You don't have to be a "person of influence" to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they've taught me.
-- Scott Adams
It was 6:30 a.m. when I went downstairs, dragging my suitcase behind me. Dad was waiting in the parking lot, buzzing with energy. This was nothing for him -- on any other day at this time, he'd just be returning home from a five-mile walk to have a bowl of Frosted Flakes, a banana, and a glass of orange juice before showering and dressing for work.
"I want to show you something I got that's really cool," Dad said, opening the passenger's side door for me. I sat down, taking note of the lion lying on its belly in front of me while my father walked around and got in the car.
"Watch this," he said, and then he faced the lion and asked, "Are you having a great morning?" The car began to shake forward and back, which startled me a bit but caused the lion to nod his head in answer to my dad.
"Do you want to see Barb leave?" To this, the car rocked from left to right -- the lion's head shook back and forth in an obvious "No."
My father has security clearance that goes higher than top secret for the government, and he talks to a bobble-head lion that lives on his dashboard. David joined us in the car as the sky began to lighten, and we were off.
"I'm not a bobble-head kind of guy," Dad explained on the way to the airport. "But I was really impressed with this one. This lion doesn't bobble like other bobbles. He's got a regal bobble."
Dad shared that on his way back from one of his visits to the Tijuana orphanage, he haggled with a street vendor at the border for the lion now shaking its head at me. My frugal father told me, "The guy wanted seven bucks, but I talked him down to three if we bought four." He insisted that each person who was in the car go in on the purchase with him -- those people being his fellow congregants of Midtown Church of Religious Science, or as Dad calls it, "The Church of What's Happenin' Now."
After explaining the bobble-head lion phenomenon to friends at a recent party, Kip advised, "If the lion ever calls you on the phone, it's time to express concern." I laughed and continued to poke fun at my father's close friendship with the small, fuzzy car ornament, but not once did I judge him for his taste in companions. On the contrary, every time I sit in Dad's car I am taken with the lion, mesmerized by its bobbling head. It's quite probable that my own affinity for anthropomorphizing both animals and inanimate objects is a behavior I learned from you-know-who.
Because of how often we travel for both work and pleasure, Dad and I feel at home in the airport. As a volunteer Airport Ambassador, Dad hangs out at the airport once a week to assist travelers less savvy than himself. A new project has him out of town a lot lately, so in order for us to spend some time together this week, I accompanied him as he made his rounds at the airport.
In addition to OCD and germaphobia, my father and I share a passion for people watching. Standing by the escalators to the sky bridge, we chatted while intermittently interrupting ourselves to point out a particularly interesting human specimen.
"Stephanie and I hung out the other day, it was nice -- WHOA! Three-o'clock, get a load of those shoes. Ouch, how can she walk?" I'd say.
"Well, I'm happy you two were able to make some time to see each other, because -- OH! Turn around! What a freak of nature. No, the other way, quick! See what I mean?"
Neither of us missed a beat, nor did we lose our place in our ongoing conversation about the people in our lives.
We both peripherally observed an elderly woman drop a dollar bill, begin to walk away, then find and retrieve her money.
"I'm bummed she saw it," I said in jest.
"I know," said Dad. "That hawkeyed bitch jumped at the bill before I could get over there." But both of us knew if he had gotten his hands on the buck, it would only be to chase after the woman until he could return it. Dad might be frugal, but he's also honest.
Our discussion turned to drugs as I mentioned those people I no longer hang out with.
"You know, Dad, I used to do a lot of drugs. I don't regret it; I had a great time, but my priorities have changed."
I was interrupted by a woman who had obviously read the back of my father's jacket, where "Ask Me" is written in large white letters, and he directed her where she needed to go to pick up her rental car. A plane had just landed, so Dad ventured forth to offer help to more travelers.
It wasn't until we were walking back to the car that we were able to pick up our conversation again. Dad had been telling me a familiar tale about how grateful he is to have so much joy in his life. I had been explaining a huge transition that took place around the time I met David.
"I find it so wonderful to know that all of my four daughters are in love," said Dad.
"It was after I met David that I started to turn around." I waited until Dad was seated and seat-belted before continuing.
"I quit smoking, I stopped doing drugs...it's, like, when I fell in love with him, I really started to care about my health."
Dad faced me before starting the car, and his eyes -- which a moment ago had been sparkling with humor -- took on a duller shade of guilt. He looked as if he was in pain. Not the kind of sharp, severe pain that a harsh weapon or word would inflict, but rather the agony of the good-intentioned realizing that his actions have caused only suffering.
"Did I not instill in you any self-love? Did I not teach you how important your health and happiness are in order to lead a good life?"
A thousand things floated by in my head, a thousand things I wanted to say to prove to my father just how much he has influenced me and my decisions in life. I wanted to list examples, to recite his positive, love-filled words that echo through my head every day, but I didn't want him to think I was merely attempting to assuage his guilt.
"Of course you did, Dad." When I said this, Dad stopped at a red light, and the lion's head went up and down, confirming everything I said...and everything I didn't.