Jay Wilkinson remembers his dad on Father's Day

June, 17, 2012
6/17/12
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Jay Wilkinson, the son of legendary Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson, writes about his dad on Father's Day.

As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve had cause -- like most --to reflect on my own father. He’s been gone now for almost twenty years, but almost every day in some way I’ve considered the impact he’s had on my life. He was someone I looked up to no matter how tall I’d grown.

He inspired a great many others, too. There is no greater compliment than when someone says, “You remind me of your father.”

My dad was Bud Wilkinson, one of the most successful and well-respected college football coaches of all time. His players at the University of Oklahoma called him the “Great White Father” at the peak of the program’s winning ways. Dad considered the label a term of affection and relished its underlying meaning.

[+] EnlargeDear Jay, Love Dad
Courtesy Jay WilkinsonThe jacket of Jay Wilkinson's book "Dear Jay, Love Bud."
The inference to Oklahoma’s Native American heritage is obvious, but Dad also realized the moniker spoke to the high level of respect the players had for him, both as a coach and a role model. He wore the label with pride.

At the heart of my father’s success -- not only as a coach, but also in many other facets of his life -- was his extraordinary ability to communicate to others. Creating a game plan was one thing; communicating the intricacies and expectations of that plan was something else entirely.

Dad knew success was forged from the dedication and sacrifices each individual made to the greater good of the team. To strengthen that bond, he spent considerable time speaking with each of his players on a personal basis. When they went home during summer break, he regularly wrote them wrote them words of inspiration and encouragement.

He also wrote to me throughout my own college experience. These hand-written letters at first bolstered me through the challenges every young person faces when away from home for the first time. Later they contained advice he believed would better my circumstances and pave the way toward a more fulfilling life. While his tone was always positive in nature, his counsel came from a place of “intellectual honesty and courage” and he pushed for me to do the same.

Instinctively -- more than intentionally -- I saved many of my father’s letters. Decades passed before I realized Dad’s correspondence defined him in a way no one had really been able to do before. That’s what prompted me to write my recent book, "Dear Jay, Love Dad: Bud Wilkinson’s Letters to His Son." I hoped the letters would give people new insights into my father, and that his wisdom might help others achieve a deeper sense of purpose in their own lives.

For many, the book also serves as a reminder of opportunity lost. Frequently, readers write or tell me, “I wish I would have written letters like these.” My response is simple: Why not start now?

I encourage everyone -- men and women, young and old -- to take advantage of Father’s Day to begin a new family tradition and resurrect the lost art of the hand-written letter.

While modern technology has made our communications more instantaneous, I believe we are paying a price for our urgency. Too often, electronic dialogue lacks compassion and concern. Choosing our words wisely when we communicate -- expressing care and consideration for others in a positive way -- can bring about meaningful and lasting change. Slowing the process down a little can make all the difference in the world.

So, rather than choosing another necktie or sleeve of golf balls for the man in your life this Father’s Day, why not give him something more significant and lasting: a hand-written letter straight from the heart. I speak from personal experience when I say your loved ones will appreciate the gesture -- now and for years to come -- and you’ll be surprised at what you can learn about yourself in the process.

-- Jay Wilkinson was an All-American football player at Duke University and a successful business leader.

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