Last Sunday on Mother’s Day, my parents joined us as we celebrated in church, the kids singing in the Cherub Choir, the greeters handing out pink and white carnations to every mom as they exited the sanctuary. As we returned home, my father closed the front door behind us and said, “Hey, shouldn’t I have gotten a flower today?” We all laughed and joked that yeah, sure, he’s as much a mom and grandma as anyone, and then we rolled our eyes and moved on with our day.
But the truth is, my stay-at-home dad turned frequently-babysitting-grandfather had the largest influence on who I was as a child and who I have come to be as an adult.
I often wonder how it is that I grew up in an incredibly small town in rural Pennsylvania, the child of small town Pennsylvanians, and yet was taught from an early age that I was somehow different, able to leave and quite literally take on the world. I used to think of this parenting feat as a joint accomplishment shared by both my mom and my dad, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this was the work of my father.
In fact, I’m quite certain that this work began for him when he met my mother who he somehow lured off of the farm with the loud car he borrowed for a friend. She was raised to believe that she could become the town doctor and care for her parents in their old age. He swooped in and made her believe she could become a doctor, live anywhere, and have a family of her own.
And that is where I come in. My mom gave birth to me, her second child, just three months after moving back to her hometown (but to a large, white house on Main Street, not the farm) and joining the medical practice in town. After just four weeks she headed back to full time work and my father took over caring for me during those long days and evenings, stuck at home with a colicky newborn and a cantankerous two year old. I’m hypothesizing the cantankerous part based on my earliest memories of my brother, which involve him either yelling that I had done something horrible or hitting me for having done something horrible. He wasn’t pleased with his big brother status.
Now the typical small town guy in the late 70’s may have cracked under this sort of pressure. My maternal grandparents were certainly not about to step in and help out having made very clear that if my mom was crazy enough to have kids and a career, she best figure out the logistics on her own. My paternal grandparents were twenty-five miles away and while my grandmother had the patience of Job, the heart of Mother Theresa, and the generosity of Oprah on a Favorite Things kind of day, she was not in a position to help care for us.
My dad, however, was not your typical small town guy of any era. Instead of collapsing under the burden of cooking, cleaning and childcare, he instead embraced parenthood in a way that was uniquely his own. I remember running around the backyard in my Underoos, riding a three wheel ATV through the orchards behind our house before I was even old enough to ride a two-wheel bike, and having pull-up contests with my older brother in the cellar of our old house, a trapeze bar hanging from the old, wood support beams, the coal furnace roaring in the little room next door. I also remember my dad telling me often that I was different than the other kids. I don’t remember him using the word “better”, but he instilled a confidence in us that got me through the years of teasing, a result of a chronological series of growing pain torments beginning with early puberty and ending with braces. Any time someone felt the need to attack me, it was clearly the result of a deficiency on that person’s part. I was a Lupold, after all. Salt of the earth. Good people. Unique in some way.
I’ll never quite understand where my dad’s ability to raise self-confident children came from based on his own childhood, but I’m thankful for it all the same. I’ve travelled the world, spoken in front of hundreds of people, and walked with my head up through places I honestly had no business being. Whether it comes from being a Lupold, working hard, or just dumb luck, I’ve been able to accomplish the things I’ve set my mind to doing, assuming all along that there could be no other outcome.
Even though my dad didn’t get a flower on Mother’s Day, I certainly appreciate all that he has done in raising me. And I just hope that somehow I’ll be able to instill the same unexplained confidence in my own children.