Lessons From My Dad

dad.JPGIn May I signed on as a March of Dimes mom, through which I will donate one post per month to pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, newborn, or general family topics. In honor of Father’s Day, June’s suggested topic was – not surprisingly – dad issues. I know I’m a few days late in sharing my thoughts on this topic, but there’s a good reason why.
Tomorrow marks the four-year anniversary of my father’s death, and sometimes it seems as if I just saw my dad yesterday, and other times it feels like forever ago. But what remains the same is the palpable feeling of loss and longing. I actually spent a lot of time with my dad in his final year so I feel very resolved about our relationship, but basically, I just miss him, especially in those moments where Laurel’s expressions or actions are so reflective of him.

To be perfectly honest, my dad was not the easiest person to have as a parent; he was strict and his expectations extremely high. He wanted my siblings and me to be #1 students, #1 citizens, and to make a #1 impact on the world professionally and as parents. My siblings and I endured some (now seemingly) comical manifestations of these expectations, such as being instructed to drop and do 5-10 push ups for every incorrect answer when we were quizzed on vocabulary (I still wonder how I made it out of adolescence lacking both an impressive vocabulary and killer upper body strength). Yet despite the pressure, and through the years, my dad’s lessons clearly made an impact on me. So without further ado, for my March of Dimes mom post I wanted to share some of these lessons, which are relevant for fathers and parents in general.

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The value of work. Though at times I resented how extreme my dad was about developing a strong work ethic, there’s no doubt that this is a major part of who I am today. As kids, my siblings and I worked long hours in the family business and as I grew older, I always assumed that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be achieved by hard work, whether it was working crazy hours to put myself through college or forgoing sleep to meet absurd work deadlines. And while I don’t necessarily want such extreme circumstances for Laurel, I do believe that kids benefit from learning about the value of money and work.

The value of helping others. I’ve always felt committed to helping others (I even recently filmed a webisode on the topic), no doubt due in part to my dad’s lessons. As kids, we were one of the few families on a street filled with elderly people, and during the winter my dad marched us up and down the street to shovel out the driveways and walkways of our elderly neighbors. Similarly, I find myself engaging with Laurel a lot over the topic of kindness and giving; these conversations are easy…I think she inherited my dad’s generous heart.

The power of one on one time. With seven kids in the mix, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for one on one time. Not surprisingly, some of my strongest childhood memories include a couple of solo outings I had with my dad. If you have more than one child, try to give your kids the gift of one on one time, even if the time is brief.

The power of laughter. My dad typically was very seriously focused on working to support his family, but nothing cut tension and lifted the family mojo faster than hearing his big, generous laugh. It’s amazing that such a simple thing is so powerful.

Express affection. It wasn’t until my dad’s later years that he softened and became more forthright about expressing affection. And oh how I gobbled it up, just like a little kid. Don’t forget to give your kids plenty of hugs and kisses, even if you’ve collectively had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Continue bucking the trend. One thing that never failed to amuse my dad was how different fatherhood is for our generation. He seemed both incredulous and admiring of Jon’s stories of wrestling with the domestic, whether it was dinner or diapers. I am so grateful that fathers today are so much more involved; I hope this trend continues to evolve.

Ask for a better deal. My dad was the ultimate bargain hunter; he became famous for pushing back with salespeople, saying, “C’monnnnnn, give me a good price!” As a kid this used to embarrass me but it completely rubbed off on me; I often find myself asking for a better deal. And remarkably, I’ve found that sometimes you just have to ask; the offer is available but just not publicized.

Dream big. Growing up, I tended to feel as if my dad’s high expectations simply were attributable to general crazy parental pressure. That was probably part of the equation, but later it occurred to me that his expectations also reflected his faith in my siblings and me to make things happen. I’m glad that he helped me learn to dream, otherwise I likely would have never had the chance to write this post.

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This may sound obvious, but I can’t emphasize enough: don’t take people and time for granted. Let go of old baggage so you can experience the good in people you care about in the now. I miss my dad tremendously, but I’m so grateful that I carry him and his lessons with me every day.

Image credit: Dad with Laurel, October 2004