Michael R Lewis and his wife Vicki, who have lived in Dallas for more than a half century, have four children and eight grandchildren. Mike and his younger brother, Randy, were raised give a day’s work for a day’s pay, never back down from a fight or hit a woman, and stay true to your word. His career as an entrepreneur, management consultant, and senior executive has extended across industries from oil exploration and health insurance to construction and software. He retired in 2010, regularly contributes articles on subjects from parenting to economics, and is currently writing his first non-fiction book on business success. He blogs at LewsClues: http://www.lewsclues.com/
To my son Michael and sons-in-law, Andres, Rob and Chris,
Biology requires a man and woman to create new life. But fatherhood is more than the union of sperm and egg – it is simultaneously the most terrifying responsibility a man can shoulder and the greatest gift life can bestow. Some men wilt under the burden, though most do the best they can, striving to be good providers, teachers, and examples. Like fathers everywhere, you will fail at times. You’ll never be confident that your efforts are right or your hopes for your children will be fulfilled. Always remember that good fathers never quit nor give up on their children. If you constantly strive to make each child’s tomorrows happier, safer, and easier than today, you’ll be okay.
My father came from generations of poor dry-land farmers, working sun-up to sun-down, grubbing a living from the worn-out, wind-blown prairies of West Texas and Southern Oklahoma. A hard life was made harder when the dust blew and the bankers took the farms, and harder still when the Depression substituted charity and public assistance for jobs. A tall, lanky man with blue eyes and sandy-brown hair, Dad finished high school in time to fight the Nazis in Germany. He was old enough to die and kill, but too young to legally marry my mother in Texas so they eloped across state lines to Waurika, Oklahoma. I was almost a year old before he saw me the first time.
As a boy growing up with B-Westerns and immersed in the myths of the Texas cowboy, my father was my hero. Bigger than John Wayne, more courageous than Gary Cooper, he was a Man among men. He would work all day, then play catch in the front yard until dark or take my brother and me for a game of miniature golf. He could replace light switches without turning off the electricity, repair the transmission of our old car when it broke down, and even drive nails into his stomach to hold up his pants. (All right, that’s an exaggeration. He actually wore a body cast under his clothes for a broken back from an accident, but none of the kids knew about the cast and it was a good trick.)
Being a good father is not just about games or tricks, however. The real challenge is when life turns against you and the family is threatened. My mother suffered a serious mental illness, bipolar disorder, first surfacing when I began the first grade. For more than a decade, she cycled between bouts of extreme rage and debilitating depression with multiple suicides and hospital stays. She attacked all of us, physically and verbally, especially my Dad. Many, if not most, men would have abandoned her and us, going on down the road to seek happier climates. My Dad didn’t leave, surrender to her rejection or his own anger. He took a second job and borrowed money to pay doctor bills, slept in her hospital room to be sure she wouldn’t wake up alone, and took her abuse, smiled, cried, and went back for more. Dad didn’t know whether she could be cured or, if cured, whether she would still love him, but he stayed month after month, year after year.
We all suffered from Mom’s illness, Dad most of all. As I grew older, we became more distant, his focus being on her and mine on the problems of adolescence. At times, when our differences seemed unbridgeable, I remembered his unconditional love in the most difficult times, his courage in the face of the unknown, and his willingness to take up the heavy cross of responsibility. He was the epitome of what a Father should be, giving me an example to follow with my own children.
Dad has been gone more than a decade, but he seems like yesterday when he swept me onto his broad shoulders, my legs straddling his neck, and I could see across the world, ready for any adventure because I knew my Dad would protect me. I still miss him.