“Don’t smoke cigarettes, don’t smoke marijuana, and don’t drink alcohol till you are 21.”
That was the phrase my dad threw at me almost every day of middle school and high school. He told the people in our carpool, my friends who came over, and eventually my boyfriends as well. My mom insisted he said those things because he did them all when he was my age. I insist that he brainwashed me brilliantly by seeming to make something serious into a joke.
Fathers come in all shapes and sizes, but I have noticed a trend among them as well—they teach you more through actions than words. Many dads I know don’t give you specific life advice unless asked, nor will they lay out their lessons in plain English. They teach you through experience and example, whether they mean to or not.
Most of my friends knew him as the funny dad. He has some go-to jokes, like telling our 30 lb. furball dog to “attack!” and “sic ‘em!” or saying “I’m leaving now, if there is an emergency call 411.”
In this way, I learned to not take life too seriously. I also learned how to make excellent puns.
My dad isn’t the type to get overly emotional or expressive about telling you his feelings, but I always knew that he loved me and was proud of me. How? Because of his wardrobe. He owns a baseball cap and t-shirt for every school my brother and I have been to, and he wears them constantly, especially when we would go out somewhere public. I would also hear from his clients or friends about how my dad would tell them stories about his children and the things they were doing that made him proud. He embarrassed me many times growing up, but it was an embarrassing form of love that I always secretly appreciated.
There is also a deeper side to my dad that he does not show to the world, and I noticed it only through years of observation.
He has an amazing ability to do complicated math problems in his head. Before a GPS could tell you your estimated arrival time, my dad could multiply the mileage and speed of travel to estimate time and also tell you how often the tank will need to be filled up. Sure, he is an accountant for a living, but math is more than second nature to him.
Last year while cleaning out a room in my parent’s house, I found his sash of patches from boy scouts. Turns out, my dad was an Eagle Scout! In his words: “My father told me I couldn’t get my driver’s license till I became an Eagle Scout. Most people accomplish that by age 17, I did it by 16.” He nonchalantly dismissed the achievement and said I could throw out the badge, but of course I didn’t.
My dad is also what I would call an undercover introvert. He needs large amounts of alone time and dreads large social gatherings, but if put in that situation he transforms into an affable, entertaining people-person. It isn’t false or artificial, but rather a skill of pushing beyond one’s comfort zone for the benefit of relationships. I definitely picked up this skill, which is why many people I know insist that I’m extroverted even though I’m a die-hard introvert. Like father like daughter.
Most of all, my dad has demonstrated what perseverance looks like. He might not admit it himself, but I saw it weekly growing up when he took out the recyclables and trash, maintained the pool in our backyard, and took care of the day-to-day elements no one else wants to do. (Of course, my mom deserves a lot of credit in these things too.)
There have been a lot of moments over the years where I thought the emotional stress of personal issues or family struggles would break his perseverance. I marveled at his ability to soldier on, keeping a smile on his face. I picked up that ability to smile from him too, without ever realizing it.
My dad never sat me down to teach me how to tell a good joke, how to make complicated math problems easy, how to be social even when you are an introvert, or how to smile and persevere. I learned these things simply because of the way he lived and the example he set.
It is a good reminder for us all, to consider what we teach those around us by the way we live. But for fathers especially, your silent leadership is noticed more than you realize.
Fatherhood, and masculinity in general, does not depend on one’s ability to grill or throw a football or coach a soccer team. My dad did all of those things, but they aren’t what make him a good dad or a good man. Courage, strength, and love to provide for us in every way—those are what count.
To all the dads out there, thank you for all that you do. To the men who have been a father figure to someone else, thank you. To the men who stand up for others and provide care or support for those they love, thank you. No one is perfect, but you teach us valuable lessons in your everyday actions. Take the time to acknowledge these men in your life, not just today but every chance you get.
What did your dad teach you?