A Son’s Father

Sat. June 14, 2008 12:00 AM
by Bill Pritchard

I've been thinking about my father a lot lately. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the whole Father's Day observance, but there is something else that has been tapping on my brain. I honestly don't know what it is. I suppose it doesn't really matter so long as I continue to pause and think about him.

Most of my readers can tell you that I am in love with my parents. It's more than a feeling of indebtedness; rather it is a sincere appreciation of their involvement in my life and the daily friendship we share. I am very close with my Mother. More than anyone, she gets the mission that I'm on. To this day she can tell me the steps, small and big, that I've made to this point and how they relate to my life's calling. My Father on the other hand has always been the example of how I want to implement that mission. We are so much alike, right down to our mannerisms, voice, inflection, and outlook. Somewhere along my life's path I saw in him the man that I wanted to be.

I could write chapter and verse about my Father. Honestly, there isn't enough bandwidth on this website to hold the tales and teaching that I've learned from him. My closest friends can tell you how infectious his spirit is and how motivating his model can be. I want to share with you some of the lessons and stories that come to my mind today.

Get within earshot of my Father and you will hear in minutes the importance of education. His work ethic has always been something to marvel at, but never has it been more evident than in his pursuit of education. Meeting my Mom and graduating with honors from Drew University, he then attended Duke Law School where he studied hard and earned his JD. The man has more titles and more letters behind his name than most in the Who's Who books. To say that his credentials are impressive is one hell of an understatement and yet he only ever asked that I "do my best".

Needless to say, I think the smarts from my parents may have skipped a generation in my case, but the challenge to study and learn was just as prevalent! One such story of that challenge comes to mind. I was in the 6th grade and my school gave us a test to see if we were ready to advance to the next grade level. Sadly I didn't do too well.

Days later my father was in the school office to meet with the head of the department and me. I could not have felt any lower or more stupid. Here I sat with the smartest person in my world, hearing from my schools representative how I failed a test. Sadly as a sixth grader I had the reading and vocabulary level of a fourth grader.

What my father did next completely surprised me! He excused me from the rest of the day's classes. On the car ride home it was incredibly quiet. In retrospect I don't think either one of us knew what to say. My Father did what he had done a million times before with us kids and stopped at the store. I'm not sure we really needed to pick anything up, but it got our minds on something else. ( Note : Retail therapy does work!)

As things started to fly into the cart we began to talk. By the time we got to the car I was crying and my Father was being my Dad . He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a legal sized pad and a pen. Like a bag of tricks, he knew just what to give me. With that came a prescription that changed my life. "Bee, I want you to take this pad and pen and write down every word you hear that you don't know." "Each day I will give you a new word and it's spelling and we will go over the words you wrote down.", he said.

That night at the dinner table my Sister Jennifer asked what a swordfish was and my father answered, "A swordfish is a fish with a long proboscis.". ( Def : the long flexible snout of some mammals such as the tapir, the elephant seal, or the proboscis monkey) I had my first word. A word I will never forget. Months later I took the test again and advanced to the reading and vocabulary level of a high school student. My father's belief in me and the words of my Mom, Brothers and Sister helped me to grow!

Having asthma as a child really made for some difficult times! Thankfully we have advanced in modern medicine to a point where a person can live a fruitful life with the disease. When I was a kid it really got in the way and my Parents were all over it! Truthfully you just don't get a better nurse/helper than my Mom! My father on the other hand had a terrific knack for getting my mind off the limitations caused by the disease!

He would tell me stories about great people who had terrible afflictions and how they overcame their confines. One such person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Stricken with polio he was forced to live out his life with the use of canes and wheelchairs. Known for a stalwart stand on having ". . nothing to fear but fear itself!", FDR lead the United States for four terms as our President. What an example for a child to look up to!

My Parents dear friend Peggy Goldberg was a tactile example of that "Life goes on!" mentality! Also stricken with polio she overcame her restrictions to become a patron of the arts, a devoted Mother/Grandmother, and one of my truest hero's! My Father used the example of Aunt Peggy to teach me one of the most important lessons a boy can know; how to rely on the example and investment of others in your life.

No matter how busy my father becomes with life, (Museum of Glass, Allied Arts of Seattle, YMCA, Patrons of Pacific Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations, Planned Parenthood, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, University of Puget Sound, Board of Trustees, Chancellor to the Bishop of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and work with American Bar Association. Just to name a few) he is never too busy to be involved in the daily lives of his family.

If he were traveling I would get cards, notes, and calls every day! As a child I knew that he was always available if I needed him. He consistently made the effort to stay on top of what I was doing or not doing. His accountability and dependability never wavered. To this day, I rely on him in ways that I don't think most would from their fathers. His counsel and opinion that many pay top dollar for, are mine for the asking. Every major decision or policy in my life is vetted through him and we still talk every day. He's not only my Father, he's my Friend!

Piano & Paint
There has always been a tune to my Fathers step. As long back as I can remember, he's had music at the very heart of his life. His work as President and Chairman of the Board of the Seattle Symphony procured many an opportunity for me to hear the best of the best in orchestral music. Every week there would be a new record or tape (That's what they played before CD's) coming into the house. He would take us to festivals and music events all the time and continually invested in our music education.

One time I was asked to paint our family's playroom. It was no small task so I agreed to do it with the proviso that he would play the piano while I painted. I don't know who got the better end of the deal. I could listen to his playing of the piano for hours. The songs he'd play and sing brought me back to a time where his stories and lessons were young. To this day any form of music, right down to a whistle reminds me of him.

My Father has always been a man that lives life and its experiences to the fullest! Whether it be a cocktail party, meeting, or task he brings great joy and zeal to it. My Father was asked by the President of the American Bar Association to help raise funds and awareness for the ABA World Justice Program. (WJP) The WJP is an initiative that is engaging leaders from various disciplines, (i.e. Architecture, education, environment, human rights, religion, etc.) to explore how the rule of law impacts them and how they can collaborate to advance it. Clearly my Father has been like a kid in a candy store with this task! It can be said that the programs success is in no small part because of his work!

The WJP is about to meet in Vienna, Austria and they have asked my father to join them. At 38, I have challenges in traveling internationally these days. It's not what it used to be in ease. They just don't make it uncomplicated for people to travel any more. My Father in true "You're only young once!" fashion has not only agreed to go to Vienna, but is very excited about it! He will have a blast doing what most would shy away from and in the process advance his personal experiences even more. Truly someone to admire!

Steadfast Love & Acceptance
As I said at the beginning of this article, there are so many lessons and stories that I could share. Hell, I didn't even talk about our attempt at camping; his driving of the bulldozer; or the time he counted his cash on the London subway.

Even as I've been writing this inadequate synopsis of this amazing Make A Difference man, I received a call from him updating me on his adventures of the weekend. With tears in my eyes from the distance that separate me from my Parents, I want to conclude this summation of my Father with perhaps the best part of him.

My whole life my Father has spoken of his Parents and the steadfast love that they gave him. His example of dedication and adoration to their memory is perhaps one of the greatest legacies that he's given me. Both he and my Mom have shown that same steadfast love in my life. As a young gay man, coming out to ones Father is difficult. I knew that he would still love me, but I didn't want to let him down. He's not only accepted and embraced my life, but celebrated it with me. You will find no greater scout for a potential partner for me than he and he lives his pride in me with his friends.

I've said it before and I will say it again, if I weren't his son I would be his biggest fan. I believe that I am both!