaggle of friends to question how they handled certain situations…he just did it.
I can imagine the learning curve for raising a daughter was enormous for my dad. And being a manipulative, social and independent teenage girl, I did not make it easy on him. I recall the books he’d buy me to explain about “girl things” that he simply could not describe or understand. The talks he had with me had to have been incredibly uncomfortable and when it came to boys, he did his best to listen and nod, never judging, and never quite getting what all the drama was about.
Not fully knowing how to relate to a girl had its advantages too. My father raised me to believe that there were no differences between men and women. I was taught that we both have the same opportunities to learn, to grow and to thrive, and if we work hard, we can get what ever we desire. He never lead me to believe there was any other way of seeing it. I have so much respect for him for that and it has certainly shaped the way I raise my own daughter.
But the most important skill my father has taught me is how to weather a storm. Living with a person who is mentally ill creates quite an unsteady weather pattern for everyone around them. A day can start out bright and sunny and end with a hurricane without warning. Dopplers and radars are futile when predicting a change in these pressure systems and two storms can collide without ever knowing they existed even moments before.
Growing up in a house with many storms, I watched my father hold his ship steady in rough waters. When things were bad, you’d never know he had an ounce of fear with his consistent stature of strength, dedication and faith. He was a captain like no other, his demeanor allowing us to feel safe when danger loomed. He seemed to instinctively know the storms were temporary and that if we held on, they’d pass and calm waters would become part of our lives again.
Because of his top notch captain status, he was promoted to lighthouse keeper during my teenage years. At a time when storms are often self created and feel like tsunamis in intensity, he was the light that beamed through the darkness to let me know that danger was present, but could be avoided if I steered my ship correctly. He taught me how to see the signs and what to do when I felt like I was going to go down. He taught me the value of standing tall and understanding that storms pass through in life, but never do they stay, and how you fare through them is not based on preparation, but on how we regroup and adapt once the damage has been done. He taught me that living is not an acquired skill, but a state of mind.
I don’t know if my father realizes that he is the lighthouse he collects. I don’t know if he realizes that his grandchildren watch him as intently as they do and that he is a role model of strength, dedication and faith for us all.
But I do know that on Father’s Day, I honor this great man and the role he has played in my life and the lives of my children. He is what makes the word “Dad” a special and beautiful name to describe the men in the world who stand by their families, and do their best to support, love and nurture them in the ways they know how.
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads who do what they do to help make us who we are.