It's hard for me to believe, but my dad's been gone eleven years tomorrow. I'm 49, so that means that nearly a quarter of my own life has passed since he lost his; exactly a quarter if you take away those five years or so when I was in my teens and I knew everything and he knew nothing.
Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of my father. He was a huge influence in my life and in determining the person I grew up to be. Hopefully that's a good thing.
Anyway, here is a random listing, in no particular order other than how they occurred to me, of things I learned from my dad.
- I learned the value of hard work. My father spent most of his life working for the telephone company. He wasn't an executive or a management guy, he was strictly blue collar. His union went on strike a number of times when I was a kid, and I remember him taking one of those jobs that people say Americans won't do any more to pay the bills - he worked as an apple picker. Those guys worked long days and he was no kid at the time, but he did it because he felt that a man who could work should work. End of story.
- I learned how to change my own oil and tires, and when to do it as well. My dad wasn't big on paying other people to do things he could do himself, so he did a lot of his own work on our cars when I was growing up. Before he died he had accepted that automobiles had become too complicated for backyard mechanics to work on very much anymore, especially if they didn't have all of the proper tools, but he still changed his own oil until he got too sick to do so.
- I learned how to swear emphatically and with gusto. One thing my dad wasn't blessed with was an overabundance of patience, and hanging around with him while he was working on those cars was a truly, shall we say, ear-opening experience for a little kid. I learned a lot of new vocabulary words that way, and most of them weren't ones you would ever learn in school.
- I learned to think for myself. Never one for following the crowd, my dad stressed to both my sister and I not to believe things just because they were trendy or hip, two things no one would ever have accused him of being. He was a pretty conservative guy, but he never once told me that I should think like him, only that I should think about all sides of an issue before coming to a conclusion about it. I still do that to this day, and more often than not, that technique leads me to conclusions I think he would have reached as well.
- I learned how to drive a stick shift. It's something he believed everyone should know, and I regret that I haven't been able to teach my kids.
- I learned how to approach a deadly, life-sucking illness with humor and grace. I hope I never get terminal cancer, because I know I could never live up to the standard he set as his life was slipping away.
- I learned how to be a Red Sox fan. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world to be now, with their success over the last few years, but my dad lived almost eighty years and all he ever experienced as a life-long Sox fan was heartbreak. He didn't live long enough to see the success, the two World Series wins in the last five years, but I know he's gloating about it right now wherever he is.
- I learned that who you are is more important than what you wear. Also what you drive, how much money you make, or how big your house is.
- I learned pretty much everything that has become important to me as my own life has ground on. I like to think my dad would be proud of me. I hope so, anyway.