By Janelle Nisly
My father attended my college graduations, both of them, under duress — from my mother’s firm conviction that supporting his daughter was more important than his comfort.
A taciturn Kansas farmer who attended school through 8th grade, he spent his life on wind-swept plains making a living gambling with weather and wheat prices. Dad’s commitment to cultivating and nurturing the land reflected his even greater commitment to doing the same for our family. My four siblings and I grew up driving tractors, changing irrigation pipes and milking cows. Yet, we also spent hours watching magnificent thunderstorms, swimming in the stock tank, eating creamy homemade ice cream and going on fishing trips. We worked hard; we played hard.
My sisters married farmers and entrepreneurs; my brother took over the farm. And then there was me — baby girl and wild child who happily trotted off to Europe, loved to read and decided teaching was my path. Although it baffled Dad that anyone would choose to spend four years in a classroom when there was dirt, sunsets, and wildlife to be enjoyed outside, he knew that his 28-year-old daughter was old enough to make her own decisions.
But going to graduation? That was another matter entirely. It required setting foot in a completely foreign environment filled with a myriad of unknowns, bound to make him feel stupid and uncomfortable. And why couldn’t they just go to the party afterward, he complained to Mom.
So I stepped in and told him, “Dad, I’m graduating because of what I learned from you.”
The disbelief in his eyes told me he wasn’t convinced.
“You’re the one who taught me to keep going when I want to give up; to work hard and own my decisions. You taught me not to expect life to be easy, but to find joy in the ordinary. You taught me that with family and faith in God, I have the support I need to live fully. And, Dad, that’s what got me through four years of college.”
He stared at me; tears filled his eyes, and he muttered. “Well, I guess I can come to graduation.”
Standing in line robed in cap and gown, I spotted him in the crowd, discomfort visible in his posture. My heart warmed; I walked across the stage clutching my diploma.
Since Dad never understood the world I chose to live and flourish in, he left it to my naturally inquisitive mother to ask questions while he listened in. Yet the deep connection of family that he built into the structure of our home never wavered. No matter where I was coming “home” from, I was warmly welcomed, deeply loved and unabashedly accepted.
In my high school ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom, I encounter young people constantly who live with trauma: family separation and culture shock to name a few. I have a front row seat to how desperately teenagers want, and need, that steady, calm presence to walk with them—like my Dad did for me. Furthermore, discovering the treasure of Careers with a Purpose gave me an added understanding of how identity informs career choices – a timely tool I love to use to encourage those individuals with whom I am honored to walk alongside.
It’s Father’s Day, and I call my 91-year-old Dad.
“Hey, Pops! It’s me!”
“Hey, Janelle. I’m so glad you called! When are you coming home to visit?”
I smile, breathe deeply and relax.
Thank you, Dad, for loving me.
Thank you, God, for a loving Dad