“You realize how selfish you’ve been your whole life once someone else needs you in order to survive,” I heard this the other day, and I am sure it rings true to every parent. Given my significant age gap with Grace, I often feel that I get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a parent. She’s my own flesh and blood, I want to protect her, guide her, and I love her no matter what. But I’ve never had to provide for her in the way parents do. While she looks up to me, she doesn’t rely on me the way she relies on my parents. That quote reminds me of my dad, who has continued to sacrifice and work tirelessly for his children. He is constantly thinking of how he can better his children's lives, and provide for them.
My dad is a pretty magnificent man. He’s accomplished everything that most people set out to do in all aspects of life. His life is defined by relentless hard work and humility, and the success that he has earned because of that. To say the least, our stellar dad set the bar pretty high for my six siblings and me. Dad certainly expected a lot out of us growing up—in school, on the field, at home, but most importantly, in our character. Dad always encouraged us, “Be the best version of yourself.” Be the best student, athlete, friend, daughter, sister, and person you can possibly be, he seemed to say. Dad didn’t demand perfection, but his constant encouragement to be our best selves (peppered by telling us how proud he was of us) motivated us to be whatever "best" looked like for each of us. When I wasn’t giving my all on the field, when I found myself putting forth a half-hearted effort in class, when I failed to stay true to the morals and values my parents had instilled in me, I could hear his voice, prompting me, be the best version of yourself.
More than any role in sports or school, Dad was most intent that we be the best versions of ourselves when it came to our character. Comportment was king; personal leadership, integrity, and morality were of utmost importance to Dad. More than any academic or athletic accolades, Dad was most proud of his kids for honors that reflected good character.
In my first year of marriage, however, I realized that concern for how I carry myself in public—at work, in the grocery store, on the train, even with friends—is not sufficient. Indeed, character is who you are when no one else is watching, as my dad's beloved John Wooden proclaimed. But if I could expand Coach Wooden's saying just a little, I would say character is also who you are when your spouse is looking. It's easier to put our best face forward to the world, but it can be most difficult to give our best selves to those that deserve it the most—our loved ones. Yet our siblings, parents, and spouses are often the ones that see our ugly side, the part of us not presented on our highlight reels of social media. They are the recipients of our anger, our frustration, our less-than-best selves. Taking their love and forgiveness for granted, we come home so exhausted, stressed, and busy that often our family becomes our landing pad for those emotions.
In the book The Wait: A Powerful Practice for Finding the Love of Your Life and the Life You Love, married couple DeVon Franklin and Meagan Good continually stress that your spouse should help make you the “best version of yourself.” I knew I was in for a good read because I could hear my dad saying that well known mantra every time I read it. While my husband has vowed to love me in bad times and in my shameful moments, it does not mean I shouldn't attempt to be the best version of myself for him. Inevitably, there will be bad days that lead to bitterness or bickering. Certainly, being my best self does not mean being disingenuous or covering up painful emotions. Attempting to control anger or annoyances does not mean compromising honesty, vulnerability, or open communication. The ability to be vulnerable is vital to the survival of a marriage or any healthy relationship, be it friend, spouse, or family. My husband and I have a marriage founded on emotional vulnerability and transparency; we have been brutally honest about ourselves, each other, and our relationship since we were first dating. The ability to be authentic and vulnerable in a relationship allows us to let ourselves be loved, even our imperfect parts, imitating God's perfect love for us. But if there is anyone who deserves my best self, it's the one who loves me when I'm not.
As The Wait chronicles, choosing the right spouse means choosing someone who will bring out the best in you, who will help you become—and who will make you want to be—the best version of yourself. I’ve realized that by carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully discerning and selecting my husband as my spouse, I ended up following my dad’s adage in the most important way possible. While my dad is certainly proud of my accomplishments in field hockey and school, I know nothing makes him beam more than knowing I will continue to become the best version of myself through the vocation of marriage.
With a little grace,
Happy Father's Day to my magnificent dad, and all dads! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions via email or comment.