A gift from Dad: The Magic Portal

When I was a boy my Dad took me on a short walk to the local public library and led me through the front door of the modest storefront building.

I began to explore the children’s room while he revisited the adult reading room to follow his intellectual curiosity and his love of Civil War history.

Soon I began to think of that front door as a Magic Portal, showing me a far wider world than I could see from my house on the block in my neighborhood.

I discovered picture books of cars, trucks, airplanes and military hardware, and took them to my Dad so he could check them out for me on his library card.

As time went by I moved on to the adult reading room and its books on history, biography and literature. I soon received my own library card, and then I could check out my choices from the shelves.

A few short years later my Dad died, leaving me on the threshold of manhood.

Deprived of my Dad’s guiding hand, I entered a period of uncertainty, insecurity and chaos, all too common when a parent is lost too soon.

But through it all, I never forgot the treasures available on the other side of the Magic Portal, and returned often, to further explore, and at times take refuge from the world.

As I continued my journey toward manhood, I struggled to find my place in the world and my life’s work, and experienced several false starts.

And then one day I stepped through another Magic Portal in another time and place and began to work in a library. I did so with pride, a happy heart and a sense of great responsibility.

For now the Magic Portal, and its treasures, were in my hands, to preserve, protect and enhance.  And every day I watched people of all ages come though the Magic Portal in search of lifelong learning, enrichment and community. And I knew I had found my calling.

As people face the challenges and deprivations of aging they tend to complain about what they are losing. But with a closer look they may find a gift of aging – perspective. Life typically makes more sense when viewed in the rear-view mirror rather than through the windshield.

What you do in life is more important than what you say. And even a simple act can have great and lasting impact.

So with the gift of perspective I now appreciate the lifelong impact of a simple trip to the local public library with my Dad.

As the song says, “Because I knew you I’ve been changed for the better. And I’ve been changed for good.”

And for that I am eternally grateful to my Dad.

Tom Hehman is the retired Director of the Wicomico County Libraries System.

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