My dad’s wisdom is 1950’s-meets-Emily-Post. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be proper. Do the right thing. Family first. He never said any of these words. He just showed me what he expected.
Since I was four (likely earlier but who remembers) my dad has been sternly cautioning me to “be safe” and “don’t do anything stupid”. These statements don’t have any qualifiers or explanations. When I was 10 “be safe” meant “don’t ride your bike in the middle of the street”. I assume now at 40 he means “don’t drive your car on the sidewalk” but who knows, he never actually defined safety.
When I was young he showed me how to be safe by:
- Sitting in the car for extended periods of time until I figured out to buckle up.
- Standing on the side of the road for minutes until I figured out to look both ways.
- Lightly smacking my hand when I tried to touch anything hot or sharp.
When I was a teenager his safety lessons were more of an interrogation:
- Who are you going out with?
- Will parents be there?
- What will you do if someone you don’t know offers you a ride home?
Fun fact: when my first date picked me up to go out my dad snuck out of the house and wrote down the guy’s license plate number.
When I moved out of the house his safety lessons evolved into observational questions:
- When I traveled, particularly to a city he had been to, “do you know which streets to avoid?”
- When I moved into my own home, “do you check to see if everything looks ‘right’ before you go in?”
My dad’s prompts led me to seek out information on how to be safe in every situation. And insist my kids do the same. As my kids leave the house I call after them, “BE SAFE! I mean, look both ways before you cross the street…if you get lost, ask a mom for help…” My kids are long gone before I finish my list.
Perhaps my dad was on to something. “Be Safe” is vague but succinct.
It’s the little things we remember forever
When I was little I chanted, “It’s so nice to have a daddy around the house” (which I’m sure was a line fed to me by my dad but it was true so I happily sang it). And now? I still call on him to:
- Remove dead birds from my door step.
- Find someone to snowplow my driveway.
- Remove hornets from my house.
- Take the kids to various inconvenient places at inconvenient times.
- Fix things around my house and/or supervise electricians and plumbers.
- Rescue me when I lock myself out of my house.
Whether I ask or not, my dad:
- Checks the tires of all cars in my driveway. Even guests. If your car is parked in my driveways, he is making sure it’s safe
- Monitors all doors to make sure they are locked (see “be safe” above)
- Brings me half-moons from my favorite bakery
- Opens every door for me (chivalrous, charming, and completely annoying but I love it)
- Insists we drive as many places together as possible even when it completely inconveniences him
- Reminds me about upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones
My dad never sat me down to say, “make sure you do a lot of little things for people you love. They might not thank you until they are 40. They might not notice in the moment. But over time all of these little things add up to a lot of love.”
A bonus lesson: gratitude
Brene Brown (must.watch.ted.talk.) recently said the emotion people have the most difficulty feeling is joy. And people who are able to experience joy the most deeply — and without remorse — have one thing in common.
The most important lesson my dad showed me was that:
I am grateful for the countless things my dad is teaching me. And even more grateful that he is still teaching me.