20 Things My Dad Taught Me

There seems to be a trend among the 20-somethings of my generation.  Diminishing the positive traits of our parents. To disrespect them, and focus on everything they did wrong.  I’m aware that we are, in many ways, products of our environment as children, but I’m craving something different.  I’m breaking the mold, and I don’t want anyone standing by with super glue.

The first thing you should know before reading this, is that my Dad is a baby boomer.  He grew up in a time where children should be seen, not heard, you always had to clean your plate, and you just “knew” the family loved each other, you didn’t even have to say it out loud.

In my family, all of us kids were homeschooled, and there were 7 of us.  Eventually.  Not all at the beginning of course, but over the span of 13 years, we had enough to form our own baseball team.

Another thing you should know about my Dad, he wasn’t perfect.  We called -and still call him- Papa.  The older I get, the more convinced I am that the design of the parental figure is not to be anything close to perfect.  As children, we wouldn’t learn half of the stuff we know if we had perfect parents acting out life for us.  We would never see someone make a mistake, learn from it, and do it differently next time.  We wouldn’t know how to handle failures, apologies, hurt feelings, or scraped knees.

So, this list is dedicated to all the imperfect shoulders out there that you and I stand on.  20 things my Papa taught me:

1. How to wash dishes.  I loathe this day.  We lived in a 100-year old house on a 20-acre “farm” at the time.  I was eight, and one night my dad said “Sophie, you want to learn how to wash dishes?”  Being blissfully unaware at the time of what a horrible task this was, I couldn’t resist the twinkle in his eye.  To this day, my husband still benefits from his closing line of that lesson, “the kitchen isn’t really clean until you rinse out the sink.”

2.  That my hair is most beautiful when left alone.  In highschool, I became convinced that my cork-screw curls were the bane of my existence, and would never get me any attention.  I was wrong.  And my dad, of course, was right. The true gift that I have been given, (thanks to his DNA) has really been a signature physical trait in my adult years.  It’s just too bad I didn’t realize it in highschool.

3.  What brand of ice cream to buy.  This sounds like a stupid one, but don’t overlook the importance of quality dairy.  And in case you’re wondering which brand that is, always Breyer’s.  Always.

4. How to write a song.  This is something that he didn’t teach me directly.  He wrote a book on the subject, (impressive to me in so many ways) and I read the book.  It’s my experience that one gets even more out of a book when they shared a home with the author for 18 years.

5. To drive a car.  That Target parking lot.  That giant Suburban tank that was the family car.  When I finally got my licence, he helped me buy a car, which was a stick, then taught me how to drive that one too.  I wish every girl’s Dad did this.

6. To laugh at myself.  This is another one whose full potential did not reveal itself until adulthood.  Taking myself too seriously much of my younger years, it was a hard transition into being the butt of the joke. But if you can laugh at yourself, you can make everyone else in the room more comfortable.

7. How much positive words mean to a husband.  It was my Dad who first got me thinking about boys’ feelings in general.  I was a hopeless flirt. It never occurred to me that these budding men were about as sure of themselves as kittens. Again, something I truly wish I had seen much earlier in life, but the past few years have convinced me of this piece of wisdom.  My poor husband has been the subject of my 180, but better late than never.  Behind every strong man, is a kind, encouraging woman.

8. How to run a business.  I have a degree in Business from Papa University.  He founded a Record Label when I was young, and as it was the “family business,” I was put to work early. Most kids never get exposed to customer service, or accounting, or building a business relationship until after college.  This experience sent me on a business-minded trajectory that began at 15 when I started my own version of the Babysitting Club.  It tanked, but in my world, one failure wasn’t anything close to a deterrent.  Which brings me to….

9.  How to stop talking, and DO.  How many people do you know that say they’re going to do something, and never do it? By watching my Dad, I learned how important it is to walk the walk, not just talk.

10. Where babies come from.  Imagine my surprise, as a homeschooler, to grow up and find out that not all kids found out about the birds and the bees from their parents.  “You mean, you never sat around your parents bed with your other age-appropriate siblings and talked about SEX?”  Shocked.  But I really appreciate the fearless way with which this was discussed and explained.  And explained.  And explained….

11. What commitment looks like. My parents have been married for 31 years.  That’s no laughing matter.  Half of my friend’s families were divided early.  This saddens me greatly, but also opens my eyes as to what an amazing thing it is to have a father who stuck around.  In a time where commitments mean nothing, he has been an amazing example. Commitment is important to him, and the family legacy will be eternally the better for it.

12. The reason school work is important.  As kids, we all have that “but Dad!” moment where we try to convince the man many years our senior that school work won’t do us any good later in life.  My Dad just smiled and said, “well, the reason you do school work is not because you’ll necessarily need it later.  You do it because it’s working out your brain now. Building discipline that you will most certainly need later.”  How can you argue with that?

13. When and why to discipline your children.  Discipline was no joke in our house. Time outs were for sissies.  We got either a spanking, (with a tomato-stake switch) or a harder spanking. And as much as I hated them, I’m grateful for them now.  Mostly, I’m grateful for the way my Dad handled the period of time after the spanking.  He would talk with us, explaining what we did, why we were punished, and would sometimes pray for our little dented hearts aloud, as we squeezed every tear drop out of our eyes, hoping it would lessen his resolve to spank us in the future.

14.  That when a pretty girl doesn’t smile, she comes off as unapproachable.  Watching other women, I’m more convinced of this statement’s truth.  When you’re around a woman whose beauty is noticed before either of you exchange a word, her smile is either permission to say hi, or lack thereof as good as a sign on her forehead that says “I’m beautiful, and you’re not good enough to talk to me.”  Hence, I smile alot.  Just in case.

15. The fruits of the Spirit.  My Dad used to initiate these “family worship” sessions.  He would sit us all down, pull out the guitar, and we’d sing praise songs and read the Bible.  He wrote this song that has stuck with me since then, all about the fruits of the spirit.  To this day, if any one of the mass number of siblings sings the first line, we’d all jump in to complete it.

16.  When you’re on stage performing, and you forget your lyrics, smile and pretend nothing happened.  My Dad was an excellent performer, but even excellent performers forget their lines now and again.  I witnessed this on a handful of occasions, and he always handled it with such ease.  I would look around at his oblivious audience members and think, “they have no idea he just screwed up the second verse of that song.”  There are some mistakes that need to be uncovered, and some that just need to be left alone.

17.  How to swing a bat.  Being homeschooled, the siblings and I spent a ridiculous amount of time outside.  We would go through sports phases. Once, during the soccer month, I played goalie and had the wind seriously knocked out of me.  We moved on to baseball after that.

18.  That guys like to see women in casual clothes too.  The deeper I dig into these little nuggets of insight, the more wisdom I see in them.  Overalls, dirty hands, paint on your face, a baseball cap.  These aren’t just “casual clothes,” they’re proof that the woman in his life is real, and not always perfectly and artificially put together.  His woman is strong, but has cracks the same as anyone, and isn’t afraid to show them. Which ironically, gives her more power over him.

19. How to make a gumbo.  We’re Cajun.  And like any good Cajun, you have to know how to make gumbo.  And of course I wouldn’t presume to say that mine is better than his, but MY FRIENDS tell me my roux’s the best in town.

20. To work hard, and play hard.  I’m defined very much by my work ethic – and play ethic- today.  Put everything you’ve got into what you’re doing.  Whether it’s your career, or the game you’re playing, or just the joke you’re telling.  I was fortunate, to have a Dad willing and able to demonstrate all. Fortunate that his joy is in part found by giving wisdom to others.  He’s a teacher by nature.  So it’s no wonder that I have learned, and continue learning things from him.  On this Father’s Day, let it be known that my imperfect Dad, was the perfect fit for me.

[Papa walking me down the aisle in 2006.]

Papa pic

My most embarrassing moment

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.*

Girl hiding face B and W

The moment I laid eyes on Taylor, I just knew we would be friends.  She wasn’t overly pretty or frilly in the way she dressed, and in my experience, pretty girls ran together in unofficial packs that us plainer girls were not invited to.  Much like certain species on the African plains, I imagine.  Lions with lions, antelope with antelope, naturally drawn to each other by similarities in behaviour, appearance, and diet.

Anyway, there I was, watching just such a group form between two of the girls on my left.  The only other girl present besides the choir leader and my sister, was Taylor.  She stood next to me on my right, so we naturally fell into conversation.  She was around my age, (13) but a little less developed than I was, which, naturally made me feel as though I had some prior claim on adulthood, meaning I was a little more important.  She definitely seemed a little un-decided in certain aspects of her life.  She was sporting a short, boy-cut hairdo, and wearing gender-neutral clothes.  Even her name was sort of nondescript.  (I’ve never been a huge fan of names that made their owner’s gender unclear.  It’s the reason I have trust issues.)

During the first break of the day it was meal time.  We had all brought a bag lunch, so we scattered around the facility to partake.  The boys on one side, and the girls on the other, Taylor and I next to each other.  The only thing to really talk about at that age was who liked whom.  “Josie likes Adam, but I like Ryan.”  Just as our break time was coming to a close, the choir leader joked around in my direction, “well somebody likes Taylor.”  Trying to play cool, I pretended like I knew who she was referring to, but I was slightly confused as to why she had directed this comment to me.  I grew up homeschooled, so I spent most of my time in a general state of social confusion.

Back in the music room, we assumed the same places we had before.  Pretty girl squad on my left, me, then Taylor, my sister and the leader.  At one point, Taylor manifested a small toy out of her pocket and began tinkering with it.  We launched a secret game of trying to snatch it from one another without the leader discovering our activity.  Just as another short break was called, Taylor commandeered the figurine, so it was my turn to get it back.  We went back to the kitchen area for a drink, and Taylor sat on a wooden chair with her legs folded Indian style.  Freeing up her hands to uncap a water bottle, she put the toy on the chair, protected by the Indian-style fort made of legs.  I saw my chance.  I reached into the human Venus fly-trap, fully expecting her to snap her knees closed around my hand.  I was alert and prepared for anything…

Except what I found.  Instead of a small plastic action figure, my fingers had clasped around something…. else.  Something else entirely.

As we filed back to our places, I avoided eye contact with Taylor.  It was around this time that my sister began comparing the number of boys to the number of girls.  Looking at Taylor, she lamented “if only you were a boy, then we’d have even numbers.”

Taylor looked up, with the most innocent indignance I’ve ever seen.  “I AM a boy.”  Eyebrows high, desperately hoping to be believed.  It was repeated. “I am a boy!”

My sister, finding herself in the same “try to be cool” situation I had stumbled through earlier, sheepishly dismissed the issue, “oh I know.”

She hadn’t known.  And neither had I.  Until I got a handful of the proof.