My father turns 80 today. That is an amazing thing to write; for it seems contradictory to the man I have known for 44 of those years. The image that comes to mind of an 80 year-old is one of frailty, faulty mind, weakening facilities. He does not seem to have gotten much older – he seems more like 65 than 80 both in physical appearance and mental capacity.
Dad stands as an icon of silent strength in my life – on who moved me more as a quiet force than a conspicuous one. He did not force us to fit into a mold. Yes, he had (and still has) strong opinions on things – and was happy to share them; but he never held me to those opinions as a measuring stick of my worth.
He is a man of happy contradictions: a spiritual man with a PhD in physics, a serious man that always chuckles, desiring to live a worthwhile life while loving to fiddle with things, a generous Dutchman. Even though he is not one to fight against authority, he has always enjoyed defying expectations. He fled the cultural pressures from the church of his heritage on the strength of his desire to live consistent with his beliefs. He shunned the upward mobility trap and stepped down from management so that he could do the science he loves. He once stopped a stock peddler on the phone by telling him: “I have all the money I want, thank you.” The person had never heard someone say that before.
It was not a normal childhood – growing up in the house of a PhD in physics. Imagine sitting at the dinner table as an 8th grader and have your father try to show you calculus on a napkin. I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, but nodded my head to not make him feel bad. Yet while he loved science, he never got it out of perspective by seeing it as more than it is – our “best guess” at the reality around us. He never worshipped science, nor did he stray from his faith in God.
Though I am second son and fifth out of six children, I carry his name. I am very happy with that legacy. I now try to step with caution to honor the name as he has. Not that I will hide from the scorn of others – I will gladly do so if I stand on the side of right, but I will not seek it out for self-promotion or dishonor the name by poor choices.
From him I get: my “husky” physique (thanks a lot), my love of reading, musical talent (although that credit should be shared by my mother), my scientific mind, my love of puzzles (that’s why I do internal medicine), my ear for Classical music, my faith. I have even started (much to my dismay) to chuckle like him – according to my wife…but I deny that completely. I guess I’ll give my kids something to roll their eyes about.
Thankfully, he remains healthy and vigorous (having successfully beaten prostate cancer). He helped me put in a sliding door on the back of my house earlier this year – he is still stronger than me. He recently was doing work on the bottom of their swimming pool and fell off a ladder. He was chastised by many around him for being up on a ladder at his age. When I heard this, I told him that he needs to be climbing ladders. The minute he stops climbing ladders is when he stops being my Dad. He thanked me for that and now continues to climb ladders (thank goodness!).
So happy 80th to Robert Lewis Lamberts! Here’s to you, Dad! Here’s to 80 more!