My dad has given me a lot of advice throughout my life.
Some of it was practical — maybe too practical — like what to do if someone ever pointed a gun at me.
I should look them straight in the eye. Never, he said, run away.
“Most people don’t have the nerve to pull the trigger,” he said, “especially if they have to look you in the face to do it. It’s much easier to shoot you in the back.”
Thankfully, I’ve never had to use that advice, although he gave it out of personal experience.
Other guidance he offered up, I’ve chosen to ignore. Specifically about expiration dates on food.
“The government can’t tell you when food is rotten,” he snapped at me more than once when I refused cuisine past its prime.
But the most lasting advice he’s left for my three sisters and me is the example he set with his own life.
I’ve been reflecting on lessons from my dad as today, Father’s Day, marks two weeks since he died.
It’s still strange for me to say. Although he’d been in failing health for the past several years, I tended to agree with what others have said to me. Things like, “He always seemed invincible,” and “I’ll always remember him as a tough cowboy.”
My dad was a rancher and rodeo cowboy, a champion bulldogger, and even among those men, he was known for his physical strength and fortitude. It wasn’t unusual for us to see our dad jump in a chute to mug an 800-pound cow.
But we also knew him for his great capacity to love. He loved God, his family and country, in a way so natural it was like breathing to him.
But running a ranch with four daughters had its challenges, and my dad had a quick temper. More than once, I stared blankly back at him as he asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Yet, he was just as quick to forgive.
At the end of every day, we’d pile in the old International stock truck, all five of us and two dogs in the cab, pulling a horse trailer behind.
On the drive home, which was usually an hour or more, from working cows in Elko and White Pine counties, my dad would always thank us for our help and point out all we’d done right. The blow ups and wrecks from the day were forgotten. He’d push his cowboy hat back on his head, and laugh with us about everything that had gone right and wrong.
He had installed a cheap radio that was easily drowned out by the roar of the old truck. So we invented a system where the sister sitting next to the door would press her ear to the speaker and sing loud enough that we could all follow along to the song.
And that’s how we’d cross the cattle guard home — singing, off key, together.
When I think of my dad, his life, and how I want my life to be like his, I think of Isaiah 51:11: “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”
And I see my dad, with his hat pushed back on his head with a big smile on his face, as he crosses that final cattle guard home.