Today, at 55 years old, my dad takes a six-hour-long test to obtain his black belt in American kickboxing. He has been preparing mentally and physically for this day for years. He will be tested on his knowledge of the practice, his endurance and his ability to react quickly on his feet. Upon completing the grueling endurance tests, he will be required to go 10 consecutive rounds with 10 different black belts. After each kickboxing round, a new, experienced and rested black belt will step in to the ring while my dad pushes forth: a truly admirable test to complete.
When I started thinking about this piece, I didn’t know which avenue to take. I thought about talking about being young and having a rocky relationship with my father, mentioning how we are both hotheads and when we collided, we exploded. But as memories of my father, the man he used to be and the man he is today filled my mind, I was overcome with utter admiration. I was dazed with gratefulness for the many life lessons I have acquired over the years from him, lessons I wasn’t always receptive of, lessons I often fought and despised. In hindsight, of course, these lessons made me the person I am today and are lessons I hope to one day instill in my own children.
Lead by example. My dad had three jobs while I was growing up, and he still does. He worked the nightshift, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., for the majority of my childhood, so that I didn’t have to go to daycare. Money was tight, times were tense and he was stressed beyond belief. As I got older and started talking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, my dad made a huge decision. On top of everything, he enrolled in college. With only a high school degree and not having sat in a classroom in more than 15 years, he decided that he would never be able to tell me when I grow up I should go to college if he himself didn’t go. For years, he persevered and committed himself to school, his graduating day is one of the most special memories of my life. Little did I know at the time, but it was all for me and for the example he was trying to display.
Set personal goals. My dad is highly goal-orientated. He sets personal goals, like getting his black belt, and he never, ever, quits. He has unbelievable willpower and drive. Over the years he has instilled a great amount of self-motivation in me, and I attribute my success in life to that quality. Setting personal goals and achieving them gives one self-confidence and desire to achieve more. If you are familiar with powerlifting and body-building then you know the unmatched amount of self-discipline required to compete and succeed in the sport. My dad got into weight lifting in his late teens and in his early 20s he broke the record in Virginia for bench-pressing 500 lbs. at such a young age. He set a goal and he reached it and in the years since, he has never stopped. He lit a fire within me to mirror the same lifestyle. I am always creating and reaching goals and I love seeing my desire and motivation to do so.
Manage your money. From a young age my dad sat me down and explained how much money comes in every month and how much goes out. He told me how much things like cable, mortgage and food cost each month and explained how he managed his accounts. The value of learning these things before I was faced with paying bills was instrumental in my ability to take care of myself as an adult. He took me as a kid to open my first savings account and hammered the importance of saving money into my mind. At the time, I hated the idea of putting half of my birthday money into a saving account but as an adult, it actually excites me to put money in my account and watch it grow. He never dismissed a question I had by telling me it was none of my business and never discouraged my curiosity to know. I see some of my peers struggle with money issues, they spend more than they have, feel they are entitled to things they can’t afford and fall into mountains of debt because of it. I am confident that I will never stumble down that path and I have my dad to thank for that.
Be thankful. My dad has always owned properties and has always encouraged me to be a part of that business with him. Most of the homes he owns are rented to people on welfare. I have left my beautiful neighborhood many days and sat in the passenger seat while my dad has taken me into low-income neighborhoods and into homes where a family of five is sleeping on a sheet next to the heater. It made an impact on me, it made me so thankful for my life and it was a constant reminder that not everyone is as fortunate. Seeing hard things up close humbles you, it helps you grow in your ability to communicate and have respect for everyone in life, regardless of wealth or status. It is important to appreciate every gift in your life and always be thankful, never expectant.
My dad is a man of few words, he doesn’t shower those around him with affection, he has faults and has made mistakes but he shows love by the way he leads his life. When I was younger and people used to tell me I was just like my dad I would be so angry, we butted heads often because we are very much alike. In adulthood, I find no greater compliment than when someone tells me I am just like my hard working, self-motivated, driven, generous, kind dad. Today I say congratulations and Happy Father’s Day, Dad, from a daughter who strives to be just like you.
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