Let’s be clear: my dad is not a classical literature loving kind of guy.
Even though his only child is an English teacher, he would probably tell you Shakespeare is unnecessary and the classic writers were conceited intellectuals looking to impress someone.
But every time I read Fitzgerald’s most popular work, I think of my father.
Not because we lived in a Gatsby-style mansion growing up or threw lavish parties. Not because my dad is a throwback to the 1920s (the eighties is his preferred decade).
I think of my dad when I read Gatsby solely because of the quote above. Because these are the words my dad engrained in my mind from an early age… and these words are the reason I am who I am today.
Who My Father Is
My dad is the dad from a different generation of men. He is not of the “let’s talk about our feelings” generation or the “tweet about everything that happens to you” generation or the “words hurt” generation.
My dad is best described as stoic and realistic. He is never once to mince words about how tough the world is. He’s not afraid to tell you your idea or your actions or your choices are going to be a disaster. Feelings? Well, he’d rather not talk about them. He’d rather you take action and do something to fix your circumstance than just talk about how much the world hurts.
I can remember coming home from kindergarten crying because I had no friends. My dad’s response?
“You’re right. You don’t have friends. No one does.”
After some glares from my mother, he shrugged. Now, years later, I can appreciate my dad’s advice. He was trying to teach me to be independent, to count on myself, to be my own advocate. Not quite reassuring advice for a five-year-old, but his heart was in the right place.
My dad is a strong-willed and determined man. I’ve never seen him cry in my twenty-eight-years of life. Some modern parenting experts would probably talk about how detrimental this is for a child’s psyche, but I disagree.
Growing up, I saw my dad deal with a lot of hard times and frustrations. But he didn’t sit and pity himself or look for reassurance. Instead, he planted his feet firmly on the ground and worked out the situation. He taught me to be stubborn in the face of struggle. He taught me to stop talking about it and just get the job done.
He taught me that life is tough, so you have to be tougher.
My dad is from an “I only use cash,” “Rock music is the best,” “Shorts shouldn’t be longer than your knees,” kind of generation. He’s from a generation that believed only hard work would allow you to succeed. He’s from a “toughen up” kind of generation, a generation not afraid to do hands-on work.
It is because of these ideals I am who I am today—persistent verging on stubborn and not afraid to work for my goals.
He taught me to value school, to do my best at everything, and to make good choices. He taught me when someone tells you something is impossible, to go after it anyway. He taught me to be focused and to never quit working for what I want. These have all helped me live the life I sought.
However, it is the lesson he taught me about others that has had the biggest effect.
My Dad and Fitzgerald: The Gatsby-Like Lesson
Although my dad taught me to be determined and tenacious, he also taught me things often overlooked in our world.
Compassion. Empathy. Humility.
From an early age, the lesson I heard from my father was one I would later read in the pages of Fitzgerald’s classic. He taught me that no matter how smart I am, no matter how high I climb in my chosen field, no matter how many people know my name, I should never forget how lucky I am to have had the opportunities I had.
I can remember my dad watching Goodwill Hunting, the story of a brilliant custodian overlooked by the “intellectuals” at Harvard. My dad loved the symbolism in it.
“You might think you’re the smartest or the most successful. But there will always be someone out there who could outdo you if given the opportunities you were given. Remember that.”
It was an ordinary day, but I’ll never forget those words.
As I strive for my goals and try to achieve my definition of success, I always think about this.
My dad taught me to work hard, to be a perfectionist, and to never settle for average.
But he also taught me not to get cocky, not to stomp on others to achieve success, and not to forget how blessed I’ve been. He taught me that the most successful people remember to help others when they can. He taught me never to get too caught up in success that I forget to be thankful or that I see myself as better than others.
My dad taught me to be confident without be condescending. He taught me to never forget there are others who would do anything for the opportunities I have. He taught me not to waste my talent or the chance to do something with it.
Helping Others: What My Father Does Best
My dad doesn’t just preach the idea of being thankful for the advantages you’ve been given. He takes action.
As I child, I saw my dad using his talent for cars to help so many who were going through tough times fix their cars, only charging them for parts. I saw him give his time and talent to help others who were struggling.
We were never rich, but he knew there were always others out there who were worse off. Thus, he never turned down a time to help others, to show his gratitude for the life he had by helping others make their lives better.
I saw him giving his last few dollars to a woman at a grocery store because she couldn’t pay for her bill. At the time, those were the last few dollars in his pocket, but he gave them up selflessly.
I’ve seen him help countless stray animals, fork over cash for a good cause, and offer his time to help out when he’s needed, no questions asked.
My dad is a proponent of the Gatsby quote, but he’s so much more. Because he showed me you don’t have to be living like Gatsby to make a difference. You don’t have to have millions of dollars or lavish cars or illustrious contacts to change someone’s life. You just have to be willing to acknowledge the advantages you have and how they could help others, no matter how small.
My dad is a stoic realist. He doesn’t believe in talking about feelings or living life through your smartphone. He hates debit cards, and he hates rap music. He often tells me the eighties were a much better decade.
My dad is a dad from a different generation, but I’m thankful for that.
It is because my dad is who he is that he helped me become the woman I am today.
So classic-literature lover or not, I am blessed to have a father who taught me to be tough, to be perseverant, to be humble, and above all, to be compassionate.
Happy Father’s Day to my dad.