Character: A Father’s Day Message
“Character is simply habit long continued.” – Plutarch
I spent Father’s Day with my beloved father, cooking him a good meal, watching a film together, and just talking and sharing. Though I had tentatively planned to post a piece regarding my father, no time permitted on Sunday – as I spent my time with him – certainly my priority for the day. Thus, I would like to share a number of thoughts and observations regarding my father with you today, as he has had a profound influence not only on who I have become but what I value most in others.
My father is a good man – a man of character. He is rare.
Having raised me since I was a child, my father instilled within me a sense that I could and should do whatever in life interested me. From an early age, I found I differed considerably from most other girls, just as I do from most women these days, since I possess a strength and resolve to pursue any matter I deem is important to do. I give no thought to what others will think of what I do – if it is right for me to do, I do it. I do give weight to other’s advice, guidance, and the wisdom they can share with me before making major decisions, but I don’t let the judgment of society or “political correctness” govern my actions at all. Injustice stirs a righteous indignation within me which motivates me to be part of making a difference to change things, to help, to resolve difficulties – not merely apathetically accept them. I am an individual who observes, evaluates, and trusts that still small voice which warns and cautions me or, on the other hand, may move me to take an action which will bless others. I love life – all its beauty (referring to not the man-made world, but the natural world ) – and all its possibilities to experience joy. Instrumental to that, is my endeavoring to live every moment from love. Love for all; a love that cannot be divided, a love which views all as my brothers and sisters, a love that I pray I will evince in every moment toward all. To do this means choosing love over fear in all circumstances (easier said than done), but which I try to do. Love leads one to say and do what must be done for the good in any situation, fear stifles one keeping them from experiencing such joy so as to keep them from experiencing discomfort. Through love, truth becomes ones priority, good is accomplished, and if two individuals value truth, sincere communication can occur. I believe such elements of my personality, my character, have been directly affected my the beautiful example and guidance my father has been for me throughout my life. Unlike many, I do not value the valueless, I value what is true and sincere.
Thus, as I consider my father, I share traits I value most that I’ve had a lifetime of seeing in him, and which I hope to always develop in myself and which I value most in others, things I’ve learned from him (and hope) to practice well in my life:
Trust: I trust my father, as I know he trust me. To put trust in another is a major step, and one which takes time to develop. Wisdom is permitting that trust to develop as one has proved themselves capable of it. It’s risky, but necessary. I’ve never met anyone in life I trust as I do my father; in him I can confide, share, and ask for advice knowing whatever he may say is said from his experience and his love for me. He will recognize and respect me to choose whatever path I choose, but he knows I will carefully consider whatever advice/guidance he may share. Trusting others is something I rarely do; I’ve misplaced my trust before and suffered the pains of betrayal as we all have. But true friends, those who actually value truth and who seek only to joyfully share (versus forming relationships for what they can take from another) are extremely rare in life. My deepest core seeks to joyfully share, to be a part of helping others achieve their dreams or our common dreams, so each can grow, learn, and share what we have learned with one another. That component of my personality has led to too easily trust others when they were not worthy, and I carry those experiences with me. I will not let it make me cynical so as not to trust others, but it slows me down to give all friendships time to develop, as they will, if they are true.
Control: My father has an ability to analyze a situation, without reacting, so as to decide the best course of action to take. He tries not to let emotionalism direct his actions, but instead evaluates situations in life and then uses his mind to decide what is best to do. He has always told me that it is only when he has reacted that he has made mistakes, and thus no matter the situation it is best to maintain a composure, a control, over one’s own feelings and thoughts so as to choose correctly. I think this is what makes him such an excellent chess player. He has always taught me that my mind is a tool, not to be used singularly, but in conjunction with my heart (my values and what I believe) to decide the best way to approach matters in life. This has made me a focused individual, when I decide to do something I focus all my energies on it, and do not get easily distracted. My shortcoming, is my “over zealousness” as he’s called it, sometimes letting my enthusiasm trump better judgment. This is an area where I need greater control; giving myself the moments (or days) necessary to make a wise rational decision versus spur of the moment decisions. My zeal and enthusiasm is an asset, but only when controlled with my mind…then I can best and most efficiently implement or achieve the good I wish to create. It has been said that what excites one controls one. Excitement, or let’s say delight or happiness in an activity, is natural, but if allowed to control one can lead to serious misjudgments. Self-control of one’s behavior is a great strength; emotionalism (being controlled by emotions) leads to mistakes and regret. Recognizing and embracing true emotion is essential to being a fully developed human being, but one must never let emotion alone choose the course of one’s behavior/decision making. It is also in having the willingness to control one’s emotions that one can most accurately discern the character of others. Blindly assuming the best of others can be a serious mistake. Control brings the experience to view clearly one’s own character as well as that of others.
Living in the present moment: The past does not exist. If only we all could remember this truth. How often do we detract from the beauty of today because we’re obsessing about our past? The past should serve only as a guide, sometimes its a memory of something we judge as good and other times something we judge as bad, but it is only a memory. To learn from it is wisdom; to be controlled by it now is a self imposed plague imprisoning and cutting us off from that which is happening now in our lives. It is good to look back, identify our mistakes so we will not repeat them, and be a stronger individual now who is more capable of staying true to our beliefs than we did back then. The serious problem many make is to dwell on the past, as if the choices we made years ago are things we should be judged for now by others or by ourselves. Sometimes our judgment upon ourselves is greater than that of others. But guilt is a burden we free ourselves from; I think of a Scripture regarding man’s relationship with God: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV) It is this understanding, even between one another as fallible human beings, that becomes a way of life when you truly love another. Let us not continue to view ourselves or others by who we were in the past.
Remembering to live in the present moment (and in view of the mistakes we have made in our past) is likewise instrumental in lovingly relating to our friends. As we develop trust between one another, nothing, absolutely nothing from one’s past which is entrusted to be shared, should make a difference in the relationship we have with another human being now. Again, to become the individual of character we are capable of being, comes from habitually choosing to live our beliefs and values not simply give lip service to them. As we choose again in our lives, we develop new habits, and it it is these which define us now.
In fact, as I write this, I think of a most beautiful experience recently in which a good friend of mine (and my family) for years confided an experience of their lives with me which they had obviously decided they wanted/needed to share but which they felt might bring judgment or possibly even jeopardize the friendship – I could see the fear as they relayed something from their past with me. When I simply thanked them for sharing it, and simply acknowledged the sadness and simultaneous the gladness that the worst which could have occurred did not – and that they have no reason to fear disclosing any mistake from their past with me – their eyes welled up with tears. I assured them the past does not exist, you learned from that mistake, and have become a better person for that learning. A burden they had carried was now gone. This is one of the beautiful moments I treasure in life – true communication between friends – because in that we are all healed, inspired, and strengthened. We learn from each other. We are all teachers and learners – that’s the beauty of friendship.
Communication: Isn’t this one of the hardest, most difficult things for all of us to do? To communicate truth. To communicate appreciation. To communicate respect. Or even when it means to communicate disappointment or hurt. Why do we find it so hard to simply share with another, who deserves our trust and our communication, that which we feel? The answer is – fear. But being inhibited about communicating when it is deserved leads to misunderstandings which only hamper friendship. I am a firm believer in expressing true heartfelt feelings and thoughts. To express true sentiment is freeing for both the one sharing and the recipient. We must never permit fear to keep us from communicating truth to another. I think every misunderstanding in my life has resulted from either my or another’s reluctance to communicate. I also know that when others have communicated with me from their heart, no matter what it is was they wanted to let me know, it has always resulted in good and in growth.
Be wise: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). As a loving father, this is a point my father emphasizes to this day to me. In fact, I think the only time I ever see him get upset is when I am unwise and do something which might have put myself at risk of harm. And he is right. As I said earlier in this article, I have made the mistake of letting my guard or caution down when I have permitted my over zealousness or excitement relax me to the point of forgetting to be wise about where I am, what I’m doing, or who is around me. Doing that is foolish and stupid. Fortunately, I’ve never suffered any serious consequences when I’ve lapsed away from being wise. But he’s always been right, I have a flaw in trusting before I have adequate evidence, and that’s something I do not want to do again. I have a flaw of not doing things as carefully as I should just because I’m enthusiastically doing some activity. Wisdom is learning from one’s mistakes, and I’ve learned and hopefully will remember the lesson he’s imparted to me throughout my life. Having a loving parent who really cares about your best interests is such a wonderful blessing, for without it, even as an adult one can make serious mistakes which they might not otherwise. Remembering not to give other’s the benefit of doubt, and certainly not assuming the best of them until time has proven so, is a valuable lesson I try to remember. Remembering, too, to keep your mind engaged no matter the situation is a valuable lesson to remember. I am grateful I have a loving father who has always pointed this vulnerability in my personality out to me. And I do appreciate his disappointment in me when I have made mistakes which I could easily have avoided, for I know his being upset is because he loves me and just wants to see me do well, be safe, and be happy in life.
Faith & Faithfulness: Love is faith. Love is faithful. To wholly appreciate is to love. For me, being faithful to one I love is something I do not even have to think about. My devotion to another’s happiness, my happiness at seeing them happy, breeds a faithfulness which is by its nature everlasting. Nothing, no circumstance, can change it. To place faith in another, and for them to develop faith in you, develops over time – but its realization brings a joy no words can express. To a lesser of greater degree I’ve experienced this in some friendships in my life, but rarely and few and far between. But with my father, their is a faithfulness I know is ever present. It is sad in today’s society to see the word and expression of “love” adulterated with deceit, greed, and conceit. For in love, no such vices govern one’s behavior. It can’t. It’s impossible. Because in love, another’s life, their aspirations, their hurts, their achievements, their losses, become one with your own. Nothing they experience, and nothing they do, can separate their interests from your own.
This is why betrayal between those who profess to love one another is something I have never been able to fathom. I do not believe one can truly love another if they would be capable of betraying the trust or faith another has placed in them. In friendship of any degree, in all the forms of relationship we may experience in our lives, faith placed in you by another is the greatest gift they can give you. I cannot comprehend, nor will I try, to understand the depths of darkness or depravity of spirit which could lead another to betray the trust another has given them.
Faithfulness is the fruit and natural expression/component of love. For me, it’s a way of life, when I give my friendship, I give my faithfulness and nothing can ever disturb or alter it. It’s a way of life. As for having faith in another, that takes time and experience. It takes strength even. For to open oneself to true communication which is honest and sincere is a step which makes you vulnerable. Here again, one must use their mind in following their heart, and if someone has proven themselves worthy of such openness one must step out courageously to have that faith in another. True, your decision may be betrayed, but only in doing so are the blessings of true friendship developed.
The last couple years of my life have been incredible times of change, growth, learning. Maturity is an on-going process reliant upon one’s willingness to question themselves, listen to others, learn from experiences, and to choose again. At any moment in our lives, we can make mistakes, sometimes the most painful those whose repercussions have affected other’s lives rather than just our own. Other experiences make a pain inside because of disillusionment with others (misplaced trust in others) and the repercussions we suffer ourselves because we chose to trust one who was unworthy. Still other mistakes come when we make unwise choices. To choose love means to choose to grow. It requires one to courageously and unabashedly practice introspection. To turn those experiences into development of our own character is to truly love oneself, and thereby creates the path to truly love others.
Character as Plutarch expressed, is “simply habit long continued,” and is evidenced in the daily life (his focus, his priorities, his work, his treatment of others).
My father’s character has been a blessing in my life. His character has affected the individual I have become and am becoming. My character, who I am, has been shaped for the good because of my father. For this, I am grateful.
(See also A Photo and Prose Tribute To My Father: http://christinesmith.us/wordpress/2008/11/26/a-photo-prose-tribute-in-gratitude-to-my-father/ .)