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What My Dad Taught Me About Respect

My dad passed away a little over one year ago from Covid-19, complicated by hip replacement surgery after a fall which I suspect was due to a mini-stroke. He had several falls in the year or so before he died.

Reflecting on his long life (94 years), and the flood of news over the past few years that has been filled with disrespect and name-calling, I realize one of his most important life lessons for me was to respect others.

Picture of my dad on his 50th wedding anniversary, I think.

Role Model

He was a humble and quiet man, and quick with an infectious and supportive laugh at my often groan-able jokes. Although not perfect, I watched him grow as a father, and never once did he disrespect someone by calling them a name. When I would complain about some person or situation in my life, he would listen and ask questions, but would not say anything to amplify my anger or frustration.

I’ve failed in that regard, frequently cursing those who I perceive to be stuck in childhood, yet filling important positions in our country and institutions. I see headlines that belittle others, blazing with incredulity to entice me to read and relish others’ failures. The constant stream of attacks, of name calling, of a complete lack of respect for other human beings has turned me off to the news.

It wasn’t like this growing up. Before the Internet, if someone lied or acted with histrionics, they were typically shunned or shamed. They would quickly find themselves without friends, and usually apologize and moderate their behavior if they wanted to be included. If I or someone I knew did something stupid, maybe five or ten people would know about it, rather than the five or tens of thousands today.

Other Cultures

Dad traveled the world once the kids were grown and out the door, teaching English and Quality Control techniques alongside my mom. My parents also welcomed exchange students into our home while we were growing up, and later renting a room out to foreign students. I watched Dad treat these people who looked so different from us with the same respect and dignity they treated their friends. In one situation I learned a few words in Swahili (which I can’t recall today).

Now married to an Asian, I have come to learn more about other cultures. My wife has taught me how family members interact with each other that in some ways that are different from my own growing up, and yet in others are the same. She has shown me how language is used to show respect.

I have also learned firsthand in traveling to Europe and Asia and Australia. I have been treated with both disdain and respect in other countries.

Differences

I think the disdain originates from a stereotypical view of the country I’m from, where the person has assumed I am like the image they have gleaned from others. They may have had a bad experience with others from my country, and project that on to me without giving me a chance to show who I am.

The respect I get seems to come from those who want to find out how I am different but aren’t afraid of me. They see an encounter with me as a means to learn and broaden their own life experience, and to make the most of the cultural exchange that is possible. The greatest joy and respect comes from the youngest children. They want to explore the unknown and find out, “Does this person who looks so different from me, do the same things I do?” They relish the chance to speak English, to play with a foreigner, and to learn that, yes, we are all humans, and even with our differences, we are the same in most respects.

No country is completely respectful or completely rude. Everyone struggles, daily, to be the best they can be. By focusing on a stereotype, we immediately put another on the defensive and lose our capacity to respect them.

My dad was no different in his struggle to be his best. I see how he changed in his child-rearing from his oldest two sons to his youngest two daughters. I know that he hurt when we hurt. He respected each of us as unique human beings and encouraged us to do what we loved, no matter what anyone else thought.

I think people who never travel to another country, or take part in a cultural experience from another country, are missing a great opportunity to learn how others have responded to the challenges in their environment, which can be very different from one’s own. I think it’s a missed opportunity to learn how we are all so similar despite our differences.

I think of Dad often, and his example of treating people with dignity and respect is one of the best values he has instilled in me. Without any lecture or words, he has shown me its purpose and power. I wonder how different the world could be if people treated each other as they want to be treated. Great things happen when people pull together toward a common goal.

This story was originally published on medium.com.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Memoir, Non-Fiction, Personal Narrative

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