If there’s anyone who knows anything about hospitality and creating opportunities for fellowship, it’s my dad. If you know him, you’re already nodding your head. If you don’t have that privilege, let me share with you a bit about my father’s legacy and reputation.
As you may have already discovered, in my About page, I’m from a big family. My dad and mom have now nourished 7 children, 19 grandchildren, countless extended family members, friends, and near-strangers in their home over the years. My dad has been the perfect other-half to my mom in all of these hospitable engagements. Upon reflection, I believe that there are a few, outstanding attributes that my dad has displayed over the years that have contributed to this inviting nature.
First, my dad is curious. He doesn’t stop learning and he continues to stretch his wealth of knowledge. When I want something researched or need to dive deeper into a subject, I ask my dad. That goes for any topic, by the way. He’s the one who covered the “birds and bees” with me, when the time came in my upbringing, because he’s a scientist who loves to discover and discuss the way things work. My husband entitled him as one of a diminishing few who can still be labeled a “gentleman farmer”. Though my dad went to dental school and happily worked in that profession for nearly 4 decades, he was, simultaneously, tending to an agricultural side.
My dad has an orchard on his property in Southern California. Though it isn’t very large, as far as the rest of the country is concerned, his 1+ acre in San Diego has provided those blessed enough to stumble upon it with mandarins, naval oranges, apricots, peaches, nectarines, grapes, plumbs, boysenberries, figs, watermelons, tomatoes, squash, flowers, pecans and so on. One of the more difficult fruits to bear in San Diego is the banana. Because temperatures dip down during the winter evenings in “east county”, over the years, Dad was finally able to successfully grow his bananas at his dental office 10 miles closer to the ocean! (This was after failed attempts to set up a heat lamp on his banana plants at home over night in the colder months.)
The types of animals we had on this property is another lengthy list. Over the years, we bred dogs and had various types of cats, birds, snakes, fish, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, hamsters, rabbits, ponies, and on and on. My son distinguishes my dad from his paternal grandfather by calling him, “Papa Chickens“!
But I digress.
What do bananas and birds have to do with creating community?
It is this curious disposition that has also enabled my father to be a wonderful conversationalist. No matter what a person’s profession, background, sport or other hobby, I’m convinced Steve Phillips can talk to anyone about anything. Admittedly, that’s a wonderful quality in a dentist (one who puts his hands in others’ mouths for a living)! Truly though, he has learned to have discussions with folks of various walks of life and from every profession and background and finds each person’s story interesting. I love this quality about him because it means he is both a wonderful question-asker and a delighted listener. He knows how to generate thoughtful queries of others and how to pull people out of themselves in the process.
That is a definite art, but one that can be learned.
While not everyone wants to wear their heart on their sleeve, each person does want to be known and heard by another. This is an area in which I have much room to grow; yet, it’s one that I know is possible. Because of the “Dr. Phillipses” of the world, who ask important questions of others and who are simultaneously harvesting the largest pumpkins imaginable, I’m discovering that personal growth and continued learning is important for nourishing conversations. I know that the growth I seek in my own life can come from those very same conversations happening with others around me.
I have to add that to make the fellowship sweeter, he also makes a mean chocolate malt, delicious camping donuts and bakes pies from scratch.
The second actual virtue I’ll delineate here pertains to that of my dad’s long-suffering nature. Though a complaint-free attitude doesn’t seem a likely draw to make when describing a hospitable one, I can attest that there’s a link. If you didn’t know my dad but heard about his health issues, you might conclude that the lengthy list of ailments he’s accrued and suffered through the years is unbelievable. I think one reason my dad stopped saying much about his many health conditions over the years is because he thought people wouldn’t believe he had accumulated yet another one. Yes, the list is that long. We’ve jokingly said he has the largest file in his HMO, but it may not be a joke.
The reason I bring this up is that it’s astounding how little my father actually talks about his health. While our well-being is very important and what we’re going through is worthy to be shared, my dad discovered a long time ago that he would always be going through something in his condition-riddled life. Instead of wallowing in his pain or seeking attention from his current Dr. House-worthy medical case at every turn, he instead developed empathy for others and turned his curious nature toward asking about the events in others people’s lives. No matter that he hasn’t had a restful night’s sleep in years because of chronic knee pain, he wants to know about my fleeting headache.
Again, I have much to learn from him.
As an extrovert, I sometimes walk away from a social setting feeling like I’ve primarily talked about myself. It’s embarrassing, but true. Being able to converse with others is an admirable skill, but it’s only one element in encouraging relationships. The ability to empathize with others, to ask questions of and be interested in the stories and situations of those around you is another part. I would say it’s the better part.
Throw in that my dad serves his large family faithfully by attending endless sporting events and recitals, by joyfully caring for his 94 year old mother-in-law, by regaling all of his grandchildren with hours-long stories “from his head”, all the while excelling at the Electric Slide on the dance floor, and I’d say his progeny have quite the shoes to fill.
Where can we grow in our curiosity of others and what questions should we be asking of them as we share of ourselves in return?