In seventh grade when I got a DSLR camera for Christmas and inevitably decided it was my dream to be a National Geographic photojournalist, my dad printed out a list of the top photojournalist schools in the country. He thought of opportunities for me to go take pictures different places. He always asked me to see what photos I had taken and gave me tips and critiques on ways to make them better.
There was never any pressure or expectations behind any of this. He only wanted to show me that whatever I put my mind to, I had his full support, even if it meant photojournalism school (which he wouldn't admit he wasn't too keen on). He wanted me to be the best I could be and believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. I didn't up studying photojournalism, but his constructive support taught me over time that as long as I had goals and stayed confident and motivated, I could be successful.
He found fun and different ways to build my confidence and motivate me. Before I knew I wanted to be a writer, he figured out I had a knack for it. I wouldn't discover this for myself until senior year of high school, but he caught on quickly. When I was maybe 4 or 5, he bought this deck of picture flashcards that all had weird scenarios on them (the only one I remember had a moose trying to go into a store) and made a game with them. I would draw three cards and write a funny story using all three. He helped foster my confidence in writing by doing that, and before I knew it, I was placing in state writing competitions he had encouraged me to sign up for.
During my middle school softball games when I was trying to get onto a club team, he'd watch every mistake I made. After the game, we would get dinner somewhere as he told me where I slipped up and how I could improve them. That's all. It was up to me to decide to fix them, and if I chose to fix them, he'd be the one to drive me to the batting cages and stand in the Texas summer heat with me as I worked on my swing.
I didn't end up getting onto the club team. It was one of the first times as a kid that I didn't achieve a goal. Even then, my dad made sure I knew that even when tried my best, having confidence and motivation — and talent — wouldn't always mean I would achieve my goals.
That's the thing: his support was never blind support. When I showed him a mediocre picture, he'd tell me ways he thought it could be better. When I wrote a story, he'd make sure it had a beginning, middle, and end. When I asked for help with an application essay, he'd tell me he didn't think I was making the right points. He didn't let me go through life thinking I achieved all the things I did simply because I had talent. He taught me I had to work hard to earn these things and helped me work hard. His criticism was half of his support and helped build my confidence even more.
As I mature and get ready to live on my own, it's this combination of lessons that has made me successful. And my dad continues to instill me with confidence — except now, instead of getting me to write stories from funny flashcards, he gets me to sign my own leases and file my own health insurance claims. It's a lot less fun than writing a story about a moose or winning a poetry competition, but now he's helping me become a successful adult instead of a successful writer.
My dad has always gone out of his way to support me and give me the tools I needed to achieve what I want. He wants me to know that whatever dream I have, he will do whatever he can to help me get myself there and succeed. Only now am I realizing I haven't really done it all myself. He never took me straight to the finish line, but he was always there cheering me on the whole way.