I’ve found myself helping several of my friends with various problems over the last few weeks. After a long (often blunt) conversation, I often get a “I’m glad you’re so smart” or “Thank you so much! I’m so glad I have a friend like you!”
I’m always humbled by these exclamations of gratitude, but I know that these people don’t just have me to thank. Most of who I am stems from a loving and supportive childhood. For every person I’ve ever helped– you are as much in debt to my father as I am. Some of the things weren’t taught on purpose. And, let’s be honest, everyone teaches things every once and a while by showing us what NOT to do. But, no matter how he passed on the lessons, I’m grateful that my father spent so much of his life being there to teach me.
I originally posted this back in January, but I think it deserves to be said again.
Things My Father Taught Me
I’m sitting in my father’s house for the first time in a while. Looking around, it’s easy to see so many things that have always been present in my life. It’s easy to look back on the parts of growing up that made me who I am today. The things that molded me. Strengthened me.
I don’t know how much of my current personality is natural and how much is a direct result of my upbringing, but looking around it’s easy to remember the things that my father taught me.
1) No Matter What You Do, Do It Well– I’ve had a few jobs in my life. I don’t think any of them taught me work ethic like my father did. It didn’t matter what project I decided to undertake, I learned early on that if I’m going to do something, I’d better be proud to take credit for it upon completion. I’ve never lost that. No matter what I do, I make sure it’s the best I can do.
2) Earn Everything You Have with Honesty–When I was really young, I took some grapes from the grocery store. My dad saw me eating them and asked where I got them. I explained and he nodded before asking: “Okay. How did you pay for them?” I stared with little-girl confusion before mumbling a noncommital answer. Without hesitation my father smacked my knuckles and said sternly: “You do not steal.” I cried harder than I’d ever cried before. I don’t even think that it actually hurt, but my father had never done anything like that before or since. Now I’m 25, and I’ve come into everything I have with honesty. Those grapes were the first and last things I ever stole.
3) Knowledge is Your Most Valuable and Precious Resource. Never Give Up on Attaining More of It– I’m not even sure my father ever said this; it was just something I intrinsically understood. My father always spoke to me as though I was an adult, and if I didn’t understand he would reiterate as though I was an adult. There was never any assumption that I couldn’t understand something, and there certainly wasn’t any assumption that I couldn’t DO something– only that I couldn’t do it YET. That’s something that, to this day, I try to impart to my students. Knowledge. It was always the key, and it was ALWAYS available. I cannot remember a time that I asked my father and he didn’t answer as honestly and fully as he knew how.
4) Books Are Superior to Nearly Any Other Form of Entertainment– One of my earliest memories is of my father reading Frankenstein to me before I was even capable of spelling my own name. I loved it, and I don’t think there was ever a time growing up that I disliked reading. To this day, I still read often and have even moved onto writing. I finished my first novel in High School (it was crap, but he read the entire thing and supported me anyway), and I never stopped. My father introduced me to worlds and civilizations that are so vastly superior to ours in many ways. A million people, worlds, dreams, stories and ideas filled an innumerable number of pages on our bookshelves, and I was allowed to access them ALL whenever I wanted to. It was amazing.
5) Just Because You Can Get Away With Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should— This one was told to me word-for-word. I don’t even remember what I was trying to get away with. Driving without a seat belt? Who knows. But the lesson stuck. Now, when I act, I do good because I can, not because I have to. And every night I go to bed with the knowledge that I am a better person today than I was yesterday. Which is something else I think he taught me.
6) Every Person is Beautiful– I remember my father saying these exact words, but I don’t remember under what pretext. I think we went to a museum and there was a nude painting. I was probably in the third or fourth grade, and I immediately covered my eyes. My father asked me why I did that and I said because it was gross. His response: “Someone thought it was beautiful enough to paint so it could last forever. Every body is that beautiful to someone.” I don’t know if I kept my eyes covered or not, but the message never left me.
7) A Man Can Only Do to You What You Allow— I don’t know if this was ever said or only ever implied, but I know I learned it from my father. I’m also pretty sure I learned it long before I ever started dating, because I was never in a relationship that I did not have full control of. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think so. Because I know that this lesson helped form my life in a very significant way: when I eventually found a relationship in which I knew the rule would never apply, I felt comfortable with agreeing to be in that relationship for the rest of my life. I have no doubt that someday, I will teach this lesson to my daughters, just as it was taught to me.
8) Always Have Logic to Support Your Arguments (Even if They’re Emotional)– My father taught me this lesson through example. I was in my late teens before I ever figured out why he could outmaneuver me in any conversation. Logic is what allows you to make your point while still sounding like a functional and respectable human being. It is very difficult to dismiss a logical person without strong evidence to the contrary. It’s even MORE difficult when a logical person can see your side of an argument and then use it against you. My father taught me that if you can see things from someone else’s point of view, you are both more capable of defending your opinion against whatever points he or she brings up, but are then able to find exploitable flaws in your opponent’s arguments. Watching my father argue with someone was both terrifying and beautiful. And it wasn’t until I understood this that I could even pretend to be a contender in our verbal spars.
9) Have A Card or Game Night— This one might not seem important, but it was to me. We used to play card or board games as a family on a regular basis. At least once a week, sometimes more often than that. I’m sure as a child I might have preferred to do something else on these evening– but I don’t remember any of those “Super Important” things that seemed so drastically necessary at the time. I only remember game night and how much fun I always ended up having. I think we were a stronger family when we had game nights.
10) Your Choices (And Your Mistakes) Are Yours to Make— I once attended a very strange church that, looking back, freaked me out and was not a nice place. I also used to put on black lipstick while wearing studded skirts and ankle boots. I would listen to horrible music and dye my hair any color you can imagine. There were a lot of things I tried while trying to figure out who I was. I realize now that my father disapproved (and probably disliked) all of these things, but he never tried to control me. He never forbade me from doing these things as long as I stayed on the legal side of the law. And because he let me figure things out at my own pace, I was more likely to grow up and start disapproving of those things myself. I never felt like my father was trying to live my life for me, and because of that I think I eventually developed a pretty good life for myself. It took some trial and error, but I am grateful that he let me go through the process on my own.
11) Know What You Believe And Be Willing to Stand Up for It– Whether it’s religion, politics, common courtesy, frivolous opinions, whatever– My father and I have never been afraid to explain our point of view. Ever. And it’s gotten us both in trouble on numerous occasions. Huh. Now that I think about it, maybe that lesson isn’t quite over yet.
12) Always Surround Yourself With Friends Worth Having (And Make Sure You’re Worth Keeping Around in Return)– My father has always had friends. Weekend gatherings around the chimenea, hour-long phone calls just catching up, events around town. Smiles, drinks, good food, great company. It didn’t matter where we were, it always seemed like my father knew someone within the general vicinity, and it was always fun to see someone pull up another chair at our table just to chat. My father is a good host and a great friend, and I think that makes his life much richer and more beautiful.
13) Find Time for a Vacation— Growing up, my family always spent time in different places. The cabin, Disneyland, camping, Renaissance festivals, museums, parks, road trips– it cannot be said that our lives took place all in one setting. And I think that’s good. I think the changes in scenery brought us closer as a family, and gave everyone a chance to step back from the trivial issues we had to contend with during our regular day-to-day.
14) Give Everything a Fair Chance— If I joined a club or decided to learn a new skill, my father always encouraged me to stick with it. Sometimes a new activity would fail to meet my expectations, and I would want to give up early on, but he would always said “Keep going for two more weeks.” And I would. Sometimes I’d still say it’s not for me, but other times I would eventually realize how much I loved the activity in question. Either way, I was always sure of a decision when I made it, and I was always grateful that I’d stuck with it long enough to be positive.
There are millions of other things my father taught me. Some were intentional, some were not. Either way, these are the things that come to mind as I sit here.
I suppose that the last lesson has to do with why I’m sitting here. My father detached a retina recently, and had to have surgery done a couple days ago. He mentioned on Facebook that he could use some help and company while recovering. I love my father, so it’s sometimes hard to live as far away as I do. It’s also incredibly difficult to create a week’s worth of sub plans on a day’s notice. But as soon as I thought that, I was ashamed. This man has given me 25 years of my life so far. How could I not give him a week?
I still remember the day my grandfather passed away. He and my father were no longer on speaking terms at the end, and that was always hard to watch. So… I’m here because my father taught me another lesson on top of all the others:
15) Honor the Family And Friends You Have, Because They Won’t Always Be There.