By Scott Westerman
“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” – Clarence Budington Kelland
My son had his first solo evening with his three-week-old on Friday night. While mom was enjoying her first post-pregnancy night out with the girls, Brandon and Hudson held the fort.
When he called to tell me about it, Brandon said, “I never knew I could love someone this much”.
I’m sure he could hear the smile in my voice when I answered. “Now you can fully understand exactly how if feel about you.”
For better or worse, the man he has become has a lot to do with what he learned from me. I’m far from perfect, and I’ve made more than my share of parental mistakes. Whatever success I may have had is due to the role models who helped me become the man I am today..
My father, “The Real Scott Westerman”, is one of the best. Through the example of his own life, he gave me eleven insights that I’ve tried to embed in my DNA. They were the gifts his father passed on to him.
Make a difference for all the world – Dad’s father, W. Scott Westerman Sr., was a distinguished music major at the University of Michigan, turned Methodist Missionary, turned beloved Ohio pastor, turned electronics enthusiast. I have a box of his sermons in my closet, each one succeeding in translating the often confusing chapter and verse into meaningful messages that inspired his parishioners to model the Golden Rule. My father guided the Ann Arbor Public Schools through the turbulent 60s with courage and grace. He went on to be the Dean of Education at Eastern Michigan University, influencing a generation of educators while building the finest teacher education program in the nation.
Give your all – Both Dad and I have comforting memories of seeing the reflections of the car lights dancing across our bedroom walls late in the evening when our respective fathers came home. They attacked every day with enthusiasm, every project with near total commitment and filled every waking hour with a giving soul.
Seek balance – Dad believes that it was the work load and not Grandpa’s milieu of childhood health issues that brought on his first heart attack, at age 45. Now in his 80s, my father still lives on his own, exercises every other day and continues to say, “I love my life!” He credits his health and exuberance to a continued life of learning, friendship and service.
Be inclusive – Both my father, and my own personal commitment to diversity have roots in grandpa’s courageous integration of the church boy scout troop, long before it was the common thing to do. And grandpa and grandma had a habit of adopting church members with disabilities, going the extra mile to help each get the most out of life. Sometimes the most challenging thing about being a dad is finding the love when your kids need it most.
Develop diverse interests – Grandpa’s passion was his music, but he also excelled in basketball, track, gymnastics, swimming and boxing. He was a fisherman, a bird watcher, a gardener and dog lover. Late in life, he developed an interest in electronics, building antennas for his shortwave receiver and recording television and radio programming for soldiers serving in Viet Nam. He passed that ecleticism along to his son. Dad tells me that the only stressor in his life today is his struggle with finding time to do everything he wants to do.
Have faith – Grandpa’s was a Christian life, but like the Dali Lama, my own father would encourage you to seek your own spiritual path. Faith, whether it be in deity or the ordered mysteries of science is at once alluring and baffling, exciting and frustrating. I learned from my male mentors that if you build your own foundation of faith it can keep you grounded through the strongest hurricanes, the harshest spotlight and the darkest night.
Be well read – Being up on current events and the latest literature was part of all our lives growing up. The things we discovered in newspapers and between the covers of good books danced through our minds, leaving notions that often sprouted like seeds into new and even more powerful ideas.
Get an education and seek to become a better person – Most of us are but a generation or two away from a time when college was the exception to the rule. In our parents and grandparents time, education meant drinking knowledge with a desert thirst, trying to fully understand and sometimes challenge what we were taught. Good grades a goal but were secondary to the desire for real comprehension. Those learning skills served our forefathers well as we recovered from the Great Depression, fought a World War and learned to make sense of things like the Iron Curtain. Having the courage to face any personal demons you may have will also teach your children that we are all imperfect. It’s ok to recognize it, and to show by your own example that life’s too short not to get help while you enjoy the ride.
Don’t do it all yourself – Both my grandfather and my dad were the first ones to admit that they could not have been effective parents without support. In our home, my mom was well prepared and totally dedicated to providing that assistance. But it went well beyond their union. They made sure that the right teachers appeared when we needed them. They exposed us to a diverse array of individual lifestyles (mostly good and a few bad) and had the courage to ultimately let us make our own choices. They empowered and supported our teachers to correct our self defeating behaviors soon after they occurred, nearly always in private unless a public lesson was a teachable moment.
Be joyful – Whenever I would call grandpa on the phone during my youth, he was -always- glad to hear from me. He was fascinated by new ideas. Even as the years slowed him down, he was always able to find a mother lode of silver linings surrounding every cloud. My own children report the same phenomenon when they call my dad.
Be present and be who you are – My father harbors a not-so-secret regret. He attacked the other things on this list with such intensity that he feels he was not present enough in our lives. I disagree. There was never a key question I had that he didn’t patiently answer. There was never a major event in my life that he didn’t attend, and whenever and wherever he was, he always responded to my phone calls. In those times of rebellion that inevitably touch each generation, he was patient when he needed to be, firm when he had to be and was always true to his beliefs, even when they were not popular.
I haven’t always lived up to these deals. But I’ve tried to live by them. I strive every day to be able to point to my father and honestly say, “I am that man”. I hope that Brandon has integrated the good things he may have learned from the men in his family into his outlook. The best legacy I can wish for is the day he might take his son’s hand, point to me and say, “I am that man”.
And what if you have not been lucky enough to land in a family with a strong father figure? Look about you. Dad’s ideals live in many men and women that you may know. They are the essence of our most inspiring leaders. If you don’t have a good biological role model, create your own. We are in fact the sum total of our genetics, our experiences, and most importantly, what we have learned from these experiences. We become who we associate with, so surround yourself with positive examples of extraordinary human beings. Forgive those who hurt you and forgive yourself for your own inevitable mistakes.
And be thankful. When someone has made a difference in your life, tell them. Even the most self actualized have self doubts. And we all long to love and be loved. Don’t be so concerned about political correctness that you’re afraid to hug those you love with intensity and often.
Seeking to understand, to pursue worthy dreams, to find something to appreciate in every human being, and modeling productive behaviors for the next generation; these are the keys to strong families, long term success in every endeavor, and perhaps even world peace.
What would the world be like if each of us tried doing this every single day?
These are times when good male role models are in short supply. Why not be one? If you do, then someday, someone else will point to you and say,
“I am that man”.