Today is International Women’s Day. Because of the circles I run in, I’m not quite sure how well celebrated this day is outside of the do-gooder, humanitarian-global types. My Facebook pages certainly tilt toward the bias that everyone does, so I’m going to run with that. Either way, if you don’t celebrate it, you should. It’s a good thing, women. Every trip I take I witness firsthand the power women have in their communities. I see it in the communities I witness at home. My friends, my family. My mother and sister, the two most ridiculously strong women in my life. I am surrounded by powerful women and am tremendously in debt to their impact on both mine and the larger world.
This post, however, is not about those women.
This is about the man who is behind the woman I am. Behind the women most important in my life. And considering it was originally known as International Working Women’s Day, it couldn’t be more appropriate that my father is the man who has helped guide me to my life’s work. And just about any other thing else good that’s happened in my life.
I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot. Particularly in the last 24 hours. I just learned he’s in the hospital as the result of a stroke. I currently sit in the Doha Airport, one layover among several on my week-earlier-than-planned departure from Nepal, anxiously awaiting a ridiculously long flight that will bring me to Savannah, Georgia where he and my mom are.*
*As a disclaimer, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, in what seems within like 20 minutes of finding out, I started receiving an overwhelming amount of messages, phone calls and texts, from family, friends and acquaintances I hadn’t spoken to in literally years. My mother, in her grief, went on a rampage, seeking help and prayers from everyone she ever knew. Offers of prayers and meals and every form of support imaginable. My reaction? I was uncomfortable, pissed even. I didn’t even know what stage my cancer was and I was already on the receiving end of prayer chains a mile a long. My dad and I are similar in that way. He hates to be the center of attention; he always insists things are “not that big a deal.” But for the first time, I understand why my mom did what she did. Because the prayers worked. The good thoughts worked. And I want that for my dad too. Desperately. So, sorry Daddy to draw attention to a situation that I know you’d rather ignore. But if there’s anything I know after my experience is that prayer is powerful in the most transformative of ways. And Mom (as much as I hate to admit this) may actually know what she’s talking about.
So I sit here, waiting for my flight, thinking about my dad. Throughout my life, he’s been a role model when it comes to just about everything. His work, his attitude. The way he never ever speaks ill of others, always withholding judgment even if everyone else in the entire world agrees vehemently that judgment is very rightly deserved. When I was a teenager, he was never angry at situations that justified such reactions (drinking in the French Quarter as an underage minor for the 100th time, for example), just disappointed. And as my sister and I quickly learned, his disappointment was much worse. It could break your heart. (Although apparently not enough for me to learn my French Quarter lesson quickly enough.) He is the silent rock of our family. Always wanting to talk it out calmly, listening to all sides equally, when I would prefer to yell and bitch and automatically cast blame. His faith in God and family is something I envy, something I strive for. He has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, even as he and Mom patiently paid for the time in between when I was figuring out how to actually make it happen.
I remember being at a networking event several years ago and we were in a group discussion on leadership. One women started going on and on about her boss. About how he always encouraged people to pursue the best parts of themselves, and how she always felt he had everyone’s back. About how rare that is DC’s corporate, often-backstabbing culture. Finally, after like 10 minutes of her rattling on about what an amazing person her boss was, someone asked ‘Where do you work?’ This was after all, a networking gig, and someone that created that rich of a working environment was something to consider. “I work for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. My boss is Tom Clark.”
Of course it was. Most people think their dad hung the moon. But in my case, everybody else thinks that too.
His work with Volunteers of America shaped my early years, helping me realize that doing good, putting others first, was the best possible way to live your life. He and mom have encouraged me in countless ways. Every single time I need life advice, work advice, any advice, he is the first person I call. Everything I am is completely and utterly the result of being my father’s daughter. About ten times a day, I ask myself ‘What Would Tom Clark Do?’ If you are lucky enough to know him, you will know that it’s a pretty solid course for decision-making.
There’s a saying that goes “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.” And in my case, one hell of a father too.
Prayers for you, Dad. We got your back this time.