So to soothe my sadness, I am taking today to reflect on some of my favorite things about my father. There are so many things to choose from -- my father is an incredible man in all regards -- and I have so many fond memories of my dad, but recently there has been one that I've found myself dwelling on often.
When I was in middle school I made a brief and generally unsuccessful attempt at playing volleyball. I personally find it to be a horrid sport designed only for girls who like to see themselves in spandex (admittedly, I fit this characterization -- I love spandex shorts), and just inferior to other sports in almost all aspects.
Don't get me wrong, volleyball is certainly challenging, and I have great respect for the girls who play and and even more for the ones who are talented at it. I just wasn't one of those girls...
And so I hate volleyball.
Nevertheless, during my volleyball days, I decided I would make a whole-hearted attempt at being the best volleyball player I could be. Deeply reflective of the example my father has set for his children, determination and a refusal to settle for mediocrity are perhaps two of my finer attributes.
I worked hard at practice, I gave it my all at every game, and I really did try my best at volleyball. I just wasn't good at it.
This being the case, my father one day offered to help me improve my overhand serve, a skill for which I had demonstrated a particular ineptitude. This is a classic Papa Lowe move.
My dad has not only been a passive supporter, but an active aid in every journey I have ever set forth on. No matter what I did as a child, my father never just cheered from the sidelines or watched from the audience, he scheduled our own one-on-one practices to work on my soccer passes or my minor scales. He bought books, did research, scheduled dates, and made agendas. If I dared name a dream of mine, it was an "action item" for my dad.
Nobody is as committed to my success as he is, and he never fails to show this.
Volleyball was not an exception.
As we walked to the local beach to use their volleyball nets in the middle of winter, my father talked to me about "strategy." My dad is the only 50-something year old man I know who has pondered the best strategy for teaching a twelve year old how to serve a woman's volleyball.
As we walked with snow crunching under out boots, my dad asked me to describe the technique that went into an overhead serve: the correct angle to hold your elbow at, the angle at which your palm should encounter the ball, the height at which your arm should be extended, and several other precise factors and calculations that cumulatively result in a perfect overhand serve.
I recited them back to him, having listened to his earlier teachings and the things my coach had told my in practice, then reminded my dad that the problem was that I couldn't do these things. We arrived at the empty volleyball court, and as we stepped onto the dark, damp, wintery sand, my dad told me that he knew that, but to keep these things in mind as we started.
My first few hits failed miserably, barely making it to the net at all. I insisted that I should move closer to the net, but my father calmly told me to just try again, but that this time he had something he wanted me to try.
I agreed begrudgingly, already irritated and disgruntled in the face of failure. My patience was as poor as my serves.
From the side of the court, my dad asked me to recite the qualities of a perfect serve, all the minute and mathematical details we had earlier reviewed, and then instructed me to imagine myself hitting the volleyball with that level of perfect form. I couldn't just know what a serve was supposed to look like, I was supposed to be able to see my own awkward arms enacting the smooth, tight motions.
The first few times it failed and my ball fell woefully short of the net (again).
But after several tries, I closed my eyes and really saw it. I saw my stance, my arm swinging purposefully, and the base of my palm encountering the ball with lethal force. I opened my eyes, tossed the ball into the air with my left hand, and watched with joy as my serve soared not only over the net, but forcefully into the back left corner of the court.
I'm not sure if I ever quite replicated that same sort of accuracy in a real volleyball game after that day, but it is not my serve that I remember from this day, but the small insight I feel that I got into my father, insight that I hold dear, and carry with me everywhere.
I may never meet an individual as accomplished as my father. I measure his accomplishments not in notable accolades, dollar bills on checks, or in his ability to gather up obscure and challenging skills as though they're poorly hidden Easter eggs, waiting too obviously to be gathered. My father is accomplished, more so than anybody I know, in his ability to do anything he wishes, and his fearlessness to respect every goal as an attainable one.
I once read that only boring people are bored, and my father is the least boring person I know. He always has a next dream to tackle, a next goal to reach, or a next project to take on. Sometimes they're for himself, often they are for me and the rest of my family, and equally often they seem to be for the benefit of communities or society as a whole. My father is as benevolent as he is successful, but that's another story entirely.
That day at the volleyball court, standing on a beach in the middle of winter, swinging helplessly at a volleyball, I learned not only what makes my father so successful, but also the secret to making myself successful. Successful, happy, and never bored.
There are lots of books and websites that talk about the value of "visualization," seeing yourself achieving your goals as a step towards achieving them, but it was my dad who taught me to see myself as someone capable of doing the things that seem most impossible to me. It is his relentless passion for learning new things, acquiring new skills, and putting new plans into motion that has taught me how to turn a lofty idea into a very tangible reality. More importantly though, it is his undying faith in my ability to reach my goals, his vision of the person I can be that inspires me to work harder, study longer, push harder, and be stronger than I think I can be. The secret to success? People who believe in your success. More specifically, an incredible dad who believes in your success.
When I can't handle the last 10 minutes on the elliptical, I imagine myself the way I suppose my father
probably does, strong and pushing on with tenacity. I always finish my last 10 minutes strong.
When school overwhelms me and I don't know where to begin with the ominous piles of homework that I sometimes allow to accumulate, I picture the organized lists that guide my father's life, and I find the motivation to reach for my planner only to find myself appalled at the number of items I am capable of crossing off just brief hours later.
When I feel tired, sad, and as though perhaps I am not good enough to even deserve being happy, it is the vision of myself, thriving, flourishing, and unstoppable that I suppose my father has of me that I hold onto. In this, I always find happiness.
I love my dad.
It would take a novel to simply list, let alone describe, all the qualities that make him the incredible person he is. But if this post serves to show only one thing, I hope it is that more than any singular attribute of my father's, it is the person who he inspires me to be that most amazes me about my father.
Though I am greatly saddened to say that I cannot be with him on his birthday, I know dad is at home, "ellipticizing," flying his airplane, or maybe just getting lost in playing his piano, planning the many years ahead of him and imagining all the opportunities those years hold. As he crosses action items off of his agenda, today I'll do the same. Remember how lucky I am to have my dad as a father?
Wherever he is and whatever he may be doing, happy birthday to my dad. My biggest supporter, best role model, and favorite guy in the world. Thank you for believing in me, and for making me believe in myself too.
All my love,