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“If You Build It, He Will Come”: 3 Character Traits of a Great Dad

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My son just finished putting up a batting cage for his two sons. He had planned to put up the cage with his dad’s help, but, as many of you are aware, my husband passed away before they could finish the project that was so near and dear to their hearts.

So, my son put it up alone. Well, actually, he had some help from his wife and a few friends, but basically, it became his project.

He worked on it for many hours, sometimes in the rain, sometimes with a flashlight. But, he finished it. On Mother’s Day. And, as he told me about the marathon project that was now completed, the words from the movie The Field of Dreams came to my mind: “If you build it, he will come.”

I told my son that I believed that my husband was relishing in the completed project as well. And, that he was there, in his eternal presence.

The movie, The Field of Dreams, that starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, was a family favorite. We saw it when it came out in 1989, and then bought the VCR and later DVD so we could watch it as often as we wanted. Its beautiful and compelling story that combined mysticism, determination and love always lifted me to my higher self whenever I watched it.

As I reflected on my Father’s Day blog post, I realized that my dad was a perfect blend of the above characteristics: mysticism, determination and love. And, then I knew that I had my blog’s central message.

When dads (and all of us!) cultivate these character traits in ourselves, we’re great! For ourselves, our kids, and others.

Here’s 3 reasons why:

  1. My dad was the proverbial mystic. A mystic is someone who believes deeply in Something beyond this earth. Who intuitively understands that there is Someone greater than human eyes can see.
The Ever-Present Divine All-There-Is captured my dad’s young heart and then inspired him to live the rest of his life in service to others. My dad lived that passion daily as he served as a minister for a large inner city congregation. He usually was up early and often worked late into the night just to make someone else’s life a little better. Some of his pet projects included a food and clothing bank, a K-12 Christian school, a bookstore, a senior citizen’s high-rise homeplace, and a mission pastor’s school. My dad passed on his mystic beliefs to me and to all those who were blessed to live and work with him. And, those of us touched by my dad’s mystical life have put to use that same inspiration and passion to make the world a better place.
  1. My dad was doggedly determined. His mysticism inspired him to make purposeful decisions backed by resolute actions.

Nothing could persuade him from abandoning a worthy goal. Not what others might say. Not fatigue or illness. Not even discouragement. For better or worse, I don’t remember my dad giving up on anything.   Hard work brought him joy and fulfillment.

And, his determination brought with it an element of perfection that I have rarely seen equaled.

My dad’s commitment to persistence taught me how to set goals and achieve them. How “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” To not give up on my dreams, even if they seemed impossible.

Likely my biggest dream was to become a physician. My acceptance into medical school happened at age 50. You can imagine that it took a large chunk of mysticism and determination over the next decade to complete my medical training.

One of my dad’s favorite stories featured the persistent tortoise and the flash-in-the-pan hare. Which one finished the race first, he would ask me gleefully?

I thought about this story often when I was in medical school and residency training. The story comforted me as I shared a classroom with classmates half my age. I modeled my study habits after the reliant tortoise. I didn’t stay up all night the night before an exam like many of my classmates (the hare). Instead, I studied every day, most waking hours, even the day after an exam (the tortoise)!  And, I am thankful that the story served me well.

  1. I never once questioned my dad’s love for me. And that was important, because mysticism and determination need to walk hand-in-hand with love. Otherwise, as the famous Biblical passage says, without love, everything is just a “noisy gong or clanging cymbal.”

Because you can be wrong, even if you’re a mystic. And, determined people can veer off the good path.

But a determined mystic accompanied by love can change the world.

Because of love, there was never a job too big or too small for my dad. My dad’s love for persons that were often disparaged by society taught me that leadership was synonymous with servanthood. As I watched my dad interact with others, I learned that no one was beneath me, that all persons were worthy of love, no matter who they were or what they had done.

Although reconciliatory love can be difficult to display in every circumstance, I witnessed my dad both offer and accept this gift frequently during his earthly journey.

I remember vividly one time in particular when his love for me propelled him to ask for my forgiveness.

I was in the 9th grade. As a member of the school’s drill team, I had practice every day after school. Often, my dad would pick me up after practice and we would head home for dinner.

This particular practice went long, and I guess my dad got tired of waiting. He decided to come inside the gym–where we were practicing–and get me out of practice. That made sense from his point of view. The practice was extending beyond the time it was supposed to. And, he was tired and ready to get home.

But, from my point of view, he embarrassed me beyond embarrassment. More like mortification as he walked into the all-girls’ gym in his black suit. In his characteristic booming voice, he informed the coach that practice was running late, and that he had come to take me home.

All eyes were on me as I slunk over to my dad, and we walked out of the gym together. I remember sobbing all of the way home. I told him, between sobs, that I could never face any of my friends or the coach ever again!

When we arrived home, I ran straight to my room, still sobbing, slammed my bedroom door, and threw myself on my bed.  I felt like my life was over!

Shortly thereafter, my dad knocked on my door. I still remember the look on his face. A combination of great remorse and deep love. He told me that he did not realize that his actions would be so hurtful to me. He held me and asked for my forgiveness.

It was a defining moment, both for our relationship and my character.

Forgiveness in action. Reconciliation modeled for me in the heat of my agony. And, a demonstrated love that surpassed human emotion.

Mysticism, determination, and love. A great combination. It doesn’t just have to be in the movies. It’s one worthy of emulation by fathers, mothers, and all of us.

This Father’s Day, or any day, I encourage all of us to cultivate and model these characteristics.

And, I propose that we thank our dad for the legacy he left us. In words or a letter. Whether we think he was a good or not-so-good dad. Whether or not he is still in his earthly body or has moved to eternity.

Let’s choose to act with mysticism, determination and love. I promise, the world will be greater as a result.

What were some characteristics that your father displayed as you were growing up? We welcome your comments below.

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