Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dad the Encourager

Thomas was the younger of two children. His father, a physician, died at the age of thirty-three. Only five years old at the time of his father’s death, Thomas was raised by his independent and strong-willed mother who never married again. Thomas became an equally independent and strong-willed young man.

He was also quite smart, bright enough to go to medical or law school, but he decided against those careers because he didn’t want to add the financial burden of graduate school to his mother’s worries. Instead, he completed an undergraduate degree and began working as a salesman for a paper company where he rose quickly through the ranks.

Eventually, Thomas fell in love, got married, and fathered five children. Ann is his oldest child; she was followed by three sisters and a brother.

Thomas was an achiever, and although he did not unreasonably push his children, he clearly expected them to do their best in all things. Laziness was not tolerated. Ann was as bright as her father, so his expectations for her were particularly high. She always seemed to meet or exceed them.

She received straight A’s in numerous honors classes, sang in the school chorus, learned to play the guitar, was a skilled cheerleader and still found time to become an accomplished ballerina. Thomas was delighted with how his daughter made no waste of her intelligence and capabilities.

In the year of her high school graduation, the honors students were brought on stage before an audience of peers and parents to be lauded for their impressive achievements. The principal announced each student’s career aspiration as certificates were presented. When Ann was called he hesitated before announcing her aspiration; she wanted to be a choreographer.

More than any other activity she had mastered, Ann loved to dance. Yet, wanting to please her dad, she pursued a double college major in dance and biology. It gave her options, she explained to her parents. Thomas was pleased with her decision, hoping she might become the doctor he had not.

When Ann first began to plan for graduate school, she knew her father would be disappointed that she had decided to become a university dance professor, not a doctor. Anxious, she asked her best friend to go home with her one weekend to break the news to him. Ann positioned her friend strategically between herself and her father, hoping her friend’s presence would keep her dad from overreacting, and then told him of her plans.

Thomas just sat quietly and stared ahead as he listened.

When Ann finished explaining herself, there was a long silence. She thought she was going to collapse from the tension in the air. Her best friend grabbed her hand, squeezing it tight.

Thomas finally turned his gaze toward his daughter, smiled, and then nodded and said, “Good for you, kid.”

It seems that what he had wanted all along was for Ann to follow her heart. He had chosen not to follow his own ambitions because of his mother’s circumstances, but he wanted his children to freely pursue their dreams. Ann had her dreams, and he wasn’t going to stand in her way.

Ann went on to get a master’s degree in dance at Ohio State University and landed her first full-time university faculty position when she was just twenty-five years old.
Although she was a bit nervous as she began her career, she remembered her father encouraging her to never doubt her abilities. From then on, it never occurred to her that she would not succeed at dancing or teaching. To no one’s surprise, she excelled at both.

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