It's my dad's 86th birthday today. I've known him for 47 of those years. When he first entered my life, he was an intruder, trying to replace my "real" dad and stealing my mother from me. He put up with a ton of attitude from my brother, sister, and me. I was nine years old.
Through the years, we learned to tolerate him. We didn't like having grammar corrected at the dinner table and being told to go look up words we didn't know. And we didn't like being pushed to be active, to hike faster and keep up, to keep trying when we fell down skiing and got cold and discouraged. We didn't like having to do the dishes or take out trash or feed the horses and dogs or clean our rooms. Our dad had died when I was seven, before he or Mom expected much of us. Our new dad expected a lot, and we resisted. Oh, did we resist.
Imagine how limited my life would have been had I never skied down from High Camp at Squaw Valley. Had I never gone to the coast and tasted salt and sand in the wind and learned to like abalone. Had I never hiked through the wilderness and seen the clear night sky without any city lights to fade it. Had I never learned to love language, to write correctly, to care about standards, and to leave everything and everybody better than I had found them. Imagine how closed my world would be, had I not been blessed by the Pierce family, their commitment to life and love and adventure, to humor and music and education and encouragement.
Life is not a picnic. We have two guys trying to fix our roof right now, finding more damage the farther they get. We struggle with money and health and finding ways to be useful. But we have so much -- our ability to find creative solutions, to see the good first, to trust, to grow, to accommodate. I have to thank Dad for so much of my character, for being the best example of a father in my life and in my kids' lives. For living with integrity and courage. For finding the joy in everything. And for infinite patience.
As I try to meet immediate needs of people who are down on their luck, I can't help but feel sorry that their lives weren't shaped by such extraordinary people as my parents and family, that they not only never experienced so many of life's treasures, but that they never learned to be resilient and survive tough times and stand on their own. So many people out there want to be strong and healthy and self-sufficient, and they lack the skills that were forced upon me in childhood.
All of us feel blessed, lucky, fortunate, when we compare our lives to those who are suffering. But everybody who knows my family knows full well that I have an over-abundance of support, of love, of enthusiasm, of energy backing me up. Thank you Dad, for shaping my life. I hope your 86th birthday serves to remind you how much good you've done in the world.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.