Lessons From My Dad

I've been thinking about my Dad a lot these days and I'm not sure why. It's not a milestone year (it's been 13 years) but my best guess is that it's because Laurel and Violet are going through a lot of transitions and milestones so it makes me miss his presence even more. We recently visited his grave site for the first time in quite a while and, well, there were a lot of feelings.

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. I wanted to share some of the key lessons I learned from him -- I think if we can translate these lessons to our kids, we've basically done our job.

1. 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.

2. The value of helping others

I’ve always felt committed to helping others, 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. How important it is to 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.

6. The importance of dismantling the patriarchy

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.

7. Always 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 incredibly, this has translated to me getting really comfortable in asking for what I deserve I believe.

8. 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.

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.