“It doesn’t matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was.” –Anne Sexton
Another Father’s Day, and another opportunity for me to reflect on the lessons I learned from my father. Father’s Day is a bittersweet day for me. My children have the most wonderful father in the world. He adores them (and their mother) and his world revolves around them. He has always tried to make sure they have everything they needed (and a lot of what they wanted), but the most important thing to him is that they have his time. He has always tried to have a job that allowed him plenty of family time. He attends their sporting events, their school events, their church events and he just loves to spend time with them at home or away. My children and I are truly blessed.
But this isn’t about their father, it’s about mine.
My dad was my hero. I probably never told him that. I didn’t tell him nearly enough when I had the chance. I was definitely awed and a little intimidated by him growing up. My dad was a Marine and when we were kids we were pretty well convinced he had sprung forth from the womb, fully dressed in Marine Green.
He was an old-fashioned kind of dad. He was the oldest son in a very strict family; he grew up on a dairy farm and had to take on a lot of responsibility for his age, the way a lot of boys did in that place and time.
He graduated from high school just after the close of World War II and joined the Marine Corps. Not much later, he was sent to Korea. He fought in the battle of Cho-Sun as a young Marine Corporal. I don’t know a lot about his military service; he rarely talked about it. He had four daughters (I’m #3) and I always had the impression that he wanted to shelter his daughters. I learned about Cho-Sun after he died. I was more awed by him than ever. He talked about his service more often with my husband; I think he knows more than I do.
He was a quiet man. He worked hard and he was the smartest man I knew, even though he never had the opportunity to go to college.
I learned a lot from him. Even though it’s been 22 years since he died, I’m still learning. Of course, the learning process would probably go more quickly if he was here for me to ask him questions.
I learned the value of hard work and a job well done.
My dad was probably the hardest working man I knew. He had high standards and he expected nothing less than our best. When I was in high school Chemistry, I got a C in my report card. My mom was not pleased. It’s one of the few times I really remember her using “wait till your father gets home.” When my dad came home, he came up to my room and said, “I heard you got a C in Chemistry.” I told him I did; then he asked me if I’d only done a C’s worth of work and I had to admit that I had. He told me he expected me to do an A’s worth the next semester, that I’d gotten what I deserved and he expected me to do better. That lesson stuck with me.
I learned encouragement and kindness.
When I was eight, one of my chores was to come home from school and make cookies for lunches. I got home before my older sisters and both of my parents worked, so it really was all on my own (that was a different era, ok?). I got to choose what to make, so one week I chose molasses cookies. Having never made them myself, I had no idea that when the recipe called for cloves, there was a difference between whole cloves and ground cloves. Yeah, I used the whole cloves. My family wasn’t very happy about the cookies. Biting into a whole clove is definitely a taste sensation. But rather than throw the cookies away, my dad made a show of taking them in his lunch. As an adult, I realize there was strong possibility that they ended up in the office trash can, but as an eight-year-old aspiring cook, it meant the world.
I learned that you only get what you earn.
My dad didn’t believe in a “free ride.” When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go on a field trip to Canada (from southern California–it really was a big deal). I only had one school year to earn what was then to me a HUGE sum of money. My parents made sure I took advantage of every fund-raising opportunity. When it got near the end of the school year and I was not yet nearly to my goal, we had one more fundrasier–a raffle. My dad told me he would buy two tickets for every one I sold (he really wanted me to go, but didn’t want to just give me the money). I ended up filling out 156 ticket stubs with his name. I went to Canada and my dad won a microwave–we were the first of our friends to have one back then.
I learned how to fix cars and use power tools.
It wasn’t all about good grades and hard work. I didn’t have any brothers and my dad was a DIY guy. And while I didn’t fully appreciate auto mechanics and power tools in high school, I sure am grateful I know how to use them now. While I attempt to avoid working on cars whenever possible, I can help my husband and I know when a mechanic is being less than forthright. And I still like playing with power tools.
I learned curiosity and a love of learning.
I asked a lot of questions as a kid. My dad always answered them. He often answered them by encouraging me to go and find the answers. Both he and my mom encouraged my love of books and reading and gave me the opportunity to do things and have cultural experiences that they never had.
I learned how to ask questions and listen to the answers.
I always thought of my dad as a quiet man because that is how he seemed to most people. I really did ask my dad a lot of questions growing up. I learned early not to ask unless I really wanted to know the answer. My first two years of college, my dad would drop me off every morning on his way to work because I didn’t have a car and we didn’t have good public transit. That meant I had him to myself for 30 minutes every morning. We talked about just about everything and I don’t think anything was off limits. Not only did learn from what he told me, I learned how to ask questions to get the answers I needed. Since I ended up with a degree in investigative journalism, that really was useful. I’m glad I had that time because I learned so much about so many things and I don’t get to ask him questions anymore.
I learned integrity.
Even now when I think of integrity, it is his face that pops into my mind. My dad did what he did and what he believed was right and I never heard him make excuses for it or try to rationalize. He made his decisions and didn’t bow to peer pressure or do things he didn’t think were right because they were easier.
I learned to make sure the people I love know it now, because you never know when it will be too late.
My dad died young, much too young if you ask me. While I was an adult, I still wasn’t ready. But I was fortunate enough to know when it was his time and the last time I saw him, we left nothing important unsaid. If it isn’t too late for you (and if your father is still alive, it isn’t too late) make sure he knows how much you love an appreciate him.
Happy Father’s Day.
By the way, what lessons did you learn from your father?