Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Am I the calm one in the room, or the one that needs to be calmed?
Panic–out and out full-on panic–is simply not in my nature (in fact, the couple of times in my life I’ve had a full out panic attack, that’s how I’ve known that something is seriously, seriously wrong). I am much more methodical in my reactions: analyze quickly (if need be), find the best solution that makes sense on the data I have, then proceed. Where I fail sometimes is when I do not realize a situation needs a bit more attention, but it’s never because I am not calm (if anything, it’s because I’m too calm).
My Dad used to tell stories about his time in the Navy, particularly about his service in Guam, running a supply store as a petty officer. He just missed service in WW2, turning 18 in June, 1945, but spent his three years in the Navy either on goodwill tours on the Antietam, or stationed on Guam. I have a remarkable set of photographs from his time there, showing the base where he served, some of the local towns, ships that visited, his friends, and of course, himself. My favourite of these has always been “the grass skirt photo”, but in other photos he sometimes looks like a model of a sailor, his cap at a jaunty angle, sun flashing off his belt buckle. Other times, he looks like what he is–a skinny kid in his late teens or early 20s.
Dad learned (or perhaps perfected) the art of the schmooze in his time in the Navy. For those who have seen the character of Radar in M*A*S*H*, the kind of trading between various bases and stations absolutely did happen that way, and having someone with a talent for negotiations was definitely an asset. It’s certainly what turned him into a businessman when he returned–he never lost that ability to make connections. I still rave about how he was able to contact Claiborne Farm in 1979 to get me in to “meet” Secretariat, still to this day the biggest celebrity I ever met. I was also always entertained by his tale of having slept through a typhoon, because that was also the Dad I knew, snoring away on the couch, pretty much unrousable.
If the first 23 years of my life were marked primarily with the close relationship with my mom, arguably the following 18 years–and certainly the last 10 or so of those–were marked by that with my Dad. He never failed to give me “a little walking around money” on my visits, along with purchasing my cars and helping me with down payments on my first two homes. My parents never questioned these things, and I tried to repay that generosity by, as soon as I was able, becoming self-supporting. I never told them I’d taken out student loans; those were on me to pay back (and I did). But my parents were always my safety net; I always knew they were there. And that was more than just for money. It was car repairs and fixing leaky plumbing (while we lived in Columbus). I think–I know–that this was a natural outgrowth of how he had helped his own brothers and sisters and been there for him. And he extended this out to his community; he was a staunch member of the Sertoma service club until his retirement (and after), as well as someone who served multiple times on Session (essentially, the board of directors) for our church, as well as an usher and member of the all-important coffee committee.
Dad loved history, was a news junkie, and, particularly before I came along, was a car aficionado. I’m also all of these things–although I never consciously emulated any of them. He loved bowling–which I enjoyed (and was good at) as well–as well as golf, which I never understood until I moved back to Columbus after my PhD. There, we started going to driving ranges and eventually played a few rounds together. In the midst of the pandemic, my husband and I have rediscovered driving ranges and maybe, at some point, might even give golf itself a try again. That is sure to evoke some strong memories. I have also inherited his DIY spirit–while I’ve never learned some of the renovation and hard construction skills he had, I’ve always done all my own landscaping and regular home maintenance. I’ve always believed that the first step to solving a problem is to learn and figure out to do it myself if I can (or to learn and know when an expert was required–Dad very rarely messed with electrical wiring, for instance.).
Most importantly, I never saw my father truly angry. Ever. He was not vindictive, nor did he carry grudges. He had an incredible sense of equanimity and deep, abiding kindness. His instinct, when faced by harm or ill-will, was to ensure that others did not suffer; he was strong enough to use any power he had to step in front and take the brunt of damage from those who would target those who perhaps, for whatever reason, had less resistance. This last bit? That’s always a skill I’ve admired and sought to emulate.
Dad’s been gone now for over 12 years. But he has never left me. It’s not just memories. I feel it in the very person I am, the way I see life, the way I think about things (even if I am far less extroverted than he was). As I mentioned yesterday, the grief at his loss has largely subsided over the years, leaving behind only the love.