Life Lessons From My Dad

IMG_2483My dad is probably the most difficult person to purchase a Father’s Day gift for. When you ask him what he would like for any special occasion , he will always answer the same way: “I don’t need a thing.” And he does not say it in the way most people do when they really do want something and just don’t want to sound greedy. My dad really doesn’t want anything.

Every year for his birthday, Christmas and Father’s Day I run down the short list of things he might find somewhat useful, but I think the best reaction I have gotten from giving him anything over the years has been from some pretty hilarious cards that highlight the kind of advice you can rely on from a dad.  But they never really landed on the money- at least not for my dad. So, Dad, this one is for you. The best life lessons you ever taught me – 95 percent practical with a sprinkling of that dry wit that I’m pretty sure I got from you…

1. You Can’t Always Get What You Want: He would explain this to my sister and me by singing that old Rolling Stones tune. We would roll our eyes but at the same time know that while we were sometimes pretty rotten, we were not spoiled. My dad has always been a hard worker and engrained in us at an early age the value of working for the things you have. You don’t expect someone to provide something for you – you work for it. And when you say you are going to do something, you do it. Period. And just when you least expect it, after you pay your major dues, then BAM – you get what you need. Every freaking time.

2. Live Within Your Means and Save for a Rainy Day: My dad instilled in us that credit cards were for emergencies only and that if you could not afford it outright you did not need it. This category also included suggesting that we set up 401-K accounts and pump as much as They Will Allow into them. He also suggested investing in appreciating assets (like a house) and not in depreciating assets (like a car). If you read my last blog post you will know what I am talking about on the car thing. Speaking of cars…

3. Check Your Oil and Car Gauges Regularly: I can remember being home from college for Christmas break or a random long weekend. I would be packing up my things ready to hit the dusty trail and when I would arrive at my car with keys and bag in hand, my dad would be washing it. Or changing the oil. Or wielding a tire gauge. I would roll my eyes and huff over my Unexpected Delay in getting to whatever band party was waiting for me on the other end of 316. (Told you- rotten!) My car had been sitting there for four days. Why now? Well, doing this was my dad’s love language. He might not have wanted to take me shopping for Coach purses but this he could do. I may not have said it much back then, but thank you, Dad. You prevented me from stalling out or spinning out more times that I already had.

4. Be Grateful for What You Have and Don’t Complain: My dad is a big believer of living in the moment and enjoying life’s simple joys.  He does not dwell on the past, nor does he fret (or get too terribly excited about 🙄) the future. Even- keeled and steady,  he does not pine for the finer things in life to make him happy. He has somehow always just known that they are smoke and mirrors, anyway.  Never has this been more evident than after he suffered a stroke in December of 2006. The recovery process was (and still is) a long one, and one that most people would pitch a major hissy over. But in his typical Dad way, he has taken this all in (re-learned) stride. Ask him about it and he will just talk gratitude- over getting to spend time with grandkids and no longer having to get up so early. Never once have I heard him complain.

5. The Eraser is the Dumb End of a Pencil: Growing up as a writer in a Rambling Wreck-sized family of generations of engineers was tough. Especially when it came to math homework. Oh, how I would cry and want to dig that eraser into the paper until my mistakes were nothing but a pulverized pile of rubber and pulp. My dad would try to get me to crack a smile by telling me to use the “smart end” of the pencil (the point) and analyze my work and what might be salvageable  before throwing in the towel. He probably doesn’t know it, but I’ve fixed a dishwasher, balanced many a budget at home and at work and put together numerous Christmas Eve toys using this philosophy. When my husband looks at me in disbelief each time I just smile and say, “daughter of Doug.”

6. Do Not Tell a Lie: This advice goes without saying but I learned this lesson at a very young age. I was not happy with my dad about something and decided to fill his L.L. Bean boot-style bedroom slippers with lotion. I recruited my barely two-year-old sister to pump the lotion so that I could stand watch. “Keep pumping,” I’d hiss as I listened at the door. When the bottle was empty and the slippers were full we disposed of the evidence and went on our way. Later that night I received the George Washington Cherry Tree spiel in its entirety after I blamed the entire episode on my sister. Rotten, rotten, rotten.

7. Attend Your Kids’ Stuff: He was there for my breakout role as Frauline Rottenmier in the seventh- grade musical production of Heidi even though I couldn’t sing a note. When I warmed the bench in JV basketball? There. And every time I set up my pompoms and megaphone on the Adams Stadium sidelines? He was there for that, too. And he could always be depended upon to treat us to Burger King afterwards, which had a convenient overlook of the pet shop flea dip station. Not Paris, y’all, but memorable just the same. Which brings me to my final lesson from my dad…

8. It’s the Small Things You Will Remember. Like practicing for the softball throw for field day in the front yard. Sit-up contests, and having him co-coach my fourth grade basketball team with Captain Bob.  And then there was the time at age seven or eight when I insisted on wearing flats to hike to the John Oliver Cabin and I stepped in a giant pile of poop. He put me on his shoulders and carried me the rest of the way. He also picked me up from every slumber party I was scared to stay at and some other parties later on (that I was also scared to stay at 😬).

You know, the biggest thing about all of this is that my dad did not (and does not) harp on any of his advice. He just continues to live life in his own quiet way, ready to lend an ear, or a joke, or a tire gauge. And if you are lucky enough to know him, you know he may not say much, but when he does it will be either something really smart, something really funny, or both. Thanks for being you, Dad.

The photo above is of Kelly Barbrey, her sister and her dad, circa 1980-something.  It looks like he is opening a box of delicious chocolates that he did not ask for and is reading a hilarious card. Kelly is wearing multiple slips from the dress up box. She is also wearing heels as her hiking flats were a bit dirty. 👔






One Comment Add yours

  1. Jan says:

    Brought me to tears. I am so happy I am lucky enough to know him, and your mom. Thank you for this Kelly

    Liked by 1 person

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