Does Dad Know Best?

by Chan Williams

His eyes frightened me. I was six and I knew something horrifying would happen, but I did not know what. All I saw was the anger in his eyes over a joke that had sent my friends rolling in laughter on the carpet of our Kindergarten class. At this moment, the laughter was gone.

Dad screamed at me. His anger was not over the actual joke. His outrage was tied to the clarity of my expression and word choice. I can’t even remember the joke itself. Yet I will never forget my father’s reaction over something that was a hit with my classmates. Dad, as always, was the toughest audience.

My father’s approach to parenting demands that I should be nothing less than perfect. He is intimidating. However, I have grown to appreciate his vision, ambition and his impact on my success as a student and an athlete. His ultimate faith in my abilities expresses itself harshly at times, but I always find myself trying to be a stronger person after his critiques and proud whenever I win his praise. I also know the roots of his high standards are tied to the poverty of his childhood which, at 14, would force him to steal food from a store so his family could eat. He would grow into a successful businessman who vows that the pain of the poverty in his past would never confront me or anyone else in our family.

My parents divorced when I was one year old and I moved with my mother from Scottsdale, Arizona to Washington DC, while my dad was in Chicago working in finance. He visited me every weekend, but not for father-son bonding time. He wanted to make sure that he was on top of my education. The only thing that took my dad away from an important business meeting was something related to my grades, school work or extracurricular activities. His mindset blended into mine so much that I stopped arguing with him. I began to care about my education and future as much as he did.

I am one of the strongest math students in my grade and I can’t separate my passion for math from my dad always pushing me to excel in the subject. For example, I remember spending four hours with him in a small breakfast café learning how to multiply before going to my friend’s birthday party.

My father does not like excuses, which compels me to push myself in the classroom and on the field. During my second year on varsity lacrosse, we were practicing fast break situations. While I was standing near the goal, my teammate fired a misplaced shot that hit me in the shin. I had trouble walking on my leg the moment I stood up, and our athletic trainer put me in crutches and sent me to the emergency room. It was painful to walk for a week, but I still played in our game the next day.  When I was 14, my father noticed my tenacity and began to involve me in business decisions. At first, he merely shared the details of his deals. Eventually we were taking international trips together for business purposes. By then, he had an interest in South African television. So I travelled with him to Johannesburg and our connection strengthened.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to live with the dad who was becoming my friend. In my head, it seemed as if it would be a smooth transition. Other family members cautioned me that it would be tough. I ignored the warnings and moved to Chicago in my junior year. Shortly I saw the same dad who did not see a joke for what it was when I was a six year old. He scrutinized every move from changing my sheets every week as opposed to every two weeks to the methods used when studying for a test. After six months, I returned to Washington.

I’ve learned to appreciate the fundamental differences between my dad and me. They partially grow out of our different upbringings. He has groomed me to be a leader, while no one mentored him. He was forced to groom himself. He believes it makes his life easier if he approaches every situation in the same manner. So he tries to take care of the small and large problems with the same intensity. As of right now, I evaluate every situation differently, and react in a way that is particular to a situation. However, I have internalized the reality that talent, athletic or intellectual, must accompany hard work and tenacity, whether that means staying up late to finally comprehend that last math concept or staying after practice to discuss the game plan with a coach.

Chan Williams will attend Williams College in September, following a Gap Year. He is a 2012 graduate of Georgetown Day School in Washington DC.