I was a typical daddy’s girl growing up. I love my mom with my whole heart, but Dad “got me”. We shared interests in food, music, culture and we had a similar political and social outlooks. We talked a lot about world events, history and the music of his youth. Occassionally, we’d talk about the music of mine. As a kid, I know I surprised him from time to time with the things I knew and showed interest in, and he’d get this look on his face of shock and satisfaction that he was getting through to me. He began having heart problems when I was in high school and he lasted until I was 20. He passed away in 2001.
It’s Father’s Day again – the 11th one without him – and I can’t help but think of the lessons he taught me and how present those are in my daily life. I thought I’d write about a few of those lessons, both in tribute to him and because I’ve never really shared them with anyone before. Now seems like a good time to do that.
1. Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings
As a kid, this lesson was worded in the same way each time I left the house, like a mantra. It was primarily for the safety of his young daughter as she (me) went out into the big scary world. I was taught to not wear headphones while on my bike, rollerblades, or even walking alone. He wanted me to hear traffic, sirens, even footsteps behind me. Being aware minimizes the opportunity to be caught unpleasantly by surprise.
It also taught me to notice the good around me – the birds in the trees, the funny conversations of old people on their front porches, a few seconds of a song blaring from a passing car that I would end up humming all day. Awareness leads to appreciation.
As an adult, it has practical implications for me. My top pet peeve is people who are unaware of the space they occupy. Like when I’m briskly walking and the person in front of me stops suddenly to tie their shoe, and I nearly collide with them. When people stand in doorways on campus talking on their cellphones, ignoring all the people around them trying to get somewhere. When people let the door slam in your face because they didn’t notice you behind them. Or like the time I was elbowed in the face by an unusually tall man who felt that flailing his arms in a crowded bar was a good idea. When I am out and about, I operate my body like a car…I check my blind spots before letting the door slam shut behind me, or while walking in a crowd. If I stop to tie my shoe, I “pull over”. The source of courtesy and safety is awareness. Some may say my Dad created this pet peeve. I say not enough dads preach awareness of the space their children occupy.
2. Even a Fish Wouldn’t Get Caught If It Kept Its Mouth Shut
Ok, so this reads a bit like a mafia catch phrase, but it’s actually Dad’s way of teaching me not to gossip or stick my nose where it doesn’t belong. This wasn’t meant to keep me out of jail, moreso was meant to keep me out of uncomfortable social situations and earn me the reputation of a good friend, a trustworthy acquaintance. It means ‘don’t rat out your friends’ but also says that no one likes a gossip. As an adult, people approach me and tell me things that they wouldn’t generally tell someone they don’t know well. But they say they feel oddly trusting of me. And rightfully so, because this fish keeps its mouth shut.
As a footnote to this lesson, he taught me to speak up when it counts….whether standing up for my own rights, or the rights of someone who couldn’t do it for themselves. Like a smart old fish, know what you’re aiming for before you take the bait.
3. A Setback is a Setup for a Comeback
I laugh as I get to this one, because I can’t stress to you how often he said these things in these exact wordings. I can still hear his voice, his inflections, and see the ways his eyebrows would rise and his hands would gesticulate. A setback is a set up for a comeback indeed. It’s a variation of the phrase about falling off a horse and getting back on. When you fail, you are given an opportunity to show that you can learn from mistakes and bounce back stronger. Even as an adult, I’ve said this phrase to friends who need to hear someone cheer them on as they get back on that damn horse.
HAHA> now i’m rolling with laughter and love for my dad. I moved out on my own from Melrose Park, Illinois to Iowa City, Iowa two months after I turned eightteen. On the day I left, my dad sat at the kitchen table, in his usual chair – the chair he fell from when he died – and said to me “Adrianne, I have one word for you….Contraception!” As he said it, he raised his pointer finger in the air and wagged it a bit like Tony the Tiger exclaiming, “they’re grrrreat!”
That was The Talk. Luckily, prior to this brief and minimally-uncomfortable encounter, he had taught me to be resourceful and studious, and I had already given myself ample sex education via the Melrose Park Public Library.
My dad would’ve been 65 this November. Instead, his ashes are a part of the mighty Iowa River. Once in awhile, I visit the spot where we laid him to rest. I don’t go more often because I feel he’s with me everyday, guiding me with his mantras and making me laugh.
If he were alive today, I’m sure he’d be proud of me. We’d listen to weird music on the turntable. I’d show him all the photos I’ve taken. I’d take him to a show downtown. And we’d sit at the kitchen table and talk about the state of the world til 2am.