Family photo / Henry Frederick, as shown in this 1964 photo when he was 2 years old, with his father, Henry Frederick, Jr. in Putnam, Conn.
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -- I grew up in a black and white world in a small Connecticut town where it was father knows best. He was the ruler, disciplinarian, teacher, and provider. Of the seven children, he was toughest on me. Expectations were high and I often resented it.
Years later, or should I say decades, I realized why. It's because he believed in me. He believed in the untapped potential. First one on both sides to attend and graduate college. The first one with a career.
I never heard the praises, only the criticisms: Always critical. Always pushing. Always demanding. For me, college was an escape; a chance to spread my wings. To make my own way in the world, even if it was two hours away.
I was in a dorm. I could pick my own classes. I could join whatever club or activity I wanted, though it was obvious it would be the college newspaper. It was my favorite pursuit and I stuck with it all four years, the latter two as the editor.
Even though I had a full scholarship, I had a part-time job as a janitor so I had my own spending money. Never one to take the easy route, I had a double major in political science and public administration and a concentration in writing. That meant being on campus year-round with winter and summer sessions.
My father wanted the best for me, but what he may not have realized is I wanted the best for myself, too. I wasn't doing this for him or my mother or the family name.
Still, I always nodded approvingly because father knows best. At graduation, the unexpected happened that had my father understand that I was ready for the world. I was recognized with the President's Citation" for "highest academic achievement and outstanding service to the university and the community."
For this award, I received a certificate and a marble block with the fancy inscription. I gave the latter to my dad. That was 28 years ago. To this day, he keeps it on his bookcase. After having a son of my own, now 18, I realized why my father was so hard on me. I do smile when I hear second hand how he brags about all of my achievements. Deep down inside, I realize, he played a big part in helping me to become who I am today.
My brothers and sisters lost our mom nine years ago, but we still have our dad; as strong-willed today as he was when I was a child. We're all grown now with our own families and responsibilities, the youngest my sister, Paula, who just turned 41. These days, two months shy of 74, he enjoys riding his Harley-Davidson Road King and still playing the role of "Father Knows Best." But instead of being two hours away at college, I'm more than 1,200 miles away.
Later this summer, I'm going to go see him and we're going to visit the campus of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, where I made the transition from college kid to the real world. I sometimes find myself doing the same with my son, hoping deep inside that I did enough to instill in him what he needs to succeed.
When in doubt, I can turn to my dad, even now at the ripe old age of 50. After all, father knows best.