Inadvertent Fathering

Today we celebrate Father’s Day. I have written before about lessons I’ve learned from my Father, however the things I’ve shared to date are lessons he knew he was teaching me. Today I’d like to share two important ideas I learned, simply by observing him… being himself.

Save where you can so you can spend where you should

In March 1980, my dad decided it was time for a new car. The green, 1974 Plymouth Duster was no longer reliable, and he needed something better. After doing his research, (copy of Consumer Reports in hand) he went to a Ford dealership and ordered a 1980 brown Ford Pinto with no options. That’s right, the Pintos on the lot were too loaded for my Dad.

When the car arrived, there was a gaping rectangular hole where the radio should have been, and a black plastic cap where one might expect to find a cigarette lighter. The window sticker listed two items:

  • 1 Ford Pinto – 4 speed manual
  • 1 Rear window defroster (required by NY state law)

The best part was the number in the lower right hand corner of the sticker. The total for our new car, was $4,000. My father paid cash and we brought it home. His Pinto was the plainest car on our street, and certainly the least fancy vehicle in the parking lot at his pediatric practice.

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Ah, the humble Pinto. This one isn’t ours, too fancy (look at all that chrome), but this was pretty much it.

The Pinto served us valiantly for a little more than ten years, during which my older brother, me and my younger sister all learned to drive its manual transmission, un-powered steering and un-powered brakes. It carried my dad to work, hundreds of teens to and from school and more errands than I can count.

Sure it broke from time to time and it rusted like all cars did back in those days, but when the Pinto finally died in the summer of 1990, the “payment” cost to our family was a whopping $32 a month.

The point isn’t that my dad is cheap, he is not. The point is that the fanciness of the car didn’t really matter in the face of more important things he knew were coming. In 1980, the average new car cost $7,000, but my dad was looking ahead, seeing what the rest of us could not.

  • In 1988 my older brother graduated from Yale University– with no debt.
  • In 1991 I graduated from Lehigh University – with no debt.
  • In 1993 my sister graduated from Gettysburg College – with no debt.

At the time, I have to admit I was confused as to why my father, a successful doctor, would choose to drive such a vehicle, but it is now clear to me his vision was more broad and deep than a teenager could understand.

Leadership is about listening

I have seen my dad give speeches, care for sick children and be a model husband, but of all the things at which my fathers excels, his leadership skills are innate and incredibly effective.

When I was a senior in High School, I served as the student representative to the Church Council. This was a mostly observational role with no voting power, but I learned a great deal about how a church is run, governed and managed. I also learned a lot about people, and how grown-ups can revert to being tantrum-prone children.

There was a rule that forbade two members of the same family from sitting on the council at the same time, so I was the only official Nazarian at one particular meeting, but my dad was there too, simply as an interested parishioner.

For those who’ve never seen it, it is hard to imagine a church meeting getting heated and contentious, but they do, believe me.

I do not recall what the issue at hand was, but I do remember the council members, and everyone else in attendance, were decidedly split over a topic on the agenda. Whatever it was, the issue required a vote to set the direction going forward, so as legislative bodies tend to do, a lengthy presentation of viewpoints and debate filled the hours we sat in folding chairs in the church basement.

Since my dad was there as simply an observer, he said little. In fact I don’t recall him saying anything as the opinions flew back and forth across the large conference table like a messy Lutheran game of ping-pong. Points were made, contradicted and argued, but when the time came for a vote, it was clear few (if any) minds had been swayed.

It was at this point my father spoke up.

He had been sitting quietly, listening to the arguments of both sides. There were facts to contend with, but also a lot of emotion. As things unfolded, he started taking notes on a scrap of paper, using his omnipresent sliver Cross pen. He knew the history of the church, the history of the issue, and more importantly the back story of all those who so passionately had come to plead their respective cases.

Just before the vote, in little more than three minutes, he managed to clearly articulate the areas in which all parties agreed, and identify the points on which they would never agree. He reminded all those gathered about the importance of the bigger picture and the faith they all shared.

In a brief, cogent and intelligent summary, he showed he was the only actual adult in the room.

He proposed some minor changes to the language upon which they council was about to vote, and in the end all but a few members were able to reach a consensus.

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My dad (center with the purple tie) doing his church thing.

My Dad certainly had an opinion on whatever the topic had been, but he knew the future of the church was more important. Instead of making his point (which he easily could have effectively done), he chose to listen, synthesize and bring people back together.


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My Dad and his three kids.

So, to all the current and future fathers out there. What you teach your children is important, but keep this in mind… they are always watching, observing and absorbing. The lessons from your general behavior are just as powerful (and possibly more so) as those given across the kitchen table.

Happy Fathers Day!

Copyright © 2017 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved

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2 thoughts on “Inadvertent Fathering

  • An astute article inspiring thoughts and reflections of the past to become a guide to the future. It also alluded to the difference between “want” and “need” with an emphasis on functionality being more rellavent than vanity.

  • I agree. Growing up we were always educated & informed . My dad could lecture, he could give his advice …he mostly listened . If he expected to be heard , he had to be willing to listen.

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