Stuff My Dad Taught Me


I could spend this weekend trying to avoid Father’s Day. I’d actually gotten quite good at avoiding it over the years. Seems kind of stupid really. After all the good times we had, why would I try not to remember? (She types bravely with a tissues close at hand.) I was looking at some of my favorite old pictures and ran across this one. I was 11 and we were in Kansas City then. I still remember that Christmas Eve. It was cold, as in 15 degrees below zero cold and that was actual temperature. Cold, as in we got to church for Midnight Mass and the water in the baptismal font was frozen. I don’t mean it had a thin crust of ice on top. It was frozen into one big solid block or as Dad put it, “Holy ice cube, Batman!”

That was also the year that the RA first acted up although the doctors wouldn’t find it for another 26 years. In that picture, he’s got my hand completely wrapped up in his because mine were so cold, they’d turned white. He said he could feel the cold on the other hand right through his flannel shirt. Everything hurt that night. When Mass was over, my knees and ankles hurt so bad, I could hardly walk. Dad left Mom and I in the church while he brought the car around. He carried me to car, stopping to let me swipe my fingers across the the holy ice cube on the way out. When we got home, he carried me inside and he sat on the couch next to me holding my ankles in his hands because the warmth made them feel better. It’s funny looking back, I don’t remember anything I got for Christmas that year or for my birthday a few months later. What I remember was his tenderness and his mischievous sense of humor. I hear that same sense of humor from Eugene on a regular basis and Andrew inherited that big heart of his. I can only imagine how much fun they would’ve had with their grandpa, and how much trouble they would’ve caused together.

So instead of avoiding Father’s Day, and with only a little sniffling, here are a few of the things Dad taught me in the 14 years I had him and the things I try to pass on to my boys.

Practical jokes break up the monotony of life. They require forethought and careful planning. Some also require an escape plan.
(He had his car keys in his pocket, ready to roll and flipped the ceiling fan on high over the receipts Mom was carefully sorting for tax time. It looked like snow. She yelled and we ran like hell. We spent the rest of the day at the mall. He cooked her favorite dinner later to make up for it.)

Read. Read everything. Read it over and over. Read until you can recite it. Reading is knowledge and one of the greatest joys in life.

Reach for the books on the higher bookshelves. Teach your kids to do the same.

When you read to a kid, use THE VOICES. Yeah, you know which ones.

Beauty is everywhere, even in the ugliness. You only have to open your eyes and see it.

Never pass up a chance to do something kind for someone. It’s the little things in life that mean the most.
(He used to bring my mom two cups of coffee in bed every morning on a pretty little tray he’d bought for her on one of his trips to Belgium.)

Knowing all the constellations is wonderful, but sometimes you just need to look up at the stars in awe.

Whenever you have the chance to take in a scenic vista, do it. Stop. Get out of the car and breathe in the view. You may never pass that way again.
(I mean this quite literally. On the way from Connecticut to Indiana, we stopped at Niagara Falls. He talked me into going on the Maid of the Mist and I still remember breathing in the spray. I’ve never been back.)

Learn the names of the wildflowers. Leave them where God planted them.
(He taught me that one only after I had picked a big handful of bloodroot. Yuck!!)

Take the time to look at the flowers. They may wilt by tomorrow.

Learn the names of the birds in the back yard. Sing back to them.
(I have lovely conversations with the mourning dove who lives in the tree behind my garage. The neighbors think I’m a wee bit odd.)

Catching bugs is fun, so long as you let them go.

Wild animals are meant to be wild, not caged. Predators aren’t cruel. They only hunt for food and they are part of the balance in nature.
(Beauty in the ugliness. I’ve developed a particular fondness for the osprey that hunts in the Stratford Marsh.)

Praying isn’t something to do in church on Sunday. It’s as all day, every day conversation.

Learn to be quiet. That’s when you hear God.
(Dad’s habit of a 5 AM coffee on the back porch makes more sense to me with every passing year.)

Read the Bible. Read it so much you know whole passages by heart. Someday, you’ll need those words when the book isn’t close by.

Never quote the Bible to score points in an argument. Using God’s words to win man’s arguments is the utmost sign of ignorance and arrogance.

Sometimes life gets so absurd, all we can do is laugh. And that’s okay. God has a sense of humor, so should we.

Sing. God gave you that voice and it’s beautiful to Him.
(Either that or God is deaf, I haven’t quite decided that one for myself yet.)

Bad stuff happens in life. It’s not God’s fault. Someday we’ll understand why.

Death is part of life. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.

7 thoughts on “Stuff My Dad Taught Me

  1. I had glasses like that too, yikes! 🙂
    Thank you for sharing a piece of your dad, glad you have so many fond memories and words to live by.


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