Things I learned from my dad

I started writing this post a while back, and this seemed like a good occasion to finish it. These are some of the most useful things I’ve learned from my father.


Time spent is an especially effective way to demonstrate love.

Why else would someone coach a child’s sports team? True love. Coaching, arrowhead hunting trips, building of playhouses, restoring my first car from a hunk of junk he bought off the side of the road, replacing the breaker box on my house, helping my family move. I was as ungrateful a child as anyone else, but at least now I see all of this for what it is: how much he loves us. And it saves money. This is why my relations get crappy homemade gifts when I really want to show them I care. Hope they get the message.

Know how to change a tire.

My dad was immovable on this. Once, some kind of debris on an off ramp left both my car and the one behind me with a flat tire. With about five total people on the side of the road (at night), both male and female, I was the only one who knew how to change a tire (they forgot to loosen the lug nuts!). I won’t lie: it was sweet. And I’ve got like four or five other flat tire stories. Every single time, I thanked my dad silently for forcing my resentful high school self to learn how to do it.

You might can fix that.

Don’t throw that away yet. That thing, whatever it is. Don’t call a repairperson yet either, if it’s a bigger thing. Check its moving parts. Look closely, take it apart if you can. Figure out how it works and what part of the thing broke. Then, and only then, make the call. You might save money, too.

Never throw the game.  

Dad believes that losing is instructive and healthy for children. Especially when it means he wins. But I noticed with my son, who we always used to let win, that losing was an awfully hard fall after he’d gotten an inflated idea of his ability.  It made him more likely to give up, too.

But don’t forget encouragement.

I loved going arrowhead hunting with my dad. We’d fill a cooler with ice water, throw walking sticks in the back of the truck, get an egg biscuit at Hardee’s, and then go walk around a field poking bits of rock with those sticks. I’d complain sometimes about not finding as many. You’re lucky I’d say. I’d try to make him switch sticks with me, sure that was the key. Dad stopped me once and said remember to look all around before you keep going. I did, I said. No, all around your feet, he said. Keep looking. It was years before I realized he’d thrown that little bevel point at my feet. Sure, he manufactured that little triumph for me, but it probably kept me looking without whining longer. A little taste of success goes a long way.

Don’t be a sore loser. (Or a lousy winner.)

Dad’s unapologetically competitive. He gets it from his mom, who was famously merciless at ping pong, I hear. But you can love to compete and play to win without being a jerk. You’ll find more people willing to play again that way.

Be skeptical.

I’m terrible at this! I’d much rather take someone at their word. But dad’s never afraid to challenge something that sounds off. ‘I don’t believe that,’ he says. When he’s trying to be more polite, he says ‘I doubt that.’ He’s not suggesting they’re lying, just wrong. And it doesn’t hurt anyone, myself included, to have to back up what they’ve said.

Respect is love.

I had some other points and decided they sort of fit under this one. Dad and I don’t see eye to eye on some things. Shocking, I know. You don’t have to understand someone to love them. But you carry the lessons from family life into your adult relationships, and he always showed that love looks like respect. I don’t mean that  chivalry crap, though he’s also polite about opening doors and stuff in that southern way. I mean that even if he disagrees, he’ll listen. And even in the fog of the nineties Promise Keepers movement and my prickly teenage years, he made me feel like he thought I was smart and capable. For a woman, you can’t underestimate the worth of that kind of gift from the first man in your life.







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