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Sunday, June 15, 2008

5 Things I Learned From My Dad

It's Father's Day. I had been holding out hope that I'd be pregnant by now so I could shower Father's Day attention on Mr. H, the father-to-be. Well, that hasn't quite worked yet. Maybe next year.

My father passed away in October, so today, I'm facing my first fatherless Father's Day.

I've had a hard time figuring out what to write; there is so much that I'm just not quite ready to talk about yet. I decided to come up with a list of things that I learned from my Dad.

1. Be creative. Improvise. Dad could fix anything with duct tape, although that's not the only thing he used. He never let the lack of the proper tool slow him down; not having the proper tool is just an excuse. Sometimes he would invent a tool on the spot to do what he needed. And come Halloween, if he didn't have a good pumpkin, he might just go with a turnip from the garden.

Monster vegetables

2. Tell your stories. Family stories are a gift. They help you understand what made your parents the way they are, what made you the way you are. They are the structure that defines the culture of your family. The paragraph below was excerpted from a 30 page autobiography Dad left for us before he died. It paints a picture of family life in 1950s Los Angeles, it also paints a picture of my grandfather, whom I never really got to know but was so instrumental in shaping my father into the man he was to become.

"One of my favorite memories of this time was Wednesday nights. That was payday and Dad would bring home a big load of groceries. He was a deputy for the L.A. County Sheriff and drove a blue 1948 Buick. I remember French bread and celery and we usually had spaghetti because that was Dad's favorite dish. He would also like to have some red wine with his spaghetti. He would take his first glass and take a sip. He would screw up his face like it tasted worse than castor oil, vinegar, and turpentine all mixed together and as he unscrewed his face he'd say, "Man, that's good!" About this time he told me he wanted me to sit on his left. He explained (kidding, of course) that it was so he could "come across with this one" making a fist. Mom sat on his right so he could pat her on the shoulder so she would know he had just said something funny and (perhaps apologizing for being so corny) it was time to laugh. It was at this age, perhaps, that I began to appreciate how much my Dad loved my Mom."
3. Read bedtime stories to your children. In my earliest years, Dad was a full time college student working two part time jobs. Mom would adjust our bedtime to fit his work schedule and he would come home between shifts to read us a bedtime story and tuck us in. Bed time stories were a sacred tradition in our home. My parents had five kids and we would all pile up on someone's bed every night for the bedtime story. He didn't just read Dr. Seuss (although there was plenty of that, and Richard Scary, and "Where the Wild Things Are"). As we got older he moved on to the classics like Heidi, The Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped, Treasure Island... We learned to love reading and stories. I learned to read by watching him read and following his finger as it dragged across the page. And every night we had that bonding time.

4. Be Happy. Dad used that phrase a lot. He would often sign off on his letters saying "be happy." He taught us, and modeled for us, that happiness is a choice and not an accident of circumstance. Choose happiness. Have fun. Laugh. Joke. Be Silly.

Defrosting the freezer can be a chore (remember when we had to do that?) or it can be a blast. The choice is yours.


5. Send Letters. It didn't matter if it was Toledo, New Orleans, or another city in our state, whenever Dad went somewhere on a business trip he sent us postcards. Not one card for all of us; each of us got our own postcard. It wasn't a big expense, and it didn't take a lot of time, but the payoff for us kids feeling loved and appreciated and remembered and valued - well, you can't put a price on that. He wrote letters too. Whenever Mom would put together a care package for one of us, Dad would pack it up and include a note. It usually wasn't very long, a few paragraphs, but I always read the note before I looked to see what else was in the box. Don't underestimate the value of these letters. They meant enough to me that I still have a box in which I keep all the postcards and letters from Dad. And don't confuse letters with emails. There's something about the handwriting that makes it more personal and more meaningful.

This is the last and most precious letter I received from my Dad right after he died.
(click to enlarge)

I miss you Dad.

Happy Fathers' Day.

Find more great Fathers' Day Posts at Discovering Dad.

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Jeremy (Discovering Dad) said...

I love those pictures! Great lessons too!

Carrie said...

Dear Ms. Jitters, You had me at the turnip. This was beautiful, funny, thought provoking. A strong, confident woman grows from that kind of a foundation and only a father such as the caliber of yours can provide that atmosphere. Raising a glass of wine to your mother, who allowed him to be that man.

Moose Nuggets said...

Thanks for the reminders. I agree with with you on the lessons.I thought of a few others, but that is a discussion for another blog.


Dad had 2 calibers...

30-06 and 45 Colt

mama said...

Guess that'd be a good use for that thar tarnip. ;)

I DO remember defrosting the fridge. . . seems like it was just 12 years ago. (Dang, it WAS! I hated that fridge!)

Anyway, great idea. Great guy too.

Judy Haley said...

@Jeremy - thank you

@Carrie - raising my glass too - thanks

@Moose Nuggets - of course everything is about the guns, what else is there?

@Mama - I think you nailed the accent.

K8E said...

I lost my dad my senior year in high school. I didn't know him very well, but you are right about all of this. My dad kept everything, I learned so much about him from going through his keepsakes.

Our dads are always with us.

Teri said...

Great post. What excellent memories and lessons your dad left you with. Beautiful way to honor him on Father's Day.

scargosun said...

Those pics are great. Your Dad was quite a character! The turnip was too funny.

Hippie Family... said...

oh sweetie, I love that!! My dad died in 97 and I still talk to him everyday and miss him just as much. He sounds like such a great guy, thanks for sharing his memory with all of us..

Scary Mommy said...

That was beautiful. Your dad sounds like a great man- I love that he wrote to you. So sweet.

Trisha said...

I'm sorry to hear about your dad! Mine died 4 years ago this spring and father's day has been painful ever since. I just avoid looking at the father's day cards in the store and try to treat the day like any other and block it out of my mind. I don't live that close to my family so I don't see them that often (when my dad was here I visited him on father's day) so I don't see them on father's day anymore.

Jeremy (Discovering Dad) said...

Judy - this entry in the Discovering Dad Celebrate Dads Father's Day Contest was selected as a WINNER! Drop me an e-mail with your address, and I'll get the sponsor to send you the prizes :-) Thanks for entering!

matt said...

Fantastic post...very touching. I particularly enjoyed the visual of the first sip of wine. And congratulations on winning Jeremy's contest!

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