Memories of my Father - George Willard Gibson, 11/18/1918 - 9/3/2012

Entry 5: Motivation

It is kind of difficult to write about this but I guess if there is something I would place as a failing for my father it is the area of motivation. Dad never pushed us. We were never driven to achieve in sports or school or career with powerful parental expectations. I think there are some very good aspects to that as I have seen a few kids whose lives were a living hell thanks to parents who expected too much and drove them too hard. In our case, it was kind of the opposite. It was as if my parents felt pushing would be a bad thing so with regard to ambition, they had a pretty hands-off approach.

My dad grew up the youngest child and only son of a farmer. It was fully expected that when he was an adult, he would take over the family farm. But allergies and hay fever made that an impossibility. In order to feed his wife and family, Dad had to move into town and get a job. At first he worked in a gas station and then got a job in one of the two refineries in El Dorado, where he eventually he became a unit supervisor. I have spent a limited amount of time on a farm and spent a little more time in an oil refinery and I can tell you that they have nothing in common. Anyone who expected to be spending his life farming would find a refinery to be a dramatic change in plans.

I never heard my dad complain about that or even comment on it that much. On one of the few occasions where he talked about it, I remember him saying it did no good to complain about the things you couldn't control, which is certainly true. Of course, most of us complain anyway. But I never heard Dad bemoan his lot in life or the circumstances that kept him from fulfilling what he saw as his destiny. To be honest, while I think he expected to be a farmer when he was young, I'm not sure that was necessarily what he really wanted to do. It was just what was expected.

In any case, he worked at that refinery for over thirty years. He put in a lot of second and third shifts and spent some incredibly hot and brutally cold days, often having to work outside. He helped fight fires now and then: a frighteningly dangerous necessity in that place, and he managed to collect a few on-the-job injuries, none of them too horrible. When he retired, I just don't recall him being particularly sentimental about it. It would be easy to get the idea that Dad was somewhat existential about his purpose in life, except for one thing that managed to come through even for me as a kid: Dad's job was not his purpose in life.

I think Dad always saw his role as husband and father as his primary purpose and his role in the local church as the secondary one - and everything else was really just filler. At the end of the day, what happened at home and at church was far more important than his job. He certainly had a sense of responsibility about work and he took it seriously enough, but it wasn't what really motivated him. It took me a long time to figure out those priorities because they tended to conflict with what the popular media was telling me. On TV, I was being fed a constant stream of drivel about the significance and importance of winning the big game or making the big sale or conquering in the next election. No one glamorized the value of being a good husband, a supportive father, or a steady deacon/trustee/usher at the local church.

When I competed in sports, I was an average athlete. Not horrible, but not particularly great. In intramurals and similar competitions, I always did well enough to be valued but I was never going to entertain the notion of trying out for varsity. As for career, I never really felt like I was being pushed or even guided toward a specific career path. I know that during the time I was considering entering the ministry, Mom and Dad were proud and supportive, but they never really pushed. And when I changed my mind, they didn't seem all that concerned. I know they probably saw it as compassionate parenting, but it is also easy to see it as a lack of interest - a view that is undoubtedly unfair. I think my parents feared being the kind of parents who put pressure on their kids and ruined their lives. Perhaps, they even feared giving us too high a set of expectations and having to face disappointment. It's really hard to know.

What I do know is that Dad never pushed me particularly hard in anything. I think this was mostly a good thing, but there are times when I wonder what might have been different if he had.