One thing I love about writing is that it opens up a door for sharing things that I would feel awkward saying…you know, all the icky love stuff.  So when I stumbled across the Father’s Day writing prompt “What’s the most important thing your Dad taught you?” on, I figured it was a chance to communicate the significance of my father’s influence without a sappy heart-to-heart that would send him running for the golf course.  However, I had a hard time narrowing my memories down to just one, so here are my top eight.

8 Lessons I Have Learned From My Dad

1. There’s No Crying In Baseball: My dad was the sixth child in a family of ten- raised in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house in northern, rural Vermont.  His sister was severely handicapped, his brother contracted polio, and his father retired at an early age due to ailing health.  But in keeping with the stoic nature of sturdy New Englanders, my dad credits his “humble beginnings” for building character and a keen sense of integrity. His memories focus not on deprivation and struggle, but on the joys of living simply.  His example has taught me that life is full of hardship, but you always have a choice:  You can be grateful for what you have, or cry about what you’re missing.

2. Figure it out.  According to Emerson, “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.”  In keeping with his New England roots, Dad’s focus on self-reliance is somewhat transcendental in nature…just communicated in snappier language: Stop whining and do something. Figure it out.  Dad has lived this philosophy through countless examples: He got beat up as a kid, so he began lifting weights.  He couldn’t afford a dorm in college, so he slept on a friend’s floor, or in the back of the beer truck he drove as a delivery man.  When the engine of his ’56 MG Magnet seized while driving on the Mass Pike, he pushed the car into a field and hitchhiked the rest of the way.  He figured it out.

3. Nothing Flashy. Prior to introducing my mother to his parents, my dad told them, “You are going to love Lanie. She’s nothing flashy, but she’s a solid little performer.”  (You can see why “How to Be Romantic” failed to make this Top 10 List).  While this portrayal was less than poetic, I understood the intended meaning: Check your ego at the door.  Are you someone who is committed to what you are doing, or are you distracted by how you look doing it?  Are you focused on what you can give, or are you more concerned with what you can get?  When it came to dating, my dad encouraged me to seek out the guy with most integrity over the one with the biggest paycheck.  When my future husband showed up for our first date sweaty and shirtless after driving from Philly to North Jersey in an air-conditioner-less ’89 Acura Legend, my dad overlooked the partial nudity and lack of a rear view mirror.  In his eyes, this guy sweated his ass off for 2 hours to take his daughter out to dinner.  He was a keeper.  Which leads us to #4…..

4. Real Men Don’t Honk. I would not describe my father as overly protective, but he has always been big on respect – respect your things, respect others (especially your mother), and most importantly, respect yourself.  One memory in particular reminds me of this point: It was a Friday night in high school.  I was waiting for my “date” to pick me up while my dad watched baseball in the other room, seemingly oblivious to my plans for the evening.  A car pulled into our driveway, followed by two terse beeps of the horn.  Before I knew what was happening my dad was there, standing on the front steps, arms crossed, starting at the car silently.  Nobody moved for what felt like an eternity, until my knight in shining armor skulked his way to the front door with a half-hearted greeting.  At the time I thought I would die from embarrassment.  Now, I get it.  If all you think you deserve is a honk, a honk is all you are ever going to get.

5. Don’t Be An Asshole. When it came to fireside chats about the facts of life, my dad was a man of few words.  But, for a teenager who would rather walk across hot coals than have a father/daughter pow-wow about the birds and the bees, I welcomed the “less is more” approach.  Basically my dad had a fill-in-the-blank strategy for such discussions that went something like, “Well Jess, looks like you’ve been _____.  Well…I did______, your mother did_______, just don’t be an asshole about it, ok?  Alright champ.”  And I have to say, I listened.

6. Root For The Underdog.  My dad loves nothing more than to hire someone who needs the work. When chipmunks were destroying my mother’s garden, he would catch them in “friendly” traps and then set them free in the woods while ceremoniously singing “Born Free.”  The man had season tickets to the Jets for 25 years. Need I say more?

7. Be A Non-Conformist.  Further support in my theory of Dad as a Transcendentalist? Potentially…or maybe he’s just a little quirky with bad taste in clothes.  Either way, he really doesn’t care what people think.  Like, at all.  So if he feels like speed walking around town wearing tight sweatpants and ankle weights, or is in the mood to cruise down a main road in a recumbent bike, or decides that parachute pants and a Jets sweatshirt fits into the category of business casual…well, no one is going to change his mind.  Especially not my mother.

8. Just Float. Every summer, we rented a house down the shore with my mother’s siblings. My dad would take the kids out in the ocean – all the cousins hanging on to this huge black inflatable tire – dragging us back out over and over, silently and patiently,  until we caught the perfect wave.  Hours later, we would finally retreat to the safety of the shore, surrendering to our growling stomachs or sand in our bathing suits.  I would watch my dad swim out alone, beyond the breakers, so he could lie on his back and float.   How someone so big could float so effortlessly seemed magical to me.  I was in awe that he could swim out so far and not be petrified of what lurked beneath the surface. But then I would hear his voice say: “The worst thing you can do in the water is panic.  When you get scared, you sink.  When you relax, you float.  Don’t worry about fancy folks with fancy strokes.  Just float.”

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