This year I started a series on the blog about individuals who are really successful in one specific area of their lives. I believe that everyone has at least one component of their life that they’re really, really good at. A month ago I wrote one such entry for my mom on Mother’s Day.
Today, in honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to add my dad to the list of success stories. I’d like you to meet my father, Jay Stegmaier.
The metric for success I created when I started this series says that true success in a particular area of your life comes with an embodiment of the following traits:
I bet you look at your own father and see a lot of the same traits too.
To write this entry, I enlisted the help of the three other people who have experienced my dad as closely as I have: my brother, sister, and mother. I’ll share their perspective on my dad’s success as a father and then get to mine.
Jay was one of the youngest in his family. He had 4 older brothers and sisters and a younger brother. In fact, his eldest sister was so much older than him that when she started having children of her own, Jay was roped into babysitting for her (despite keeping her on her toes when she still lived at home). He was even asked to change diapers. Thus, by the early age of 12, Jay already started to learn basic fatherhood skills.
When we started dating in 1977, Jay impressed me with those stories about how he took care of his nieces. A man who freely admits to knowing how to change a diaper is a real man in my book. Perhaps he knew this and was trying to woo me into thinking he would make a good dad and therefore a good husband? It certainly worked!
When we started to talk about our future–not just the future, but rather our future, children were a significant part of the discussion. We wanted children in our lives. Five was the magical number at the time–a large number, but not a crazy large number like the 8 children my parents had or the 6 children his parents had. Had we really thought about it, 5 would have been too many because logically a car with 7 seatbelts was hard to find. We ended up with 3 children in the end.
When conceiving children proved more challenging than anticipated, we discussed the idea of adoption. We didn’t want to limit how we became parents. Our goal was to be parents, to love and raise children, to turn a house into a home. Soon after, we were blessed to adopt Jamey, and then 3 months later I became pregnant with Emily. A few years later I gave birth to Andrew, and Dad had full-fledged fatherhood duties with a host of personalities and challenges.
Using Jamey’s system for success, here’s how Jay measures up:
Sometimes, Hallmark says it best. The Father’s Day card I bought at the store to give to Dad says, “Give a girl a great dad and she can do anything.”
There couldn’t be a better one-liner about my relationship with Dad. As the only daughter, he probably could have spoiled me rotten. Spoiling sounds like fun, but that’s not what great dads do. Dad is great because he teaches by example.
He memorized my favorite childhood bedtime story and taught me Algebra. His expectations for me are high, but no higher than the expectations he sets for himself. He listens even when it is inconvenient. He knows that my friend Kristin lives in Bismarck and that my friend Melissa has a baby boy named Cooper. I own an earring stand, pot rack and several pieces of furniture because he is not only a talented craftsman but a generous one. And, get this: he attended most of my wedding dress fittings. He came to these appointments not because he wanted to discuss the merits of a cathedral train, but because he wanted to support me. We are also working on a killer waltz as our father-daughter dance.
You might think this is spoiling, but I assure you that this is what great dads do.
Moving on to the second part of that Hallmark one-liner, “and she can do anything.” Of course, I cannot do everything but that’s not the point. If Dad has my back (and he has never not had my back), I feel like I can do anything. Dad empowered me to try out for the tennis team, repel off a football stadium, do well in school and travel to Haiti (ok, he wasn’t completely comfortable with the last one, but Mom had to tell me that). When he and my mom walk me down the aisle in two weeks, I know he will still have my back.
Andrew and Dad are always inventing little improvements for the house. Andrew’s the dreamer, and Dad can make pretty much anything. Some projects turn out prettier than others, but here’s an example of a little “table” that Andrew and Dad made for road trips in our minivan.
I wouldn’t peg my father as an environmentalist. It’s not that he doesn’t care about nature; it’s just that he doesn’t flaunt the respect he has for nature and for the planet. And yet he has had a profound impact on the way I interact with the natural world–not just plants and trees and animals, but people too. I have two brief stories to illustrate this point.
Story 1: As all fathers are required to do, Dad made a treefort for us kids when I was around 10 years old. As noted in the “Brother” section above, Dad can build pretty much anything, so we didn’t go to Home Depot for some pre-fab fort. Dad was building it from scratch.
Most treeforts involve nailing board into the trunk and branches of a tree. When I saw Dad going to great lengths to avoid this, I asked him why. It seemed so much easier to use the tree as I had seen neighbors do.
No, my father said, that’s not how you treat nature. Not only does nailing into a tree hurt the tree, but it hurts the longevity of the tree.
Story 2: We used to go camping a lot when I was younger. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my father taught me so much during those camping trips. Mostly survival skills, like to carve away from myself when I was skinning walking sticks of their bark.
But a lot of what I learned involved respect for life. Dad taught me how to gather kindling from dead trees and fallen branches rather than from living ones. He taught me find walking sticks the same way (why couldn’t I walk without a stick? I don’t know. Something about being out there in nature necessitated that I have a stick with which to walk), and not to hack away at live plants once I had the walking stick in hand.
Being good to nature doesn’t have to mean that you wear hemp clothing and ride your bike to work every day. Sometimes it can just mean the simple choice not to hammer a nail into a tree or break off a branch for fun as you take a walk in the park. My father taught me this.
Dad, I hope you know the huge success you’ve achieved as a father. Thank you for the lessons you meant to teach me and the ones you didn’t know you were teaching. Thank you for not only financially supporting our family, but also finding the time to be present when you were home. Thank you for learning to play my favorite sports, and for having the endless patience to teach me to play the sports you grew up playing. Thank you for letting me forge my own path instead of expecting me to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for your patience, your attention to detail, and the way you take responsibility seriously. Thank you for teaching me to respect all people in the same way that you taught me to respect nature. And thank you for all those glasses of water after tucking me in at night, and thank you for knowing all the answers to my questions. Always.
Most of all, thank you for choosing to be my father. Fatherhood is a choice, not just the conception part, but also the many years that follow. Thank you for giving me a life, a family, and many years of love.
Happy Father’s Day.