Learning from one of the best silent role models I knew

Silent role model. The term leaped off a yellowing newsprint page last week from a column I wrote more than 20 years ago.

What other kind of role model is there? I don’t recall ever singling out anyone and saying, “That person would make a great role model. I’ll just do what they do.” I learned long ago that we silently, and often unconsciously, emulate actions we see in others. And, we likewise become unknown role models the same way when people view us in the same manner, more by default than by choice. I learned that from one of the best silent role models I knew, my father.

The aforementioned column drafted for The Boerne (Texas) Star newspaper years ago was rooted in reflecting on realizing that my primary role model had been my father. He might have been surprised had you told him that he was my role model.

Truthfully, I would have been as well because I never told him until I wrote that column. And, that’s because I didn’t fully realize it myself until then.

The column, discovered while going through folders of old columns attempting to digitize them, was written during the week of dad’s 72nd birthday. There had to be a bit of irony in also discovering last week that November was National Inspirational Role Models Month.

My father was a man of few words, at least about offering advice. He taught me much about life, logic and love. But, he didn’t do it often by telling me, he did it more by living it. I learned by watching how he loved and cared for his family, how he took care of his business, and how he lived his life. I saw his work ethic. I saw how he contributed to the community by volunteering, and how he loved his country.

There were at least two memorable times, however, when he did offer direct advice in father and son conversation. “Offered” is not an accidental term. He never mandated, or pressured me into doing anything, opting mostly for telling me what would happen should I follow the course I was on, leaving the decision to stay the course, or not, up to me. That thought would become obvious in the second piece of advice.

The first dealt with love. Details of how the conversation began are lost to time, likely someone I dated. He shared his thoughts on the fragile nature of love between a man and a woman, how nurturing it required a great deal of time and work. To that, he added how easily it could be lost. Particularly insightful were his thoughts on growing over time, becoming stronger as years go. “I didn’t love your mother nearly as much when we married as I do now,” he said. “And, it was different kind of love in the beginning. There were times along the way I wasn’t sure it would last. But, it did. Understanding that you have something worth working for, and how the more you work at it, the stronger it becomes because you’re both working, that’s true love.”

The other conversation was sage advice on why he thought it unwise for me to exchange my hard-earned money for the hot rod automobile I had deemed necessary to own for life as I knew it to continue. He concluded, “I wish that I could share with you the pitfalls of mistakes I’ve made and save you the consequences of making them yourself. But, it appears that part of the design of life is that everyone has to learn those lessons for themselves. I know, because I did.”

I concluded the 1995 column noting that I would call him, wish him a happy birthday, and tell him what an excellent silent role model he was for me. I’m glad I did tell him when I could.

My opportunities for doing so ended 10 years ago when he passed away at 83.

It’s ironic that I was so long in figuring out that we are all silent role models, one way or another. Perhaps that’s what my silent role model meant when he said, “It appears that part of the design of life is that everyone has to learn some of those lessons for themselves. I know, because I did.”

—Leon Aldridge can be contacted at leonaldridge@gmail.com. Other Aldridge columns appear on his blog site at leonaldridge.com

“You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.”

—Oliver Goldsmith Irish novelist, playwright and poet

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