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Those Magic Words

We kids could do no wrong in my father’s eyes, and in that we found the freedom to fly far and un-tethered from the nest while knowing that a belly flop would look like a back flip to him.

They say that after a parent dies, the surviving children can take on some of their parent’s characteristics.

I resisted for years becoming anything like my dad or at least acknowledging that I was anything like him because, well, because I wanted to be me, not him; but there I sat at his memorial service several months ago, telling myself, “You’ve got a lot more of your dad in you than you think.”

There’s this phrase my dad used, and I know I’m going to sound churlish to complain about it, but it did used to bother me. “I’m so proud of you,” he told us kids, whether we’d won a sailing race (like my older brother has frequently) or run a marathon (like my younger sister) or managed to get a book published (like me).

“I’m so proud of you.” That should be a good thing, but here’s what always went through my unforgiving mind: “You’re taking credit for what isn’t really yours. You can be proud, but the achievement is mine.”

Ain’t it like a son? Your parent is doing his best to give you praise, and you’re cutting him down to size. “I’m so proud of you.” It came out of my dad’s mouth all the time, on those long-distance calls where I might have mentioned something that happened at work or when he and mom came to visit and we showed off the talents of our two boys. “I’m so proud of you” was the refrain.

I knew the feeling of parental pride well, especially when my boys achieved in ways that were beyond my comprehension and ability, as children do, somehow leaping beyond what lies in the gene pool, but I looked for other ways to express it. “That’s an incredible story you’ve written,” I would say about the composition. “I can’t believe how fast you solved that problem,” I would admire the work of the math genius. But never just the blanket phrase.

I thought that by making my praise specific, it would feel like I was claiming their achievement less as mine and more as one they could own themselves. But there I was at Dad’s memorial, about to eulogize him, thinking that I could say exactly what my brother said: “He let me be me.”

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That was his achievement. In the bland phrase that I promised I would never utter to my children was a world of forgiveness, care and appreciation. We kids could do no wrong in my father’s eyes, and in that we found the freedom to fly far and un-tethered from the nest while knowing that a belly flop would look like a back flip to him. What I took for bad eyesight was love.

So just the other day when my older son, now a budding management consultant, sent me an email about the thank-you dinner his latest client threw him, I fumbled around for clever things to say, finally realizing your kids don’t really need your cleverness. They just want what my dad gave me.

“I’m so proud of you,” I wrote. Just like the old man.

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All God's Creatures 2023 Devotional

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All God's Creatures 2023

A Daily Devotions for Animal Lovers. This inspiring devotional brings you 365 touching stories of animals who appear at just the right moment providing comfort and bringing us closer to our faith.

Plus, enjoy four FREE beautiful, custom-designed note cards and envelopes with any print edition purchase.

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