Note to Self: On Father’s Day

My father was an extraordinary man. I found it was challenging to be his son. These are separate reflections on Father’s Day.

Many years ago in my work advising business leaders, I recognized that the most difficult leadership role is that of a parent. It was several years later when I had the insight that the most important goal for a parent is to be an eminently happy adult. The child emulates the parent.

Our social and behavioral self-aspects are largely acquired and shaped through emulation, for better or worse. For example, this is true for our leadership aspect. Leadership books and training programs provide philosophy, objectives and mental models that are easily extinguished without eminent role models. In my experience, there are very few eminent leadership role models — and too few eminent adult human beings. Adolescence abounds. Career, business, and political society tend to crimp emulation standards severely, as we are urged to assume that having high net worth yields “success” in life and holding a position of authority presumes “leadership.”

Unfortunately, the power of emulation is far greater than the power of discerning wisdom.

Recently, I contemplated the Serenity Prayer in the context of Father’s Day. Written by the mid-20th-century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the Serenity Prayer gathered fame in the version adopted by twelve-step recovery programs. You may be familiar with this prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Life can be consumed by change-the-parent victimhood. If so, learning and living are delayed. What father’s child would not have wished to change some things about his or her dad if only to get through childhood less scathed? I certainly would have! Don’t we all seek the eminent happy adult? I certainly did.

Yet my contemplation was informed by the annual Father’s Day, and in that celebratory mode, acceptance of the things I cannot change about him that were completely magnificent!  Most of us can do this in the reflections about our parents on any day if we will it.

My father was a brilliant achiever, student, and athlete. His records, accomplishments, and achievements are a testament to him. I suspect he was asked to lead so often because of his accomplishments in the classroom, on the track and football field, as a Naval Officer, manager, engineer, and inventor. He was powerful, strong-willed and could be very charming. He was achievement-driven and lacked any indulgence for being lazy. Are these the full-framed depictions of him? No. Where there aspects of him I could not change and wished to change that took me years to accept? Yes, of course.

Parents do not get off lightly. My thorough emulation of my father no doubt burdens my daughter. May I continue to grow, modeling those aspects surely best for her and my grandchildren to emulate.

Yet, there are wondrous things about our parents that we cannot change, and would never, ever want to change. And for these gifts, talents and fortunate characteristics, gratitude and love endure forever.