A Father’s Day tradition of mine is to reread a passage near the end of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” describing one of the characters’ reaction to becoming a father. Far from the ecstatic joy that might be expected in response to a child’s birth, Tolstoy instead describes the father’s overwhelming concern that something bad may happen to the baby.
“And this sense was so painful at first, the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy and even pride that he had felt when the baby sneezed.” (Part Seven, Chapter 16)
Until the birth of the first of our four beautiful girls about 30 years ago, I could not understand just how much I would be capable of worrying about their well-being and happiness. But once I held my little girl, I got it. I was responsible for this baby, did not want any harm to come to her and would do all in my power to help her find contentment.
In time, that awareness that came with fatherhood magnified my appreciation for my dad and mom. I realized that my concerns and aspirations for my kids are the ones my folks have for me and my siblings. And on this Father’s Day, I was thinking much about my dad.
My dad, Frank Paloucek, is among the pioneers of irrigated farming in this region. In the late 1960s, he and my mom moved their 4-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son and twin babies to a house near Holyoke, Colorado. Dad and his brother, my Uncle Joe, left the small, cramped fields and farming methods utilized in the South Platte River Valley of Keith County and embraced the broad, flat expanses — and corresponding larger fields, equipment and opportunity for productivity — just waiting to flourish upon tapping of the Ogallala Aquifer.
They rented ground and grew sugar beets, beans and corn. Then they bought undeveloped farm land, drilling wells to pump the water, leveling the land so it could be flood irrigated, transitioning to center pivot sprinklers before that technology became ubiquitous.
From Dad I learned the most important of life’s lessons: how to work, how to fish and how to be a father and good person. The method of instruction was the same across subjects. Dad’s “classes” involved little talking but much modeling; as the best teachers do, he taught through his actions.
If there was work to be done, Dad did not tell me to go do it. We went together and worked together, with me learning alongside him. Dad involved me, even before I was in high school, in work that was important and vital to the farming operation, simultaneously teaching me the dignity in hard work and the responsibility that was a requisite to any genuine reward. The experience was an invaluable gift.
It may be a bit in jest to say learning to fish is a life lesson, but discovering things you love is indispensable to a happy existence. And just as Dad taught me how to use a shovel by working next to me so I could mirror his digging, he taught me to fish by putting a fly rod in my hand and casting and fishing next to me so I could copy his movements. Time I spend fly fishing is one of my life’s priceless treasures, and I’m forever thankful that Dad shared that love with me.
Most importantly, I know from Dad that the best fathers love their kids unconditionally, encourage their children to dream, support their efforts to achieve those dreams and inspire them toward curiosity and education. He showed that a few encouraging words serve better than paragraphs of criticism.
I hope I reflect his way of treating others with respect and strive to find one way to make something better rather than bemoan the hundreds of reasons why improvement can’t happen. To advance good causes, be a gentleman and gracious, smile and laugh — I could have no better teacher.
Now Dad bears the effects of his 82 years and the stroke he suffered a year ago. Still I learn in the precious time I’m blessed to spend with him.
Two weekends ago, with tear-filled eyes and a smile, I watched our eldest daughter with her month-old baby, our first grandchild, and I hoped I’m doing justice to Dad’s ongoing example, that I’m passing along the lessons. I know I won’t stop trying, another important thing Dad continues to teach.