Everyone has a father. But not everyone has a dad. I am lucky enough to have a dad. More than that, I am lucky to have a great one. We’ve had disagreements. We’ve argued. But through it all, he’s taught me a lot… So, in the spirit of Father’s Day, here are a few of the lessons that I’ve picked up from my old man.
As a young man I couldn’t wait to learn how to shave. It was a rite of passage. A sign of becoming an adult. When my first facial hair appeared I was beyond excited… until I learned how to shave.
According to my dad, the first step is mixing cheap hand soap with warm water. Next, you splash that onto your face for some reason. Then, you reach for your
trusty shitty Bic™ razor and start cutting your face. This leads to a close shave and severe blood loss.
Lesson: Maybe having a beard isn’t so bad…
On breaking shit
My dad worked in the school system for most of his career. When I was a kid he got a gig upgrading the school’s computers. I helped him out over the summer. Neither one of us had a clue what we were doing. But that didn’t stop us from ripping parts out of computers and throwing new ones in. We broke shit. We fixed it. We found out what worked.
I’ve kept that with me. Sometimes you need to get under the hood and get your hands dirty. Sometimes you need to break shit. Sometimes you need to RTFM. Sometimes you need to take on a challenge that you aren’t quite ready for in order to learn.
Lesson: It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn from them…
My dad played basketball all the way up through college (I still brag about the time that he threw an elbow at the FleetCenter, just so he could get his name read aloud over the speakers.). To this day, he has one of the most fundamentally sound jump shots that I have ever seen. Growing up, he taught me about the sport. We played a lot of one-on-one. And he would always outshoot me.
As I got older, I realized that I had a better chance of scoring by driving to the basket. And he learned that he had a better chance by taking an outside shot. He still challenged me sometimes, and drove to the hoop. But if it was close, he’d shoot the outside jumper. He wasn’t scared of a challenge. But he also knew how to win.
Lesson: Know your strengths. And your weaknesses…
On being a man
My dad also taught me how to be a man. More importantly, he taught me what “being a man” really means. He showed me that gender roles are bullshit. He taught me that it’s okay for a man to have emotions. Emotions are part of being human.
He never scolded me for crying. He never told me to “man up.” Instead he showed compassion, kindness, and patience… a lot of patience. Even when I was a knucklehead, he was always there to listen. And to remind me that there is much more to “being a man” than being “tough”.
Lesson: Being a man is irrelevant. Being a good person is what matters…
Like most kids, I was no stranger to frustration. Growing up is hard. And sometimes you need to vent. I remember a specific time when I was upset. I can’t even remember who I was upset with, but my dad told me to call the person a jerk. So I did. “Feels good to vent, doesn’t it?”
Then, he told me to call him a fucking asshole. And I did. “Feels even better, doesn’t it?” I’m not sure if this falls into any form of traditional therapy, but dammit, he was right!
Lesson: It’s healthy to vent. And sometimes it feels good to swear…
Looking back, I realize that my parents didn’t always have a lot of money when my sister and I were growing up… Believe it or not, working in education isn’t the moneymaker that we all think it is. But I have never met a more generous couple of people than my parents.
My best friend in grade school went through some rough times as a kid. When his dad moved, he had to transfer out of our school system. After that happened, my parents offered to take my friend in. They didn’t have much money, but they shared what they had, which was a roof over our heads. My friend and I slept head-to-toe on a futon for several years. It wasn’t always comfortable in our small house. But it provided stability.
Between basketball and that futon, I’m sure I have developed some back problems. But, more importantly, I learned about generosity. And until the day I moved out on my own, a steady stream of friends found refuge and stability at my parents’ house when they had nowhere else to go.
Lesson: No matter how much or how little you have, you can always be generous…
After my dad retired he got back into photography, which was an old hobby of his. He started sharing some of his photos online. He got a lot of positive feedback. He also got rejected from some groups, because he “over-processed” his photos. He could have taken that as a loss and given up. But instead, he found a community of other photographers who were accepting of the way that he shot (and processed) his work. Now, he has more Facebook friends than I do, and an ever-growing network of fans and fellow photographers.
Lesson: There is no right or wrong way to be creative. Your creativity is your own…
On being human
Mitakuye Oyasin is a Lakota phrase that my dad taught me. It means “We are all related.” We weren’t religious growing up. But we were taught a lot about people, the Earth, and being part of a whole. Some of these teachings came from stories… I still have the Mishomis Book that my dad gave me. But more than that, my parents embodied these teachings in the way that they showed care and compassion for people, animals, and the Earth as a whole.
Lesson: Mitakuye Oyasin: We are all related…
And finally… On style
Lesson: It’s okay to look like “Geraldo Rivera meets Saturday Night Fever.”
You’re as tough as nails, Dad. Not in a scary, intimidating kind of way. But in a, “no matter what, you can get through this” kind of way. I love you. Thanks for teaching me everything that you have. Happy Father’s Day… I look forward to more lessons.