Lessons My Dad Taught Me - A Father's Day Message

June 19, 2016

I didn’t get many years with my dad and I deeply regret that I didn't get to have a relationship with him when I was an adult - or even teenager.  I think we would have been great friends, had lively debates and worked on many projects together, both business and otherwise. I’m often told by relatives and people who knew him well, that I’m a lot like him – not always sure if it’s a critique or a compliment, but that’s okay.


The older I get, the more I’m aware of what I took away from our short relationship.  Although the memories are fuzzy and minimal, they are still there.  And without realizing as it was happening, every stage of my life has been guided by many of the simple lessons he taught me.  And they still resonate today.  So while there are lots of shrinks, professors, websites and moronic Facebook posts out there aimed at helping us be better people, I’ll just keep trying to “hear” my dad give me direction from the other side and follow his lead.


Don’t half-ass.  I vividly remember being sent back to many tasks that I had been given and told that I hadn’t done a good enough job.  No big speeches.  Just “go do it again, better.”  I’d grumble (on the inside) but I got it.  My own kids have been told the same thing since they were old enough to walk.  They were also told that “half-ass” was not a word that required a quarter in the swear jar because there is no other term in the English language that can be used in its place.  


Give back and help those who are less fortunate.  Long before they were official terms, my dad was a mentor and “big brother.” One summer, he went and picked up a local kid who didn’t have much as far as a home life or money and brought him to our house a few days a week.  I think he had met him when he was working in a not-so-great section of town.  His name was Bill, he was 11 or 12 and he just hung out, swam in the lake with us, helped with chores and projects and went on a few of our family outings.  My dad didn’t feel the need to explain it to others when a kid of a different color rolled out of our car with the rest of us at a cookout.  He didn't tell anyone that he was "giving back" or draw attention to the situation at all.  He just wanted a kid to enjoy what his own kids enjoyed and to teach him what he could about hard work and family.  He wasn't about undeserved hand-outs but knew that everyone needed a leg up at one time or another.


Have fun.   When I was a kid, our house was always filled with friends and family.  There was always loud laughter, pranks, lots of food, drink and music and loud debates and conversation that went well into the night. Work had its place and was a high priority, but importance was also placed on down time and enjoying life very simply.  Parties weren't planned, they happened and if he liked you, you were included.  It didn't matter if you were an old friend or he had met you that day. Didn't matter if you made a lot of money or what neighborhood you called home. Our house had a way of making everyone feel comfortable and at ease. 


Be kind.  My dad treated strangers with the same honesty and compassion that he showed family and friends. This, to me, is true kindness.  There was no version of him that was insincere or pretentious. He was as comfortable talking to the person waiting on him at a restaurant or pumping his gas as he was with a bank president or business owner. And he thought they all deserved to be treated the same and given the same level of respect.  


Know that I love you, but you are not the only thing in my life.  I always felt protected and loved and like my dad would put his life on the line for me.  But he also taught me that his marriage, his work and his passions were a big part of his life as well and that the universe didn’t revolve around me.  This taught me both independence and humility.  It taught me, as an adult, to give the same attention to my husband as I do my kids and to take time for myself even if that means missing part of a little league game or not always being home room mom.  His and my mother’s social lives did not revolve just around mine and my sibling’s activities. Time spent with just my mom was a high priority.  And my siblings and I also didn't go everywhere with them. There were often events, occasions and trips that were for them, adults, and they never apologized for that. How many hours he logged publicly "being a good dad" didn't seem to cross his mind. He knew that we knew how much he loved us.


Eat what’s in front of you.  There was no option two at dinner time.  No alternative menu or substitutions.  My mom was a great cook (although I didn’t appreciate it until much later) and we ate what was for dinner.  If it was organic, it was not intentional and nothing was gluten or fat-free.  It was just good food and you were to respect the time, money and effort that had gone into making and serving it.  “No thank you” was what you said if you wanted to pass on having a particular food and a nasty face or an “I don’t like that” would get you sent to your room.


Be quiet.  The golden rule.  Not all the time.  Not when you're excited, have a great story to tell or someone needs a good laugh.  But he taught us early on that there's a time and place to talk and a decibel level to do it at for each.  If he were alive today and had to witness obnoxious people on their cell phones in restaurants and stores and terrible kids who have been told they're the center of attention so much, they think they can talk where and whenever they want, he'd likely end up in jail.  We didn't hang out with the adults at our house and chime in.  We went and played.  We didn't stay up late and cause conversations to be awkward or edited. We went to bed. We weren't allowed to negatively affect the quality of others' lives by being disruptive.  Period.  And it came naturally because it's just how it always was.  


Happy Father's Day to my dad and to my husband.  I wish they could have met but I’m very blessed to have two of the best people I’ve ever known be such a big part of my life.



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