Home/10 Life Lessons From 1 Great Dad

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And now, I want to wish you a very Happy Father’s Day! In honor of the upcoming holiday, I’d like to share with you 10 things my Dad taught me, through his words and actions. Each line item also includes a link to a post that’s moved me this week.

10 Life Lessons From 1 Great Dad

1. Don’t compromise yourself. Admittedly, this is quoted from Olivia Halvorsen’s graduation speech (which I wrote about here), but it’s also a lesson my dad modeled for me. Though I used to self-consciously hide my brother Willie’s behavioral challenges from my friends, my dad never compromised himself by hiding Willie from the world. He takes Willie on work trips, on errands, on beach days, everywhere. I have never seen him act self-conscious or embarrassed by Willie’s behaviors, strange and frightening though they have been at times. What it all adds up to is a dad who loves and is proud of his kids, not because they’re perfect, but because they are his. Likewise…

2. A relaxed, take-it-as-it comes attitude makes difficult situations easier, and a strong sense of humor can diffuse many an awkward moment. Case in point:  I remember that day when my little brother ran off after dinner…and we had to call the police…who found him at Malapardis Park…splashing happily in the duck pond…naked…

You have got to have a sense of humor in these scenarios, and my dad has it in spades. Once, when I asked my mom how she knew that my dad was the one for her, she said,  “Oh, honey, you have to understand…your father could always make me laugh.” The older I get, the more sense that makes.

3. Show up for your family. My dad (and his six brothers and sisters) have a remarkably drama-free family dynamic, and I attribute that, at least in part, to their willingness to show up and help one another out. For example, in the last years of my grandfather’s life, my dad cared for him in practical ways:  doing work around his house, completing various projects and tasks on weekends. He showed his love through service, through giving, and he taught me to do the same.

4. When you’re traveling, travel light, but carry cash. Be it an emergency $50 in the glove compartment of my old car or a $20 handed to me as I boarded the train, my dad always made sure I had a little something ‘just in case’…and I was always thankful I had it when I needed it.

5. Connect with people. When I was younger, I used to be oh-so-embarrassed by my dad’s ability to strike up a conversation with anyone…be it the person in front of us in line at Costco or the guy pumping our gas at the station. Nowadays, I marvel at his gift.

6. Go with what works for you, not what others might expect. My dad’s a traditional-looking guy, but he’s also an avid surfer, and he rides a motorcycle too. I’ll never forget the day my dad picked me up from high school choir practice on his bike. Since he was wearing his helmet, my classmates were all convinced I had a secret boyfriend. Little did they know that the mystery man was my dad, being himself!

7. Self-employment rocks. I learned this from watching my dad run his own business. He has a strong work ethic and a gift for his field, and self-employment allows him the kind of flexible schedule that can be a lifesaver when you have a child with special needs…or a daughter who decides to get up at the crack of dawn every morning to figure skate. He chose a strategic specialty (essentially, fixing the machines that fix cars), and he’s the go-to guy for pretty much every auto service center and mechanic in New Jersey. He’s given me a picture of the freedom and flexibility afforded him by being his own boss.

8. When the wind is good and the waves are right, it’s okay to take time off and go surfing. 🙂

9. Appreciate your spouse, and create a chain of kindness. Every Mother’s Day for as long as I can remember, my dad has spent the day planting flowers in our front yard for my mom. As a child, that kind of constancy and love was so reassuring to me:  every year, my dad spent a day making the yard a wonderland of color and beauty for her. As an adult, it’s even more reassuring:  it reminds me that consistency is underrated, and very romantic.

10. “Take every opportunity to enjoy yourself.” My dad says this to me every time we say goodbye. It’s actually a quote from the BBC film version of Pride And Prejudice. What it means in our family’s context is, “Be careful and be safe. That said, go out and have some great adventures. After all, I trust you not to behave as foolishly as Lydia Bennet.”

The real lesson, though, is this:  a man who will take the time watch Pride And Prejudice with his wife and daughter — and then quote it proudly!— is a great dad.

Dad, I love you. Happy Father’s Day!

Show your love by sending this along to your dad, uncle, grandfather, or another special guy in your life.

PS ~ What did your dad teach you about life? Tell me in the comments!

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  1. Stephanie June 16, 2011 at 3:51 PM - Reply

    Caroline ~

    This is a beautiful post, and a real reminder for all the great gifts our dad’s give us. Mine is currently en route for a birthday/father’s day celebration weekend. I didn’t think it was possible, but I am even MORE excited to see him after reading this post.

    Thank you for the reminder of how special a great dad is!

    Best ~ Steph

    • Caroline McGraw June 16, 2011 at 5:40 PM - Reply

      Thank you Steph! I’m so glad I could add to the excitement + celebration of your weekend 🙂

  2. Chelle June 16, 2011 at 4:18 PM - Reply

    Caroline,

    The most important lessons my dad taught me were that honesty and morals were the most important things in life and that life is never fair. Whenever my kids say “that’s not fair!” I always respond with, “well, my dad always told me that life isn’t fair.” He also taught me not to procrastinate and to have a good, solid work ethic.

    My dad is the most honest, moral, ethical, hard-working, wonderful guy and I’m blessed to have him for a father!

    Thanks for this post. It’s nice to stop and think about the things that are important.

    Chelle
    http://www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com

    • Caroline McGraw June 16, 2011 at 5:42 PM - Reply

      You’re most welcome, Chelle, and thank you for sharing! Sounds like you have learned a lot from your dad over the years, and that those lessons are being passed on to the next generation.
      Happy Father’s Day!

  3. dad June 17, 2011 at 1:42 AM - Reply

    What a great treat! I’ve spent about an hour reading all of the things that clicking your highlighted phrases takes me to(I actually only realized that I could do that about a month ago – so computer illiterate), that dog is too weird. Its good to see your chillins learn from you over the years. Keep up the good work & feel free to comment about me whenever you like. Love DAD.

    • Caroline McGraw June 17, 2011 at 2:30 AM - Reply

      🙂 🙂 So glad you liked your gift. And yes, links are marvelous things indeed – especially when they take you to Hyperbole and a Half’s Simple Dog.
      Love, your favorite daughter.

  4. Michelle June 20, 2011 at 10:34 AM - Reply

    I had 2 dads and both taught me to live life positively and with a sense of humor! And that these are the most important things in life. My dad, died when I was 7, after many years of illness. He never let it get him down..every day he woke up and put one foot in front of the other with a big beautiful smile. I may have been young but I remember it well. He also taught me bravery, in the light of what may have seemed to others a dire situation

    My stepdad came into my life when I was 19, he was my friend, he died 3 years later and he gave me the gift of laughter into adulthood…that you should always have fun, love life and cherish your family and laugh often.
    I am sure there is so much more that they taught me, these are the core principles/values/life lessons that I have now…
    they were the 2 most wonderful dads anyone could have!

    • Caroline McGraw June 20, 2011 at 12:10 PM - Reply

      Thank you for sharing this, Michelle ~ an admixture of loss + gifting. You have had, as you say, 2 of the most wonderful dads anyone could have.

  5. […] dad is in Alabama, and mine is in New Jersey, so in a literal sense, our dads (great dads that they are) were elsewhere. Yet Don is part of our L’Arche […]

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