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Life lessons from the man who let me braid his hair: A Father’s Day tribute


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Life lessons from the man who let me braid his hair: A Father’s Day tribute

Guest Column by Rebecca Cooney

I was 13 going on 14. It was the summer of 1986. My bangs were substantially teased — complete with Aqua Net, and I was sporting the latest neon fashion: an oversized sweatshirt, acid-washed jean mini skirt and high tops with three bunched-up multi-colored socks.

Dad and I jumped in his sporty little Mazda Rx7. We were off on one of our legendary outings — a little thing we referred to as “daddy-daughter date nights.” The tradition was always a movie followed by ice cream at Leatherby’s. We were rushed and we were late. We sprinted through the multiplex, dodging popcorn-wielding toddlers and teenagers plugged into their Walkman, all while trying not to spill our sodas and find a decent seat in the packed theater. We found two in the front row.

Just as we settled in, a scene unfolded on the screen that had me burying my face in my hoodie and praying for a black hole to swallow me whole. Sweat-soaked, shirtless men were playing volleyball followed by the fade-in of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” To my horror, before me was the famous racy scene. I sat there, cowering next to my deacon-at-our-church father, contemplating an escape route, while the twentysomethings around us swooned.

‘Lord, kill me now.’

Lord, kill me now. Please. The movie played on with its great Kenny Loggins soundtrack and action-packed dog fights. It was glorious, but as the credits rolled, Dad shook his head and said, “Well, we sat too close and missed the beginning. Let’s go next door and watch it again.”

“Oh dear God,” I thought. Let the torture repeat. I sat through another wave of heart palpitations and averted my eyes — once again surviving the awkwardness and embarrassment. We ended the night with ice cream, and those memories, for all their absurdity, remain among my fondest moments with Dad.

Honoring the men who shaped our lives

Father’s Day is when we celebrate the men who have shaped our lives. It is a time for gratitude, reflection and a chance to express our love for those who have nurtured, guided and inspired us. For me, this day always brings to mind my father, a man of unwavering love and surprising complexity.

John Dietzman was born in 1940 — the youngest of three children. He was significantly younger than his siblings, and when his parents divorced when he was seven, he found himself left behind with his mother, who was struggling to cope with the abandonment and weight of single parenthood. It was a difficult time for a young boy, and my father was pushed into the role of the “man of the house” at an age when he should have been playing jacks with friends.

Before the age of 10, he learned to be responsible, resourceful and fiercely protective of those he loved. This early experience shaped his character, equipping him with a selfless, giving nature and a tendency to be a rescuer and caregiver.

Raising a family of his own

Those qualities manifested in the way he raised his own family. Dad was the primary breadwinner of the house — a busy executive and chemical engineer. He worked long hours and traveled frequently. I remember waking up to the sound of him leaving for work, quiet evenings when he would be distracted by a checkbook that perpetually needed to be balanced and the many business trips that took him to faraway places.

Despite his busy schedule, he made a point of carving time to create precious memories. One evening ritual was when he would come home late from the office, his tie askew, eyes tired. My sister and I would pounce on him, eager to play hairstylists. While we watched TV, Dad would sit patiently, letting us braid his hair, tie it with ribbons, clip in barrettes. He never complained.

A boombox and a rainbow sailboat

Another fond memory is our days in Arnold, California, where we rented a cabin every summer for more than 18 years. Upon arrival, Dad would hide the TV, leave his watch in the car and immediately set up the boombox with music from Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond and Willy Nelson. Lakemont Pines was where we unplugged, fished for blue gill, canoed and floated on the lake and took rides on his rainbow sailboat. He was the “captain of the ship,” and we loved every minute.

These times of connection — the little pockets of fun — turned our ordinary lives into something very special. The moments of silliness and laughter solidified a bond between us. His willingness to step away from work and prioritize us, even for just a few hours, said volumes about his commitment to being a steady presence in our lives.

Dad’s parenting style was a balance of tough love and fierce protectiveness. He ruled with an iron fist and a kind heart. He instilled in us a strong work ethic, emphasizing the importance of financial stability and the value of lifelong learning. He encouraged us to pursue our goals, but he also expected us to honor our responsibilities and make good decisions. We hated to upset him, as any disappointment we caused seemed to wound him deeply.

Navigating my adulthood

Growing up, I was the “good girl”— obedient, malleable and never made a fuss. But as I navigated adulthood, I faced my own challenges. My divorce in my 30s was a particularly difficult time for both of us. Devastated, he struggled to understand my decision and grappled with the pain of a now-fractured family. In time, we found peace and rebuilt our relationship.

Even with the challenges and the years that have passed, I can see now that my father’s commitment to family, his strong faith and his dedication to hard work have always been rooted in a desire to protect and provide for his loved ones. His experiences, both positive and negative, shaped him into the man he is today — a man who carries with him a blend of strength and vulnerability, a willingness to forgive and an enduring love for others.

His many invaluable lessons

Throughout my life, Dad has taught me invaluable lessons about strength, independence and the exploration of passions and interests. He encouraged me to go to college, chase my ambitions and become a working mother. When I struggled with math and science in high school and realized I was not destined to follow in his footsteps — he wholeheartedly supported my shift toward writing, creativity and leadership. He encouraged me to do the work to earn my master’s degree even while working full-time, and his joy when I became a professor is a true point of pride.

My father is not without flaws. He can be stubborn and set in his ways, and his firm beliefs sometimes clash with my own. And while I acknowledge that we have not always seen eye-to-eye, I know that his heart has always been in the right place. He is a man who, despite his own struggles, has always been willing to put others before himself.

Through it all, his love for me has never faltered. Because of him, I hold family dear, revel in stability and embrace the power of kindness and empathy. He showed me what it means to be resilient, to push through challenges and to persevere. He taught me how to be strong, fearlessly curious and never accept less than what I have earned.

To this day, I avert my eyes when Dad and I watch a movie together that includes any level of gratuitous content — but I am 50 now and mother to four grown children. I think it’s probably OK.

Love you Dad.

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Rebecca Cooney
Rebecca Cooneyhttp://rebecca-cooney.com
Rebecca Cooney is an experienced educator, trainer, specialist in online education and writing enthusiast from Pullman, Washington. Her primary gig is professor of strategic communication, but she is passionate about lifelong learning and creating content that enriches the lives of others. She is a wife, mama to four almost-grown kids and dog-mom to Lucy-Lou the goldendoodle. She was raised in a Christian home but describes her current relationship with religion as “complicated and layered.” She blogs at rebecca-cooney.com and tweets frequently @RLCooney.

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Tracy Simmons
26 days ago

Love the descriptions here Rebecca, and am so honored to have met your dad!

Michelle Davis
Michelle Davis
26 days ago

My uncle John exemplifies all the things a woman should look for in a husband a father and a friend. He has stood by my aunt through the years supporting her and all the kids with honor and love. Their example has provided a clear model for all of us and we love them for it. Thank you to my cousin for sharing these touching memories. Hoping we all continue to strive to be good to each other for as long as we have together.

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