Sitting by the pool, Sara waggled her magazine in front of me. “You need to write this,” she said, pointing at the “Ten things I learned from my dad” article. “No,” I said, “I don’t write things like that.” “Yes you do,” she said, “and you should do it for Father’s Day on your blog.” “No,” I said.
Then I promptly went home and started making notes.
10 things I learned from my father in honor of Father’s Day:
1. Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Otherwise known as pure agony for middle school social butterflies who jump each time the phone rings in the pre-historic era before answering machines. Pinned to our dining room chairs Becki and I would be squirming and begging while the phone rang in the front hall. “They’ll call back,” Dad would say. But Becki and I knew that Kristi/Tim/Denny/Kevin/Julie would indeed not call back. That failed phone call the nail in our proverbial social coffin. Chris would smirk–the phone never for him–and enjoy our torture. Dad was right, though, 30 minutes later the person would call back. And it was always Shirley from church calling for Mom.
Now, my phone following me when I leave the house, I actually employ Dad’s motto just for the pure freedom of it. If only my students would do the same!
2. TV makes your brains as big as peas and your eyes as big as watermelons. This was the theory of the ruling Luddites of the house, convinced that television had no educational merit. It was absent from our house until Chris bought one as a computer monitor (ah, the VIC-20!). Mom and Dad, true to their word, had the channels removed from the television so it could serve its sole purpose as a monitor. Again, the agony. It looks like a TV but it GETS NO SHOWS! Again, Chris with the smirk. Not until the summer of my 16th birthday did an actual television with channels enter our paneled basement and only because Mom and Dad wanted us to be able to host our friends for VCR movie watching.
Now, when reality TV makes our cultural brains as big as peas and our collective eyes as big as watermelons watching each and every twitch of the newest reality star I realize that Dad was on to something.
3. When in doubt, throw it out. This was not easily adopted by me after Dad convinced me to donate my favorite doll to charity and Mom was left calling around for “a doll with a double hernia scar drawn on in marker” to rescue her. Alas, the doll was lost to the fates. But now, in charge of my own storage spaces, I see the great freedom of the purge. After a truly satisfactory donation run there is a space in my head that is full of possibility and creativity. I have only regretted a few things I’ve gotten rid of. And right now, I can’t recall any of them other than the doll. Not bad.
4. Write your Chinese cookbook. This advice was given to Dad from a military colleague as a suggestion when deployment became tedious and the waiting was getting to be claustrophobic. In the vein of just do something, the man suggested he “write his Chinese cookbook.” For Dad, this meant exploring the German countryside and learning the language when his deployment to Germany lagged. I have found this advice helpful when I am low on energy and high on anxiety. Just doing something, writing my proverbial Chinese cookbook, always helps.
5. Plant flowers around your foxhole. Another bit of military wisdom this time from Dad’s tour in Vietnam. Feeling depressed? Beautify your surroundings. It always helps. And you wonder why I’m constantly re-decorating my house! Dad is always my willing co-hort when I take on a project protesting that he “doesn’t do it for his health, you know” but I beg to differ.
6. There is nothing like Lake Michigan. Dad will drive out to the lakeshore on any given summer evening to jump into Lake Michigan provided there is no ice on the water. When we were kids he would preach with his swimsuit under his preaching suit so that we could jet out to the lake right after the evening service. He’s right. There is nothing like Lake Michigan. Hands down.
7. No need to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep. Dad’s teeth could be all he needs to pass as British, and yet he has fiercely kept them in his head even when his own parents had theirs yanked in their early twenties to make room for the technologically superior dentures. When we would moan about flossing, Dad would give us this particularly annoying adage. However, applied not just to teeth, but to the rest of life, it has grown in popularity for me. It boils down to, “take care of your stuff.” I try. I’m not as good at it as Dad is, but he’s a bit of an anomaly, I think.
8. Clean the kitchen while you cook. This is great advice. It allows for the cook to actually relax during dinner and enjoy the company. I expect Dad’s reasoning has more to do with the German efficiency of a clean kitchen than the enjoyment of others’ company, but either way, it works. I can’t not do it.
9. Miss Herrema is O-K. “OK” here does not mean simply fine. It is meant in the 1950’s sense of the word and, said with emphasis it means something like, “Your grammar teacher whom you both idolize and fear and about whose homework you are now whining is the best teacher in the world and you are lucky to benefit from her tutelage. Any complaining on your part makes you look like a lousy ingrate who doesn’t know how good your education is.” It also means, “We will always stand behind your teachers. No. Matter. What.” And Miss Herrema was a amazing teacher. I will diagram that last sentence just to prove it to you.
10. You’ll get over it. This heartless phrase was probably appropriate to the proliferation of skinned knees we offered up for sympathy with alarming frequency and Dad would have gotten away with the dismissal until…he said to me when I was crying over a red bump and it turned into chicken pox. He has not heard the end of the this error, but now that I’m a parent and each scrape comes my way for sympathy I am tempted to say, “you’ll get over it.” Fear of the red bump has kept this from coming from my lips, but I see the temptation. And, again, Dad is right. We do get over things. Chicken pox fade. Life goes on. “You’ll get over it” coming from Dad also seems like an endorsement of my inherent capability. A sort of “you can do it” German style. An expectation that you, indeed, can move past that skinned knee and make the day worthwhile. Perhaps Dad could have written my favorite parenting book: The Blessing of the Skinned Knee.
Well, Sara was right. I can write this list–and I do love a list! I could probably write another one, too. Perhaps next Father’s Day. But for now, Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I am, as always, honored to be your kid.