Sunday, June 17, 2012

10 Things My Father Taught Me


Today is Father's Day. My first Father's Day since my dad passed away.

Today is a hard day.

So I did what I often do on hard days; I ran away. To the beach, the seaside, the edge of the world.  In fact, I'm there right now. I wanted to be somewhere where peace is a tangible thing. And here among the warm sand and crashing waves, there is peace.  But even though  today is sad and lonely, I don’t, now or ever, want to ignore or forget the fact that I had a great dad. Part of his legacy is the lessons that he taught me:

1.       If you aren’t 10 minutes early, you are late. I don’t know if my dad was late to anything in his life. He taught us that to be on time or early to everything, from important meetings to lunch with friends, shows that you respect other people and their time.

2.       Surround yourself with good books. My dad wrote when I was just a mere newborn: surround yourself with with good books for in them are the legacies of men and the promises of God. That has stayed with me to this very day.  My dad loved to read and probably could read an entire book every single day if you let him. This is a family trait.  There is a bookcase, stuffed and overflowing, in every single room of my parents' house, except for the bathrooms. Truth. Whenever I called home, he would always ask what I reading. When I would come home to visit, I could always count on a pile of books left quietly on my bed that he put aside just for me. I got a book from him every single year for Christmas. The written word has come to mean so much to me. It has opened up the world and at times allowed me to escape from that world. Books and stories let me know that I'm not the first or only person to feel (fill in the blank emotion: frustrated, ecstatic, confused), and that the human soul is a beautifully complicated thing. 

3.       It doesn’t matter how fast you run around the track, but it does matter that you keep running. There was a summer when I was in high school that my father and I would go running every morning at the high school track.   Why? I really don't remember, but I do remember that it was not my favorite thing to do. It was summer and by some law I felt that I should be sleeping in, and also, I am not a fast runner.  I would see everyone else pass me and I would quit and sit on the sideline and whine about going home. But my dad would extend his hand, pull me back on the track and tell me that I needed to finish the run that I had started. No matter how slow.  And then he would run with me until I finished.  And in many other things in life, my dad would give me the same counsel, don’t quit, stay on the track, and you’ll be fine.

4.       Enjoy the experience. Often before I would leave for a trip my dad would tell me not to enjoy the trip, but enjoy the experience. I used to be  a strict itinerary follower.  I would, and I am not kidding, plan out every minute of every vacation day. My dad lived in and traveled to a lot of different places around the world and he cautioned me that if all I was doing was worrying about checking things off a list and stressing out about not being somewhere or not doing something on the plan, I would miss the experience of traveling.  I should always be safe and mindful, but it is OK to lose myself in the beauty of nature or in the wonder of a new place. And part of the experience was accepting all the things that go wrong on trips. Getting lost. Spats with traveling companions. Getting sick. Missing trains. Accept them. Learn from them. Move on.  My dad would also say, nothing is a failure if you got a good story out of it. So in this trip known as life, I try, am trying, to enjoy more of the experience of living, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings, of just merely existing in this time and space, and not worry so much about checking milestones and successes (or failures) off some divine list. Some days this is easier than others, but I sure do have some great stories. 

5.       Listen to music that stirs your soul. That is a direct quote from an email that my dad sent me about a year ago. He and I didn't always listen to the same types of music,  but we could always talk about music. Music was something that was ingrained within our blood and our cells and our tissue. He never told me to turn down my music or that I shouldn't listen to this or that. He encouraged me to go the concerts and then wanted to hear all about them afterwards. He, along with my mom, would listen to every single music clip on this blog and then give me his thoughts on them. He would email me whenever he found a new group or songwriter that he liked, asking if I had heard of them. I loved that. 

6.        Work hard. Work hard. Work hard. My dad taught us that whether it was washing dishes, stuffing envelopes, shelving books or holding meetings with VIPS, all of which I have done, there is dignity in working hard and making an honest living. My parents were sad (I hope!) to see both me and my sister leave their nest, but I think they understood that that is what they raised us to do; to be productive and contributing members of society. And it wasn’t just in the outside workforce that hard work was taught, it was in everything.  I can honestly say that I never took a class for an "easy A." I sought out classes that I knew would challenge me (Latin? Sure. Communication Law? Why not.)  I can remember my dad telling me during my freshman year in college that if I wasn't frustrated, I wasn't learning. And let us not forget all the household chores and yard work. Man, I hated yard work growing up. But now as I plant my own little garden, I finally get what they were trying to teach us all those years. The harder the work, the sweeter the rewards.  

7. Laugh loudly and often. My dad always told the best jokes.  Even when he was very, very sick he still had his sense of humor, which made me know that my dad was still in there somewhere. He taught us by word and by deed that sometimes it is OK to be silly and ridiculous and it is perfectly fine to laugh at your own jokes, even when no one else is laughing. More than ever I treasure the little jokes no one outside of the family understands (Watch out for the Bromines!), and that are so much a part of our family folklore that no one remembers how or why the started, but we love them and repeat them all the same. 

8. Find something you are passionate about and  do whatever it takes to follow it and live it. My dad was a teacher, and everyone that ever saw him teach knew that that was what he was born to do. He loved chemistry (what he taught), and he was so devoted to his students that he wanted them to love it too, atoms, hydrogen bonds and all. I was surprised and humbled by how many of his current and former students came to the viewings and the funeral. With tears and hugs they told me how inspiring my dad was and how much they learned in his classes. I think because he knew about following and living his passion for teaching, he very enthusiastically supported my sister and I as we try to find own our. Right before my dad got sick, I called him freaking out about my life. He told me first, not to quit my job and run away to mountains, which was what I was threatening to do, but to look at the things that bring me joy: music, writing, traveling and focus on those things, even it is just at nights and weekends. Don't let them fade and be forgotten because of long hours and long commutes. Hold on to them, make time for them, struggle with them. You will find a way to live the life you want, he told me. And I believe him. 

9. Your potential is always greater than your past. I have done a lot of stupid things in my life. And not just, oh she's so quirky, stupid, but I should of known better, stupid. I will be the first to admit that I haven't always been the best daughter or sister or friend. But my father never, ever, made me feel that I was a lost cause.  Past failures or mistakes were never held over my head. I was always welcomed home no matter how far I had wandered. And there were always pancakes waiting for me there.  More than once, more than twice, my dad told me that tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow you can start again. 

10. Everything tastes better with vanilla ice cream on top. 

6 comments :

  1. Beautiful post. Almost as good as your talk at his funeral. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I think one of my favorite things that you shared is that your dad picked out books for you and left them on your bed when you came home to visit. To me, that is so sweet. Just a wonderful dad type thing to do.

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  3. What a beautiful tribute and what a wonderful example to look up to. I'm sorry I never had a chance to meet him. I think I would have liked him a lot!

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  4. This is why he has such a savvy & wise daughter. Smart man.

    I especially enjoyed the part about running around the high school track. And number five? Well, you not only excel at this, you have a knack for sharing your soul stirring moments with others. Now that's a real gift.

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  5. So very beautiful! As a daughter who has missed her Dad for 1 yr and 10 mos today, I truly understand. We were blessed to have had been the Daughters of Men who were one of a kind. God Bless You!

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  6. I did not/do not have a good relationship with my father and I have always envied those who do. He sounds like a great man. He has definitely made his mark on you.

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