My father passed away on September 11 this year. I suddenly realized I didn’t have all of the time I wanted with him, and I never took the opportunity to get his advice on parenting. And I never thought to ask. Chances are, he would have made me work for the answers anyway. In the last couple of months, I’ve thought a lot about his methods of teaching me and what I’ve learned from him.
Browsing the card section at CVS around Father’s Day was always a challenge. No card ever felt appropriate. He wasn’t the Dad that took us on vacations, played board games with us, or took us school shopping. He wasn’t the Grandpa that seemed interested in holding my daughter when we brought her home from the hospital, or that would squat down next to her and want to listen to her non-stop jabber and songs. Not entirely unique for a guy in his late 60s I suppose, but not the dad that Hallmark cards seem to be targeted for. He was a self-employed contractor and served a stint in the military. With his quiet and conservative approach to life, he was undoubtedly a product of the Cold War. My Dad drove a banged-up Dodge van, the back fitted with shelves to organize his tools and milk crates to house his coffee containers full of screws and nails. He was not a chatterbox. We were very different people. And I spent much of my life trying to not be like my parents.
Not until his death did I really feel like I learned about who my father was and what he taught me. My understanding of him has sharpened as people have contacted me to share stories. Each person has said the same thing: He provided them with tools to accomplish something, answered questions if they had any, then he stepped back and watched people complete what they thought they couldn’t – whether it be building a deck or hanging cabinets. Everyone seemed to owe him a favor; he quietly helped a lot of people. He gave many people the gift of time.
He either didn’t accept gifts, did so reluctantly, or passed them on to other people. He was grateful for what he had and lived simply, with only what he needed. (A walk through his home after he was gone stunned me – he had no useless stuff.) He was a good listener. He donated anonymously and was a proponent of giving without expecting anything in return. He constantly reminded me to “Relax, take it easy; you don’t have to get it all done right now.” He thought that the funnies were the best part of the newspaper. He nudged me to pay attention to what’s going on around me, but not to tell everyone what I was thinking. I have yet to perfect any of these. But I am trying. I guess I’m admitting that I’m trying to be like my parents. Yikes.
His non-verbal teaching style has made me more conscious – not so much of what I am actively trying to teach my daughter – but of what she is gleaning from my actions. I certainly tend to over-think everything and perhaps “overteach”, instead of just letting learning happen naturally. Not all lessons are communicated through words. I constantly remind myself to slow down. I try to teach her patience by practicing patience. I try to teach her what she can do by letting her do it. I encourage her to not give up when she is growing visibly frustrated, but let her know I’m nearby for support. This is tough for a super chatty, micro-managing, relatively tightly-wound woman that wants to go in 50 directions at once. I must have driven the poor man nuts.
My daughter and I talk about Grandpa every night before bed. I want her to know who he was, as I am desperately trying not to forget. All she really remembers about him is that he had a beard and a drove a van – and that may be just because I remind her or because she sees his picture. But I will make sure that she knows him. My toddler and I have a routine of saying what we are grateful for each night as she snuggles down to sleep. And tonight I am grateful for family, some wonderful lessons, and the opportunity to share them.