Do you know the color of your father’s eyes? Blue? Brown? Green? My dad’s eyes were a mix of blue. Always soft and always friendly.
I’m the offspring of “The Greatest Generation.” Those men and women who fought in World War II to keep our nation free and rid the world of tyrants like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and ultimately Emperor Hirohito. Like so many other brave fathers who served, Dad made a career out of it — 23 years in the Army.
He told me once that he loved every minute of it and that retiring was the hardest decision he’d ever made. The military became his extended family after his parents’ divorce, in a time when people just didn’t do things like that. Dad’s ability to be positive in every situation and overcome any obstacle was his trademark. No surprise there.
That group of Americans learned to adapt. He never gave up and never gave in. On anything! He was tough. Resilient. All those men and women were.
I envy that generation. I like them and love them all. Life was never about them. So self-sacrificing. It’s different today. Now, it’s mostly just about us.
It wasn’t until my father passed away in 2003 that I realized what I had lost. He had traveled the world, and I couldn’t have cared less. The trials and struggles of military life made him the loving father he later became.
But I showed little interest. Dad never spoke much. He was a quiet man. I like quiet men. They don’t have to prove anything.
But those eyes! Loving. Caring. And convicting. Dad would often tell me, “You can tell a lot about a man by the shoes he wears, and if he looks you in the eye.”
I never really understood it then. I do now.
I feel bad for any child who has grown up without a father. As an educator for 31 years, I see the results of this every single day in the classroom. Or in the office.
Boys are different from girls. Not better. Just different.
Boys need to be tamed. One of the best ways to approach that is with a father figure. A male role model. It’s not a guarantee, but it beats no father at all.
And it starts at home when kids grow up. Then it carries into school and untimely into manhood.
Dad would often say that the eyes are the windows into a man’s soul. That was pretty sobering to hear when I was a teenager. Especially when I was in trouble at school.
When I heard his words, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” chills ran down my weak spine. It was as if heaven was sentencing me for a crime, and I was being condemned to death.
I have a poster in my classroom with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” Meaning, learn from your mistakes.
Dad’s version of this saying was a bit more simple. “Get with the program, son!”
It didn’t dawn on me growing up that my failure was shared as his failure. And my success, his success.
I’d give anything to have a chat with him today. I still think about him a lot. I see his smile and those clear, sky-blue eyes. But he can’t talk to me. Or tell me what to do. How to think. Where to go. What to buy.
I missed so many opportunities to get to know him. Now I’m my father’s son. Doing what he did. Saying what he said. Trying to raise a family. Working long hours. Saving for the future.
But missing some really good advice. So Dad, thanks for everything you did.
I’ve got your baby blue eyes. But can only live in the shadow you cast.
Rodger Bowman lives in Kansas City, North, and is a middle-school administrator and teacher. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.