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Lessons from My Dad

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and especially to mine! I hope everyone out there finds a way to make it special.

My dad is an incredibly smart, accomplished, hard-working person who, in more way than I can count – ways I’m still only beginning to realize – made me into the person I am today. I wanted to use this post as a chance to highlight just a few of the things that I inherited from him. In another decade, this list will probably look very different. I hope I’m still learning things from him, even then.

Me and Dad after a bird shoot, 2016

Work before we play
Dad wouldn’t – still doesn’t – let us kick our feet up until all the work is done. This was incredibly frustrating as a kid but it helped me derive more value from leisure time. It’s so much easier to relax when you don’t have incomplete tasks looming in the shadows. It makes it feel earned. I’ve carried this habit into my adult life; I don’t let myself sit down and start a game or a book until I’ve finished all my chores… for the most part, anyway. It keeps me disciplined and the sense of accomplishment always feels good.

Always stay learning
My dad is always reading, always learning something new. Even when he’s watching TV, it’s usually something educational, especially stuff with historical value. Dad showed me how the lines between educational and entertainment can be blurred in a very positive way. I think I also gained my love of reading from my dad, from imitating his example. No one else in our family reads as much as he and I do.

Engage with people who disagree with you
Most dads have lots of opinions. My dad is no exception. He and I disagree about some very important matters: politics, religion, personal values. But even when he knows he won’t change my mind, he still always wants to talk about it and never backs away from a good debate. It keeps both of us sharp and intellectually honest. It also opens each of us up to the possibility that we might be wrong about something, especially if we’re able to provide the other with convincing research or other information (though, admittedly, the previously clear lines of what constituted “facts” have become increasingly blurred in the past few years).

Respect for the past
No one has more respect for previous generations than my dad. Despite having worked very hard to get to where he is in life, Dad recognizes that sacrifices his parents (and their parents) made to give him a happy childhood and a chance at a successful future. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who has better admiration for “the greatest generation” than he. The hardships that they endured for his sake made a huge impact on him and maintaining their legacy is important to him. Part of this respect, I think, bled into my own values, maybe even prompting me to join the military – to make some kind of sacrifice. It makes me think (sometimes sadly) about the ways I’m taking my parents for granted right now and how I might better appreciate them while they’re still around. It also makes me think about how I want to be remembered when I’m gone and the kind of legacy I want to leave behind.

Providing is a love language
Where my mom is frugal to the point of pathology, my dad isn’t afraid to throw money down on the things that are important to him, including and especially us kids. Dad showed me that often you get what you pay for as well as the value of saving up to spend a little more on something important and lasting. Dad always gave us kids everything that we wanted and needed (and we are probably the most spoiled children in the world). I think this was how his parents showed him love, and providing for us is how he shows us he loves us, too. Maybe as a consequence, giving gifts became a major part of my own love language; buying someone something is how I show them that I was thinking about them and wanted to do something special for them. I must have gotten this from my dad.

Love of gaming
Something my parents have in common is love of games. For Mom, it’s board games and cards. But Dad likes all types of games, and his love for computers and console gaming infected me when I was very young. Some of my earliest childhood memories consist of us kids around laying on the carpet in front of the TV while my dad played Alien vs Predator on the Atari and Castlevania on the SNES. We were probably way too young to be watching games like that, but I don’t remember being frightened by them, and more importantly it was very memorable bonding time with my dad and brothers. Two decades later, video games are still one of my favorite ways to pass the time and socialize. They’re a huge part of my life and identity. I think a lot about whether or not I would have gravitated toward them at all if not for my dad’s influence.

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