Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
For those of us blessed with fathers who are still with us, we have one less year to spend with the man who taught us how to throw a ball, ride a bike, fillet a fish, and change the oil in our car. For those whose fathers are gone, it is one more opportunity to cherish relationships with their sons and daughters. The younger you are, the less likely you are to appreciate the man who has shaped you into the young man or woman you are today – less likely to understand the sacrifices he has made on your behalf. As you grow older, you begin to realize that this man literally put many aspects of his life on hold in order to put food on your plate, put clothes on your back, and put a warm understanding of God, family, and country in your heart. Your father sacrificed many of his dreams so that you could fulfill yours. He became less so you could become more.
My earliest memories of my father are some of the most vivid – hanging on to his neck as he rolled in the grass, pretending he was a camel and rocking back and forth while I held on for dear life. I was 7 years old when he took me to see “The Warlord” starring Charlton Heston. My mother wasn’t happy about it, which made it all the more exciting. Even Charlton Heston couldn’t hold a candle to my dad. I was 8 when my dad explained that it’s not good for the car when you fill up the gas tank with water from the garden hose, and 9 when I proved him right. I was 10 when my dad took me pheasant hunting at the old Lueders’ farm on Western Avenue and 11 when he showed me how to shoot my first goose. At 12 he let me drive the family car. I was 13 when he took away the Playboy magazine I had found in a dumpster and 14 when I found it again in his closet. I was 15 when he chased me down the street with a belt because I had lied to him, and 16 when I watched from the safety of the living room as he surveyed the front tires of our 1964 Oldsmobile – each pointing in different directions, courtesy of an uncooperative curb. I was 20 when I knocked out an unruly patron while working as a bouncer at a Fox Point disco and was fortunate that the on-duty police officer who showed up to investigate was my dad.
My father introduced me to many things in life - Bazooka Joe bubble gum, the chicken dance, drive-in theaters, hard work, Red Skelton, banana seats, my first shotgun, and the proper way to make him a Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweet.
The 6’ 3” 250 lb. police sergeant with a bullhorn for a voice, a great sense of humor and a strong belief in discipline was the strongest man I have ever known. I would challenge him to wrestling matches on the back lawn – the winner the one who could pull the other over an imaginary goal line. He would pick me up and carry me over the line – year after year. No matter how strong I got – he was always a little stronger. Until one year, at age 19, I won after accidentally breaking his toe. Years later, as his hair turned white, my sons challenge me in the same way. For now I am winning, but it isn’t as easy as it once was.
I was 30 when my grandfather died. After church on Sundays he and my father would play chess at our kitchen table, talk loudly about politics, laugh, and drink 9·0·5 beer. But all of that came to an end 21 years ago. It was the first time I saw my father cry. As I hugged him he spoke softly into my shoulder, “I’m never going to see my dad again.” At that moment I realized that one day I’d be hugging my sons, saying the same thing – and years later they would be hugging theirs.
I have a close friend who at a young age lost his father to a tragic car accident. There isn’t a day that goes by that he wouldn’t love to spend Father’s Day, or any day, with his dad. He can only imagine learning from and growing up with the father that so many of us take for granted – until it’s too late. We should all make an effort to treat every day as though it was our father’s last – as though every day is Father’s Day. The world would collapse without mothers, but don’t underestimate the wisdom you’re father has left you with. I’ve often considered what the world would be like if politicians and world leaders followed the lessons their fathers taught them.
If you do something, do it right. Love and respect other people. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Love and respect your wives and girlfriends. Chivalry is not dead. Never lie about anything. Above all else, be honest. Imagine someone is watching you every moment of the day – because someone is. Learn the lessons the Bible has to give us – the greatest gift in life is free. Don’t borrow money you can’t pay back. Cherish the present and make the most of it. Little things are the most important things. Cherish them. Talk openly and honestly about absolutely everything with your wife and family – communication is the key to a good marriage and a healthy family. Stay humble. There are always greater and lesser persons than yourself. Talk with other people about their lives, accomplishments and interests – not yours. When you feel like quitting is exactly when you must try even harder. Think before you talk. A person’s word is their bond; never break it for anybody or anything. Be somebody others rely on. Be the person in the back of the room who has the answer to the question but doesn’t need to shout it out. Never make promises you cannot or will not keep. The true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can and will do nothing for him in return.
In the words of Lee Ann Womack, our fathers taught us never to lose our sense of wonder, to stay hungry, to give faith a fighting chance. They taught us that there are some mistakes worth making and we shouldn’t be afraid to make any or all of them. That fear of pain and failure is the most debilitating thing in the world. That we should give the heavens above more than just a passing glance. That we should consider not only the “what” of life – but also the “why.” That we should always feel small beside the ocean, and that when we have the choice to sit it out or dance – we should dance.
In the coming year, make a Father’s Day card from scratch and give it to your father. Write something in it from your heart – a secret - something you’ve never told him before. One of the best Father’s Day cards I have ever received was magic marker on a white sheet of paper which read, “Dad, you know what? If you had been little when I was little, I know we would have been best friends.”
Rediscover the softness you found in your daddy’s hands when you were hurt and never forget the hard lessons those same hands taught when you did something wrong. Recall the miracle in his hugs and the love in his eyes. Give back to the man who gave so much to you.