June 2016

The presence of my father

Mark with dad

Many of us have moments indelibly etched in our minds from childhood. Moments that we remember as our fondest. And the faces or voices and feelings of those moments make such an impression on us that they inevitably shape who we become as adults. I remember such moments about my father, Bill Wallace.

Back in the 1950s, when I was growing up, my dad worked as the district sales manager for Cameron Iron Works, a company that produced oil-drilling supplies and parts for rigs and wells. I remember going to work many times with my dad, and even now, I often think about how he engaged with the people around him.

Dad was a great “people person,” and one of my favorite memories as a boy was at the Cameron plant where he was a manager. In the warehouse where he worked, there was an office up front, and at the back the employees produced the valves and equipment. Annually he’d clear out the back of the warehouse and put on a fish fry for the employees. All of the men worked together, bringing in huge fryers to cook fish and hush puppies and French fries. There would be 300 men or so at this annual event. It was festive and fun, and I remember the laughter, the jokes and the ribbing among them.

But what I remember most was my dad in the middle of it all. My dad, in his short-sleeve white shirt and tie and his Cameron pocket protector with the three pens, completely immersed himself in the crowd. He went from person to person shaking hands, acknowledging and thanking people and making sure everyone was having a great time.

I can remember watching him as a kid and thinking, “My dad is so good with people.” I saw how they responded to him, how he seemed to make them feel and how much they liked him. It made me feel good, and I was so proud of him. But that was just my dad’s way. He engaged with people that way every place that he was – at church, where he provided comfort to so many. And most importantly at home, where he was there for us always, leading and supporting us.

I admired him then with the eyes and simplicity of a child. But what I’ve come to appreciate since then was my dad’s ability to be so present for every moment and every person who was truly important to him. I have so many memories that revolve around my dad. I observed his treatment of others, and I learned his work ethic and morals. His viable presence influenced us as children and molded my brother and I as men. As a father, I understand his intentions and efforts and the importance of being present for my own children and grandchildren.

Often, when I consider the things that challenge our families and our greater society now, I can’t help but think about the incredible need for fathers. We have amazing fathers among us. Fathers who are present and loving and work hard for their families. But the reality is also that so, so many children do not grow up with the guiding hand and influence of a father in their lives.

I know all families today don’t look as many did decades ago when mom, dad and all their children lived under a single roof. Even I became a single dad when my children were still very young. But we define for our children what it means to be a family. We can make the choice to be present in their lives, to provide them with the love and support they deserve, to nurture their growth and shape their futures. No child should ever wonder, “Where’s dad?” No matter where dad is, we must always define a way to be there, making a positive impact on our children. It is one of the most tangible and worthy contributions we make as men.

Happy, blessed Father’s Day to all.

Mark H. Wallace