“Chivalry is one of the great civilizing forces, taming men and introducing social graces and nuance to what would otherwise be a brutish social world.”— Heather Mac Donald, American conservative political commentator, essayist, and attorney
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If I had a dollar for every time I heard my father say things like, “respect your elders,” I could have likely retired comfortably a long time ago.
That, and his quick “yes, what,” should I carelessly answer his question without the respect of “yes sir.”
Many times I’ve commented on how my father wasn’t one to sit me down and share things I needed to know about life. Instead, whether he realized it or not, he was more the epitome of “teaching by example.” I respected him and the way he lived his life, therefore I tried to follow his footsteps along as many paths as I could.
If pressed to attribute one value that was central in his life, it would have to be respect. Most noticeable to me was the way he respected my mother and doted on her for the almost 63 years they were married to the point of caring for her at home as Alzheimer’s slowly eroded her mind. Other examples would include how I never saw him walk through a door first if he had the opportunity to hold it open for others or fail to quickly pick up dropped items for others such as keys or a pen. In likewise manner, he was also quick to help anyone struggling with an armload of packages; something that may have been second nature having spent his life in retail business as he did.
Father’s Day and Dad’s birthday have passed for this year, so this is not about Dad, But it was him I thought of while reading an article last week on “The Civility Project” in The Epoch Times newspaper. The piece by Jeff Minick studied the history of chivalry, asked the question, “Is chivalry dead,” and reflected on the value of chivalry even today in relationships at all levels. The one word prominent throughout the article that reminded me of my father was ‘respect.’ He was the best example of chivalry and respect that I knew.
“Fashionably late” was never a part of his vocabulary or his routine but being on time was. Furthermore, simply being on time itself was also not good enough. “If you’re not there five minutes early, you’re already late,” was his advice. “Disrespecting people’s time is not just rude; it makes you look unreliable.”
“Removing your hat when you enter a building is a sign of trust and respect,” he said many times. “Plus it’s just plain rude to wear a hat indoors.” That’s one I rarely failed to forget. If he saw me walk indoors with a hat on my head, he would remove it for me and place it my hands with that, “what have I told you,” fatherly look.
“Stand up when an elder or a lady enters the room and don’t sit down until they are seated. It shows respect and politeness to others.” These little life lessons and many others were paramount to my father in what he considered earning the respect of others. “Respect and love are two-way streets,” I remember him telling me one night in a rare and impromptu father and son discussion. “You don’t get either one without first giving it.”
“And,” he concluded, “Before you can respect anyone or anything else, you have to respect yourself.” Looking back, I think he instilled that one in me by never once telling me I couldn’t do anything I aspired to do. “You just have to believe you can do it. Who’s going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself?”
After reading the article on chivalry, I wondered what dad would think of today’s “brutish social world” sorely lacking in chivalry and respect? About the news filled with militant groups rioting, burning, and looting; disrespecting the country and its history? About elected leaders and people in positions of authority spouting rhetoric in arguments, lacking respect for themselves or the citizens they were elected to serve?
I’m betting all those dollars I didn’t collect for listening to Dad that I know what he would have to say about the last one. After watching him just smile and nod once while enduring someone’s rant about something even I knew was senseless, I asked him why he didn’t say anything.
“Above all, never argue with idiots, son,” he said still smiling, “Bystanders can’t tell the difference.”
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.
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