My dad’s birthday is today. Like any relationship, we have had ups and downs. We have a lot more ups, though. And that’s just the truth. My dad is more than just my dad – he’s my friend and, at times, a confidante. He’s also an incredible advocate for me as someone with a mental illness. It’s interesting because since I was diagnosed with bipolar 2, my dad has been one of the people who has been there for me the most. He often starts the conversation, “I don’t understand, but…” The end of the conversation is always, “I’ll do whatever I can, I’ll be there for you.” And my dad often makes the hard decisions, does the things that need to be done. And, for that, I am utterly thankful.

To be honest, I’ve really struggled with what to say here. My dad is a huge influence in my life, but he’s also not one to overshare or give all the details of his life. He loves to be the life of the party (which is the opposite of me), but he is also introspective and thoughtful. In the scheme of things, he has taught me a lot. And, when it comes to living with mental illness, I can think of multiple things right off the bat that my dad has taught me are important.

The first is the importance of family and friends. It’s interesting because none of my siblings thought we’d end up back in my hometown (and my parents actually moved away from my hometown when I got married), but somehow three of the four of us are back, along with my parents. And, the proximity is good. We’re close. I like to think it was my parents, partly, fighting for all of us. I know that for my family, when I finished graduate school, there was a real temptation to uproot our family and leave. But, it was utterly important for my wife and I that our kids know their grandparents and their aunts and uncles and cousins. My dad really taught that to me. He taught me that sometimes family is more important than anything else, including your dream job. Sometimes the most important thing is just to be around people who genuinely care about you. And sometimes that means having to fight to stay together, but it’s worth the fight.

The importance of people extends beyond just family, though. My dad is also someone that cultivates friendships. He has done so since I can remember. He has coffee every morning at the bright time of 6am with a group of his friends. He looks forward to this coffee. And in this time, he has also cultivated other friendships. He and my mom have a group of friends that they spend at least one night a month with, playing games or going out or doing something. And this has really taught me a lot about the importance of people. My natural inclination is not to have a lot of people close and I am not the best at cultivating relationships or maintaining relationships. But, my dad has really taught me that people matter in your life and you need to keep them close because without them you can be lost.

Another thing that I have learned from my dad is the importance of place. There are places in the world that are something akin to sacred for me. And many of those are associated with my dad. The place that really sticks out to me is Wrigley Field. We are die-hard Cubs fans (Wrigley Field is where the Chicago Cubs play Major League Baseball). This is a place that is like a second home to me. I know the layout, where everything is, I recognize some of the vendors, and it just feels comfortable and safe. At times, I have not had safe places or places that were where I could just be. My dad has introduced me to places that are safe and they are usually safe because they are places I share with him and he and my mom or my family.

My dad has also taught me to work hard. If you do not know, my background is in the humanities and I have no formal training in running a business or a nonprofit. I’m really just learning on the job. But my dad has been a great sounding board and a place where I can think. He has taught me the value of working hard to be the best that I can be so that I can help the people that need the most help. He has taught me a lot about giving people what they need while also building an organization. It’s really been invaluable in that he has taught me that smart, hard work is what builds quality organizations. This also extends to my mental illness. He, in his way, makes sure that I am doing ok, that I am still putting the work in to stay well. It’s a quality that I am glad that he instilled in me.

Last, my dad (and my mom) gave us the gift that we care about people more than anything else. My parents took in multiple kids in high school that had nowhere else to go, even when it cost them friendships or created tension. They have sacrificed themselves to make sure others were alright. And that has been a huge influence on my life. My family has had its ups and downs and my dad has been strong enough to not only admit that, but to also help people who were down on their luck. He has taught me the importance of people being first. That extends to what I do with Here/Hear and how I live everyday life. Sometimes that I tough, but it is always worth it.

So, today, thanks Dad! I appreciate all you have taught me. I can’t even describe it. And, GO CUBS!