I love many things about my dad. I love that he sits and laughs at his own jokes when he thinks that no one is listening. I love that he rehearses speeches he’ll never make. I love that he gives me a running commentary about the X Factor, even though I haven’t watched it since 2009.
One thing I really love is his remarkable consistency in many things; in his simple loves, various eccentricities, and unfailing capacity for yelling at the TV or reminding my brother to blow his nose. And yet, when my dad retired a couple of years ago, he changed. He’s still most content when moaning about something, but he’s happier now. His world has shifted a bit, and he’s free to sleep and work and rest and be the person he is, and was, without the pressures of his job.
My dad was a teacher. Without going into detail, its fair to say he didn’t love his job. Growing up, I was very aware that work for him was stressful, anxiety-inducing, physically inhibiting, sleep-restricting, mentally overwhelming, and at many points and for many reasons, utterly unenjoyable. So often it made me sad that work and its many worries stole my silly, light-hearted, loving father from me on Sundays and final summer days, weekday evenings and anytime the weight of work weighed too heavy on his shoulders.
My dad taught for 36 years. He worked long before my memories of the front door slamming while it was still dark, or the jangle of his keys as he came home in the afternoon. He taught for longer than I’ve been alive, and longer than perhaps most millennials would dream of staying in a job. He taught multiple subjects, and multiple generations, and for this, I admire him greatly.
I graduated a couple of days ago from my Masters degree and have as such been reflecting on my dad’s greatest gift to me. My parents love my brother and I with an utterly self-giving love, and my dad persevered for years to give us every opportunity for security and success. He worked and saved and sacrificed — his time, his health, and his own desires on the alter of our future hopes. My education is perhaps the greatest reminder to me of my dad’s sacrificial love, his selfless ambition; his costly dreams for us. The early alarms, the long days, the interrupted sleeps, the many cares and complications of sticking at it for nearly four decades to store something away that, at the end of it all, with open hands, he’d give to us.
I clutch my degree and almost find it overwhelming: the cost of it all. A cost that was so much more than money spent. A gift given that can’t truly be measured, but one that defined my parent’s lives and impacted their day to day, so deeply, and for so long. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to show love the way my parents did; by what I’m willing to give. I pray that maybe someday, I can.
My attitude towards my parents is so rarely one of gratitude, and yet, there’s so much I have to thank them for. They both showed me, at least in part, what it is to love with the sort of love the Bible describes: not with words or speech, but in actions and in truth. They showed me that true love is something we hold in our hands, and its costly, self-giving, radical and life-changing. Perhaps Christmas is the perfect time to practice gratitude towards our parents, or more simply, to any who have loved us well, through self-giving sacrifice.
This year, I’m going to try.