Things My Father Taught Me

d-is-for-dad

I sigh heavily as I sit down to write this. I miss my dad…a lot. I’m sure, in this chaotic mess that is my blog, I have mentioned that my dad is no longer with me. I don’t know that I’ve ever said how or when…he died from stage four lymphoma in 2005…I was 21. He was never diagnosed as terminal (or if he was, he never told anyone) so his death was sudden and unexpected. That story (his death and what happened before and after) is a different story for a different day and it being Father’s Day, I don’t want to focus on all the bad feelings and the bitterness I have about that time in my life; it’s not pleasant. But suffice it to say that death does indeed bring out the worst in people.

Unlike the post Things My Mother Taught Me…daddy was a better teacher and taught me better life lessons. My dad was an introvert (like yours truly) and wasn’t overly affectionate or verbose as a general rule. He may not have said, “I love you” out loud or very often, but when he did say it, I knew he meant it and even if he didn’t say it, he showed it…or, at the very least, he tried to. My family is/was a “yours, mine and ours” kind of family. My dad was married once before he married my mom and he had two daughters from that marriage (that I did not grow up with or see often). My mom had my brother out of wedlock and then my mom and dad married and I came along three years later. There’s a huge age gap between me and my siblings…so much so that I grew up as pretty much an only child and I was treated as such. I grew up with my brother but he moved out the minute he turned eighteen and from then on, it was just me, mom and dad. It wasn’t a bad thing at all. Every birth order “type” (oldest, youngest, middle, only, etc.) has its own set of pro’s and con’s. I like to think I grew up pretty well rounded. I got a lot of attention, I never wanted for anything and I occasionally reaped the benefits of having siblings while also reaping the benefits of solitude. Best of all worlds, I think.

I could probably write forever about my dad. I try not to talk about him around my mom because she likes to focus on all the bad things he did or all of the reasons why she didn’t like him and ended up divorcing him just shy of their 25th wedding anniversary. I’m not here to bash anyone and I want this to be a “good” post…maybe not a “happy” one by definition as my mood is somewhat somber…but what I’m about to share means more to me than my Mother’s Day post did. My mom thinks I idolize my dad now that he’s gone…that I’ve put him on a pedestal and see him for someone he wasn’t. What actually happened is that I am actively choosing to remember the good parts about him and not the bad. My dad wasn’t perfect and I will never say he was…but he tried…and he was my dad…I am his little girl…and I always will be. Everyone that sees my mom and I together always says we look alike…that I am definitely her daughter. I personally don’t see that. I may have gotten my nose or my general body shape from her but color-wise and everything else, I look and act nothing like my mom. And that’s one thing we actually both agree on (shocking, huh?). We look at each other after someone comments on how much we look alike and we’re all, “WTF?” Neither of us sees it. What I see when I look at me is my dad. I have his hair color, his eye color, his skin color. I don’t mind looking like my mom but I think sometimes people forget about my dad (or they never met him) and don’t take him into consideration when trying to figure out which parent I resemble the most. It probably doesn’t help that I want to put as much space as possible between my mom and me and when people say we look alike, that’s not helping me do that. “I look like my dad!” I want to shout. But no one sees that…or they don’t remember. Now if people were to compare whose personality and habits I most emulate, I guarantee that most people would say I take after my dad. Dad and I share a lot of the same personality traits and here’s where you can insert the nature versus nurture debate. Obviously, my mom was the primary caregiver and probably the one I spent most of my time with…yet somehow I take after my dad more than her. In exasperation and frustration, my mom often, to this day, blurts out, “You are so much your father’s child!” She may have meant it in a negative way but I actually take it as a compliment and further push her grumpy button by saying, “Thank you.” If I had had any choice in the matter, I’d much rather take after my dad than my mom any day…even knowing what I know now…probably more so knowing what I know now. Being stubborn is probably one of the more obvious traits that my dad and I share. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation. It can be a good thing, for example, in trying to accomplish something and being so stubborn, you refuse to give up until you get it right or get the desired result. And it can be a bad thing, for example, when it comes to being stuck in your ways/habits and refusing to change them and/or refusing to try. Sometimes I wonder if I am being overly sentimental when it comes to my dad because it seems as if no one else remembers or talks about him anymore. And I know that just because they don’t say anything doesn’t mean they don’t remember…it’s just that no one talks about him anymore (unless it’s bad stuff, like my mom will point out/talk about…”Your father used to do that and I hated it.”). For me, I don’t want to forget. Do I like being reminded that he’s not here? No. But I like remembering that he used to be.

1. Cars: I’m a girl. I don’t know much about cars nor do I have an interest in learning more. But my dad pretty much taught me all I needed to know. He taught me how to check the oil level and told me that it was safe to touch anything under my hood that had a yellow cap on it. He taught me when and where to go to get my oil changed and stressed its importance to the life of my car. He taught me how to check the air pressure in my tires and also taught me how to correctly apply a license plate registration tab (it’s not as simple as just sticking it on there, people!). But one of the most valuable car lessons I learned was the lesson on gas. I was definitely not one of those ditsy teenagers that didn’t know how to put gas in my car when I started driving. One of the first rules my dad taught me about driving/my car was to always have at least 1/4 of a tank of gas in your car, especially during winter. To this day, when I get down to about 1/4 of a tank, that’s when I go fill up. And in 15+ years of driving, I have never once run out of gas. (Thanks, dad.)

2. Money: My dad was the one who helped me open my first checking and savings account. He taught me how to write checks and balance a checkbook and the importance of saving money and paying bills on time. I was always amazed that I could do this in high school and my friends could not (there are some people that still don’t know how to do this, especially in today’s electronic world). My dad was a tad on the anal side (like yours truly) and every single transaction was written down and accounted for in the checkbook and savings register…down to the penny. I followed suit. This was even before debit cards became popular…and once I was comfortable using a debit card, I accounted for every single debit card transaction as well. Naturally, I have an app for that now but it’s still something I do with every deposit and withdrawal I make. (Thanks, dad.)

3. Math: Given the age difference between myself and my parents and siblings, I didn’t get a lot of help with my homework because everything my parents knew was “old school” and was the long way to do things, especially math problems. Granted, I didn’t need much homework help but I wasn’t perfect and there were still some things I needed help with at times. I don’t know why this sticks out for me so much, but I remember learning my times tables in elementary school. For the life of me, I could not remember what 8 x 7 was. My dad taught me a mnemonic: eight times seven is fifty-six, my dog Fido can do tricks. I shit you not people, when I have to figure out what 8 x 7 is now, I say that little rhyme in my head every single time despite knowing the answer immediately. (Thanks, dad.)

4. The importance of being neat: I definitely got my OCD/anal gene from my dad…hands down, no doubt about it. Everything had a place in my house (at least everything my dad had control/say over). I will never forget going through the house after he passed and going through his desk and pulling out operating/owner’s manuals for shit we didn’t even own anymore…an old 80′s boombox (a Christmas gift for my brother), the original GameBoy (both mine and my brother’s), miscellaneous electronics manuals, and even the manual for my Cabbage Patch baby doll carrier/car seat that had been donated to Goodwill over a decade prior to his passing. My dad would often be accused of being a neat freak but I personally don’t (and never did) see anything wrong with it as it didn’t get in the way/hinder anything. He just always knew where everything was, everything had a place and there was literally a method to his madness. I double-dog dare my Teddy Ruxpin to go berserk on me now (yes, I still have him) because I still have the owner’s manual. (Thanks, dad.)

5. Reading: My daddy loved to read. Even if I had only gotten one dollar for every book I had to sell/give away after he passed, I probably would have gotten close to a thousand dollars. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I haven’t read as much in the last two years as I would like and I don’t know if that’s from me just having so much shit going on inside my head that I can’t concentrate or if I seriously did some legit damage to myself in the process of trying to end my life on multiple occasions. I miss reading and Lord knows I try. I’ve always loved to read…from my first Berenstain Bears book to the latest James Patterson novel. My dad stuck to mystery/crime novels and I sometimes wonder now if that’s where my fascination with crime came from. I love to read true crime (fiction too) and you can almost always find my TV on the Investigation Discovery channel. I don’t have any memories of anyone reading to me, but I have lots of memories of the three of us (or just me and dad) sitting in the same room with our noses all in a book. If we traveled or went on vacation, you could be sure that there was always extra room made for books. As an only child, I often had to find ways to entertain myself and this was never a problem for me because there was always a book for me to read, be it one of my own or one of my dad’s. (Thanks, dad.)

6. Pool: My daddy loved to play pool. Loved loved loved. He didn’t have many passions in life or things that brought him great joy…but playing pool was one of them. And imagine the delight on his face when his daughter asked him to teach her how to play. After I moved out, I would meet dad about once a week at Wendy’s for dinner (he would always have a baked potato, chili and milk) and then we’d go to a bar or pool hall of our choice depending on the night. I don’t watch many sports on TV and neither did my dad, but you could find us watching pool together (especially the trick shot tournaments). Sometimes now, for pure sentimental reasons, I will watch a pool tournament just for fun. The only thing that makes me sad here (well, there’s two things) is that he never finished teaching me how to play. I’m not sure he would have ever been done teaching me but I was only just beginning to get good at it before he died. The second thing that makes me sad is…remember when I said earlier that death brings out the worst in people? My dad’s oldest daughter stole his and my pool cue’s and cases out of his truck the day after he died and I never got them back. I haven’t touched a pool cue in almost eight years but if I ever do, I hope that he would help me line up my shot and kick ass. (Thanks, dad.)

7. Being on time: My dad did not like to be late for anything and you could set your watch based on his morning routine. I’m the same way. I hate being late. I am always early or on time for any appointment/meeting/what have you. I don’t even like being late to movies. I’m flexible if it’s not a crowded movie and I’ve only missed the previews but if I miss just one minute of the actual movie, I won’t watch it because I want to watch it from beginning to end…literally. This can be debilitating (or at the very least, frustrating) at times (for me and/or the people that deal with/put up with me) because if I’m late, I’d rather ax the whole appointment or whatever it is I’m late for than show up late. This doesn’t go for everything…like if I agree to meet you 5 PM for a casual dinner and I get there at 5:05…okay whatever…I can deal with that, it’s dinner. But it goes both ways. People make appointments to see me/schedule time to be with me/carve out time to see me at specific times and I make the effort to be there on time (early, more often than not) and I feel that others should make the same effort. I understand things happen but don’t ever use the traffic excuse on me. I’m rarely, if ever, late because of traffic. Why? Because I allow for it. This isn’t absolute of course and there are always exceptions. But I feel that it’s a sign of respect to be on time (especially to appointments), knowing someone has carved out time specifically for me…be you a doctor, friend, potential employer…and I expect the same respect in return. It’s a courtesy thing. And contrary to popular belief, I like being courteous. A little respect and courtesy goes a long way. (Thanks, dad.)

8. Penmanship: Oh daddy…you were one of those rare men that had legible, albeit, beautiful handwriting. People always made comments on my dad’s penmanship. It’s rare to see nice handwriting and it’s even more rare to see it coming from a man. I have a few things left that have my dad’s handwriting on them and one of them is a cassette tape. Do you remember those, kids? It was one you could record on…side A and side B. And in my dad’s very identifiable script, the tape reads “The Jazz Singer soundtrack – Neil Diamond”. I remember working on my handwriting a lot growing up but it wasn’t ever something I had to force myself to do…writing neatly came naturally to me and is, quite possibly, something I picked up from my father. (To be fair, my mother has nice handwriting also.) I get many comments/compliments on my handwriting. (Thanks, dad.)

9. Work ethic: My dad was the type of person who never missed a day of work, even if he was legitimately sick. He took work so seriously that he rarely even took vacation time and ended up losing a lot of it. I understood his reasons (nothing got done if he was gone; he was a one-man show) but it was still hard to see your dad go into work with a chemo port in his chest. He worked as much and as best he could right up until the day he died. He taught me the importance of doing a good job and doing it right the first time. He also taught me about customer service. When he died, he had customers that didn’t know what to do with themselves or their companies because they had been loyal customers of my dad’s for over 20 years. I definitely don’t let my vacation time go to waste, but you will find yourself telling me to go home after I’ve already come to work sick more often than you will find yourself on the other end of the phone listening to me call in sick. I may not like customer service, but I know how to do it and I know how to do it well. (Thanks, dad.)

10. Humor: One of the things I miss most about my dad is his silly sense of humor and his laugh. You knew you were getting a genuine smile and laugh when you got one from my dad. He was definitely not a faker. He had a silly sense of humor too…the type that makes you roll your eyes as a teenager…the type that you laugh at when you become an adult…the type you miss when you can no longer hear it. He was sometimes corny and could also sometimes hit you with a real zinger that you would laugh at for days. He knew how to laugh…and he taught me. (Thanks, dad.)

11. SpaghettiO’s: My mom and dad separated for a brief period of time when I was about seven years old. My mom continued to live in the family home with me and my brother while my dad moved into an apartment a couple cities away. I saw him every weekend and I thought it was the greatest thing EVER…because my dad made me SpaghettiO’s for dinner and his apartment complex had a pool (have I mentioned that I’m an Aquarius?). I still love me some SpaghettiO’s and you will always find a can of it in the pantry. (Thanks, dad.)

12. Music: My daddy LOVED his music. Queen, BeeGee’s, Pink Floyd, Neil Diamond…those are just some of his favorites. And because he loved it and played it all the time, I learned to love it too. For anyone that follows me on any sort of regular basis, you know I’m a music whore but what a lot of people don’t know is that my collection and likes are vast and varying. I’ve had people say, “Dafuq do you know about The Gap Band?” “Were you even cooking in your momma’s belly when Saturday Night Fever Came out?” I love it all with some exceptions and if I can get into it, it goes in my library…I don’t care who sang it or what “genre” it’s in. One song that always makes me smile is “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen because that was my dad’s favorite song, hands down. (I later learned that he requested this to be played at his and my mom’s wedding reception…and played it was…insert appropriate giggles here.) I cannot hear that song without thinking about my dad and his bad ass Saturday Night Fever dance moves. I had an appointment to get my hair done two days after my dad died. I made it months before he passed and when I wanted to cancel, I was encouraged to keep it. So I did. The gal that does my hair has done my hair for over 20 years and she also used to cut my dad’s hair. Two days after my dad passed, I was sitting in her salon getting my hair done and that song came on. I smiled and lost it. (Thanks, dad.)

13. Sighing: My dad was the king of the heavy “imirritatedohmygodgoawaywillyoujustshutthehellupalready” sigh. My mom hated it then and God help us if I or her boyfriend does it now. My dad didn’t even have to say a single word…that sigh said it all whether or not you wanted to hear it. And I’m daddy’s little girl, right? I have that sigh DOWN. (Thanks, dad.)

14. Solitude: I said earlier that my dad was an introvert and I am too. My dad taught me that being quiet and alone was not a bad thing. He taught me to embrace it, to enjoy it (especially when it was rare), and what to do during that time…like reading. I grew up being chastised for being an introvert and having no problem whatsoever with having to entertain myself and find things to do and it’s only been recently that I’ve been told (and have accepted) that it’s not a bad thing and the world would do well to learn and appreciate that. Without introverts, there are many books, ideas, theories, math and science formulas, etc. that we would not know today because a lot of those came from people who were introverts and/or their ideas were the result of periods of solitude, reflection and time to think. I embrace and enjoy solitude and quiet. (Thanks, dad.)

15. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone: The last thing my dad taught me is something he taught me after he died. He taught me that you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I don’t want to think I ever took my dad for granted, even knowing that he was sick. But had I known he was going to leave this world and leave me, there are things I think I would have done differently, more time I would have spent with him, and definitely more things I would have said. Nowadays, I don’t like leaving things unsaid. Even if I leave my therapist’s office and I forgot to say something or thank her for something, I will call her on my way home and tell her, even if I have to leave a voicemail…at least I said it. I have a million things to say to my dad and a million questions to ask that I never got the chance to…or never took the opportunity to. To be fair, some of these came after he passed…but I think often…hope often…that he knew/knows I loved him and that I said and showed it enough. I don’t follow a religion and I have no clear idea or belief in what, if anything, happens when we die. I don’t know if my dad still pokes his head in on me. There are “weird” things that happen that naturally make me think twice and say, “Is that you, Daddy?” Moments where I’m sure that no one is with me but him or moments where he makes his presence known. But with no beliefs, it’s only speculation on my part…and probably a lot of wishful thinking. Even though I didn’t get to say everything I wanted, I at least know now to never take someone for granted and to never leave anything unsaid.

Thanks, dad. For everything.

Love Always,
Your Brown Eyed Girl

This has always been my song for as long as I can remember. It’s the one my dad always played and dedicated to me and the one that makes me stop, listen and think of my dad every time I hear it.

One thought on “Things My Father Taught Me

  1. This post touched me so much! I am also an Aquarius (but I can’t swim). My dad just got a chemo port put in his chest as well. I am also an introvert and used to love reading, although I don’t read as much anymore, except on blogs such as yours.

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