By Carol Williams

Many people ask me why I'm so happy most of the time, and I always tell them that it's because of the wonderful things that my parents gave to me. These aren't material things, but instead they're wonderful gifts of how to enjoy and embrace life. I'm going to tell you about three thugs that my Dad gave to me that taught me how to enjoy life.

The first gift that my Dad gave to me is the love of knowledge. My dad was the most knowledgeable person I've ever known. You could ask him almost anything about any topic, and he would not only know the answer, he would be able to give you background information. You didn't need to do a Google search on the internet if Daddy was in the room; he could give you the answer much faster.

There are several reasons why he was so knowledgeable. First, he valued education. He worked his way through college and graduate school to receive his Ph.D. in Speech Pathology at the University of Iowa. He loved teaching and sharing his knowledge as a Professor at Northern Illinois University. In addition to his education, he was so knowledgeable because he loved to read. Literature was one of his great loves. He could quote the classics ranging from Homer to Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky, and then tell you a joke that he had just translated from German or Russian. But I think that the real reason he was so knowledgeable was because he loved knowledge for knowledge's sake, and not because he was trying to impress anybody. He loved knowledge because it opens your horizons and gives you new ways to explore the world and meet its challenges. He shared his love of knowledge with me, and that was the first gift that Dad gave to me that opened my world.

The second gift my Dad gave to me was the enjoyment of people's diversity. Dad was the most tolerant person I've ever known. I never heard him say one mean or spiteful thing about anyone because they might be different from him, whether it was differences in gender, race, sexual orientation, or nationality. He was tolerant of people's religious or political views, as long as those religious or political views were also tolerant and inclusive. Dad taught me that our similarities are much stronger than our differences. We all share the same need for love, peace, and security. He also taught me that we shouldn't deny or ignore people's differences, but instead we should share and enjoy those differences. In this way, I learned that when I meet people whom I perceive to be different from me, I can greet them as interesting companions rather than as frightening strangers. This love of diversity is the second gift that Dad gave to me that opened my world.

The third and most important gift Dad gave to me was his love. His love was shown in so many ways - by the way he worked so hard to give us a good home and education, by the wonderful toys he made for us in his workshop, and by the laughter he shared with us. But most importantly, he always told us he loved us, with a big hug and kiss. He taught me that I'm loved, no matter what flaws I might have or mistakes I might make. His love has become part of me, and it's the most precious gift he gave to me.

So today I celebrate the wonderful things that Dad gave to me - the joy of pursuing knowledge, the value of embracing our human differences, and the conviction that Mom, Holly and I will always be loved, and we always love him.