Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ten Things I Learned from My Father

 1.  A real man is big on the inside. He has a booming laugh and tough, warm hands that almost make a muffled sound when they clap, like slapping oven mitts together. If he is tall and strong, it’s so he can lift you onto his shoulders to help you see better. His size and strength only emphasize his tenderness.
2.  Everyone should have a sense of humor and use it often.
3.  Encourage your child to ask questions about life, and then have the patience to answer honestly. If the question is about sex, give an honest, straightforward answer. Then shrug your shoulders and add (with wonder in your voice), “That’s the way God made it, and it works!”
4.  My father was a man’s man, a one-time boxer, a former Nebraska Cornhusker football player, an ex WWII marine. But he was also a talented artist and in many ways so much more intuitive than most of the women I knew that for most of my childhood, I thought the stereotype of creative woman/pragmatic man was a joke. I learned that the best people go against stereotypes.
5.  Lying is okay if it’s done out of genuine love. When I asked my father if he was sorry he didn’t have a son, he grimaced with mock horror and asked, “What would I want with icky boys when I have the three best daughters in the world?!” Of course I knew he was lying. But how I loved him for it.
6.  Sometimes it’s the things you don’t say that speak the loudest. When I asked him about WWII, he got that look and got way too quiet. And then he’d perk up and say, “Here’s a funny story….” He’d tell things like the time he was supposed to swab the deck and got the “bright idea” to clean the mops by tying them to a rope behind the ship, without thinking about the fact that they had metal on the handles that would set off the torpedo warnings. When I got done laughing, I was left contemplating that prologue of silence. It was the things he didn’t say about the war that made me ache.
7.  Small people put others down in order to feel bigger. Big people lift others up because they have the strength to spare. They know how to be humble. They admit they have faults and know how to laugh at themselves.
8.  Absolutely the best gift a man can give his daughter? His respect. Not for the way she looks, but for her mind and her soul. Because of course men who are confident enough to be able to love and respect strong women are the best men there are. And I don’t mean in that slightly cheesy, “I am excessively chivalrous” way that’s really an excuse to posture. I could have an intellectual conversation with my father or just be silly. He worked in local politics toward the end of his life. At his funeral, a female politician approached me and told me all the things she admired about my dad.  But the thing that struck her on the deepest level was what set him apart from all the rest. “Your father was the only man of his era I’ve ever known who genuinely knew how to treat women as his equal.” She was right. I’ve always cherished both that truth and her gift of putting it into words.
9.  The most important thing really is being there.
10.  There is a great deal to be said for having nothing left to say when it’s time to die. Sometimes you have to greet each other by your nicknames, do the “secret handshake,” and know that’s the best goodbye there is.

Miss him? Yep. Happy Father’s Day.

When all is said and done, 90% of being a dad is just showing up. ~Jay from Modern Family


  1. One of the memories that I cherish most about my father was something I saw when I was pretty young, but still remember.

    My mother and father had a fight. They didn't fight a lot and most of their fights didn't amount to much, but this time it was probably the biggest fight I was ever to see between them.

    My younger sister was on a potty chair at the time and my father was so angry that he picked up the pot out of the chair and threw it at the wall, making a rather nasty mess. He then got quiet. Looked at it. Then proceeded to clean it up.

    Afterwards he went into the other room to make up with my mother.

    I don't remember this because I was frightened by it. His anger was directed at the wall and only the wall. I remember it as a somewhat humorous family event that we would later tease him about.

    In my entire life this was the only time I ever saw my father do something remotely looking like violence.

    My father taught me that anger is no justification for physically harming another person. Not by what he said, but by what he did. ...And who he was.

  2. Couldn't leave this without sharing another memory of my father.

    In an era when it was still considered acceptable for a father to give an unruly child a thrashing with a belt in the shed behind the house, we had "You don't want your father to find out about this!"

    That would be my mother's threat when we would do something that she REALLY didn't like. To this day we don't really know what my father might have done had he 'found out' about what we'd done. My mother made such a point out of this that neither myself nor my sister was going to chance it.

    How effective that was! No beatings. No groundings. No angry lectures. Just that simple phrase that helped us to become adults.

    Of course, now I know my father surely WAS told about each and every infraction. He was simply wise enough to know that the fear of a thing can be used more effectively than the thing itself.

    And although we never really found out what he MIGHT have done 'had he found out' - I suspect the answer is nothing more than a lecture about responsibilities.

    My father and mother still loved each other when my father died and after. Of this I'm certain. They made no attempt to hide it. That was after more than 50 years of marriage and many difficulties. That love is one of the things that I'm most grateful for.

  3. Tammy--Your post made me teary-eyed. I think you have the makings for SEVERAL personal essays in this post.

    (And from your photo, can I tell where you got your great dark hair and eyes?)

  4. Oh, Tammy, this is beautiful! Your Dad was a wonderful person, one that I would have liked to meet and perhaps work with. Thank you for sharing this today, sending you a hug!

    Thanks so much for stopping by to see me; glad you liked the lake pictures ... it is always pretty there. Not always warm, but always pretty.

    Kathy M.

  5. Tammy, this tribute made me cry. You are one lucky daughter to have had a dad with all these wonderful character traits.

  6. Well done. You have rendered me speechless.

  7. Awe Tammy, Know how much you miss him! He has the best seat in the house today! He would be so proud of you and his Grandkids!!! xo

  8. No wonder you're so special.

  9. It's lovely to have good memories, isn't it?

    Critter Alley

  10. Tom, that memory of your parents' love for one another sounds like a great one to cherish!

    Funny, Sioux, but what you can't tell from the picture is that my dad was a REDHEAD before he went gray and eventually bald! I'm sort of sorry I didn't get his hair. Except for the bald part. And that gray part, well....

    Thanks, Kathy, and hope you enjoyed your lake trip!

    Thanks so much, Beth.

    Thanks, Linda, I really am.

    Thank you, Val!

    Thanks for stopping in, Holly! I sure wish my children had been able to know my parents.

    Lynn, spoken by someone who is herself incredibly special!

    You're right, Pat. They keep giving!

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