A father’s life isn’t measured by his achievements but by the lives he inspires … just by being a father.
By Nazarul Islam
My American friend Scott’s dad didn’t teach his son how to ‘be’ a dad. He behaved like one and let children watch. Part of Scott was his mother; most of him was his loving dad. Mom was garrulous and temperamental. Dad was unflappable and patient. Mom sang in the car; Dad did not.
Mom told Scott how to live. Dad simply lived and let the son observe. He watched the dad fix leaky faucets and broken lawnmowers, which he assumed were the official skills God granted only to dads. And — he remembered this most of all — he watched him drag a ladder around the house searching for things to fix.
Chris Miller was president of a small bank in 1960s Kansas, at a time when banks competed for checking and “passbook savings” accounts. There were no ATMs, no drive-through lanes. He kept his desk in the middle of the lobby, where he could see his employees, and customers could see Chris, standing as watchdog over their money. Sometimes they’d see one of his seven kids scampering around the carpet after school, begging Bazooka bubble gum off the loan officers.
Scott’s father loved banking, but he loved his ladder more. In the evenings, he swapped his suit for a stained T-shirt and a stubby cigar. He entered the garage and dragged out an ancient, paint-smeared aluminum ladder that once belonged to his father.
“Take care of the things you own,” he told his son, “and they’ll last a long time.”
Their house was clad in wood shingles on all four sides, which kept the whole family on ladders all summer, replacing old paint with new. Superficial sandpaper scrubbing was unacceptable. A caring father had taught the family to use handheld blowtorches. You point the torch at every visible paint crack. If done properly, this heats up the old paint so that you can easily strip it with a hand scraper. If not done properly, you wind up with a horrifying amount of fire damage.
One summer afternoon, the family had paused torching and scraping to gather inside for Sunday lunch. Heads were bowed. Just after dad said, “Dear Lord …,” his mother noticed the neighbors running across our lawn. They were pointing at the side of our house, the side Scott had been scraping. Flames darted from the shingles near his ladder. It was scary, but there were have doubts that it warranted three firetrucks and two ambulances, sirens shrieking. Thankfully then, their town had no SWAT team.
That small ‘fire’ was extinguished; Sunday lunch resumed. Examining the fire damage, dad seemed more worried than angry. “Be more careful next time,” he shared with Scott. “We can replace shingles, but we can’t replace you.”
Scott’s mom had worried too much about worst outcomes: how her children would turn out and whether they would be happy, in life ahead. Dad had a less tortured approach: Don’t worry, let kids be kids, and everybody will be happier. He did not learn that from “Sesame Street.”
This is not to suggest that men who are handy with ladders and tools— are better fathers than those who are not. But the business of fixing, beyond home repairs, is a job requirement of fathers, mothers and of course ‘banker’ dads (like Scott’s devoted father)
One day in the mid-1980s, when Dad arrived at work, he found a memo on his typewriter. It was from Mr. Big Bucks, the bank owner, announcing that he was turning the bank over to his sons. Scott’s dad could stay around, but he should stay out of the way. His desk would no longer be in the lobby. The memo was neatly typed on bank letterhead, with most of the words correctly spelled.
Angry, Dad had cleared his desk without a fight. The Baby Bucks did not want passbook savings accounts or Bazooka bubble gum. They loved the fast lane and a rapidly emerging banking strategy known as “Use Bad Appraisals to Make Bad Loans and Hope Nothing Goes Wrong.”
I myself grew up in Dhaka, in a pulsating, new age when banking was evolving, and new institutions were created. The old ones were going through modernization, even in third world countries. These small countries far away from America had started producing the most able Bankers, where the best ones ultimately wound up in the Oil rich Emirates, or Kingdoms offering expertise or laying the foundations of future financial institutions.
Scott had felt that he had nothing else to say about it except that the bankers of the 1980s got what they deserved. They broke things they couldn’t fix.
That day, Scott’s Dad came home and showed the Bucks memo to Mom. He told her he loved her very much, but he didn’t love banking so much anymore. He sought other bank jobs, but no one wanted a fixer who might see what was broken or one whose son was a known fire risk.
Mr. Chris Miller, the illustrious Dad passed away in 2014, after multiple bypass surgeries; the ignominy, to him, of living on Social Security; and a gathering depression in his old age.
To me, the moral of the American life story is, a little out of context: It is obvious there are some things even a fixer can’t fix. A caring, loving Dad had taught his son Scott, that a father’s life isn’t measured by his achievements but by the lives he inspires … just by being a father. The family had buried the illustrious Dad, on Father’s Day weekend.
If ladders could talk, and if Scott knew how to listen to ladders, he would have learned more about being a father….