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My Dad’s sayings

written by John
10 · 15 · 20

At length the servant returned, saying his master was now ready to see them.*

Perhaps for too many years, I thought of my dad as “strict” and “indifferent” despite wanting the best for me. He & I have had a respectful and caring but mostly aloof relationship – mostly, to each his own. Over time, with a greater depth of personal experiences, broad learning from books, TV and music, some careful listening to friends and lovers, and lots of thinking, I’ve learned to appreciate the man and his sayings, many of which generate warm memories and still ring true.

First of all: My dad is not one for many words. In most family gatherings, he socializes 1-to-1 so that he can be heard. I think he enjoyed teaching for 25+ years because he had a captive audience of 1-to-many – kids had no choice but to listen to him! As a kid, I was obligated to hear his sayings, repeatedly, and rolled my eyes at most of his “advice” as mostly outdated and irrelevant… except that some of them now resonate.

I reached out to my siblings to recall many of my Dad’s memorable phrases and sayings:

The key is organization.
To accomplish anything, you’ll not only need persistence but also planning. Ironically, my Dad saves all papers, tools, bills, knick-knacks, pens, and paper clips. And if you ever took a peek into my Dad’s basement, then you would know that he means organization as an aspiration, not a practical way to live. Nonetheless, it might take some time to find it but he knows where everything is located.

She/He wants “A-T-T”.
No, he wasn’t mentioning the the telecom media company but rather his own codeword for “attention”. Especially useful when my mentally-disabled sister would start acting up (who could not decode its meaning, at least when younger), it was applicable to celebrities, politicians and us kids. This definitely helps to question “why” a person

Not a saying but my sisters and I cannot get this out of our heads. As a high school alumni of Ashtabula ( …go ahead, say it: /æʃtəˈbjuːlə/ ash-tə-BYEW-lə ) and with family residing about an hour from our home, he/we would sing-song this phrase repeatedly as he was excitedly driving to his hometown in Northwest Ohio. He was happy to express himself this way – and his example taught us not to enjoy music and sing when you like something. Being too shy to sing alone, I  when singing along to a record or in group.

Always help your Mother!
He adored my Mom and always defers to her, much the way he [reportedly] did his own mother. He advised us to make her life easier and happier. (And naturally my Mom would say “Obey your Father” – so there’s that.)

Set the example.
As a public school teacher, he saw a lot of delinquent, unhappy and troubled kids – and didn’t want me or my sisters to act out. At weeknight dinner conversations, he’s share real-life stories of kids, parents and even other teachers. He would end each story with “I’m telling you so that you learn from others’ mistakes” and “I want you to set the example” for others in the community. I have to say his stories have impacted me: I strive to be as “good” as possible in my private and public life.

OMG. His enthusiastic screaming at football games still rings in my ears. Sometimes this yell would be followed by “Holy, mackerel!” when the athlete didn’t do what my Dad (an ex-coach) expected him to accomplish or was blocked. You can’t say the guy didn’t root for you!

Just do your best.
If only this one was simply, easily, automatically recognized and awarded …yet my Dad encouraged me to improve myself. That’s it, noting more. The goal was to be/do my best – to excel at any and every endeavor. I’ve learned to take failure in stride. And despite his encouragement, doing one’s best is not a popularity contest but instead an understanding of one’s self. It took me a while to stop comparing myself to external norms & expectations and start defining/refining my own internal ideals & goals.

Every one puts his pants on the same way.
This phrase helped. It calmed my nerves in Little League. It eased my adjustment into college. It helped before a speech in class. As a great equalizer, his reminder remains a simple and humble approach to everyone I meet – presidential or powerless, rich and poor. It also makes me optimistic and curious to discover the story of each person.

 Be humble.
This phrase has been a double-edged sword n my life. For example, in the classroom I’d answer correctly yet decline a teacher’s praise. Any time I would achieve something, I was reminded to ‘be humble’ and so I felt “selfish” if I felt good about my abilities. I’d dismiss most recognition or honors: I just didn’t understand that it’s completely OK to accept validation and it’s healthy to receive and celebrate kudos when they come my way. I confused humility with gloating & grandstanding. I now know that I can acknowledge and express my talents and know-how while remaining modest and self-effacing without coming across as smug or snotty.

Don’t follow someone off the cliff.
Probably the most relevant to living an authentic life, my Dad encouraged each of his children to become an individual in thoughts, words, and deeds. He repeatedly would say: “Just because someone does something or goes somewhere, doesn’t mean that you also have to do the same.” I know that this aspiration isn’t always easy, but it is personally rewarding.

As I said, it took me a while to appreciate my Dad’s sayings. His phrases have been useful lessons as well as humorous memories. Thanks, Dad!

* Extract from: « Philothea » by Lydia Maria Child


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