The 7 Best Lessons I Learned From My Father

Sometimes I have no idea if my kids are even listening to me. So in honor of Father’s Day, I figured it would be a good time to let Dad know that I was paying attention (sometimes).

Watch R-Rated Movies With Your Kids Even If They’re Not Old Enough

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Mom has never been a fan of scary or violent movies. And any time there was a curse in a movie she reminded us, “we don’t talk like that in this house.”  But when Dad was in charge, the lights got turned off, we heard John McClane say, “Yippee-ki-yay, mother f*cker” and occasionally a boob might appear on the screen.

Obviously show some judgement here (ie. don’t show your 3 year old some crazy, nightmare-inducing, slasher flick), but know that if you just show your kids Disney movies, they’re just going to be in constant fear of their parents getting offed.

More importantly, they’ll know that if you trust they can handle an R-rated movie, they can probably handle a lot of other things when you’re not around. Like, even when a hostage situation breaks out someone needs to make sure the pregnant lady isn’t sitting on the floor and that bathroom breaks will be needed.

Make Them Listen To Your Music, But Listen To Theirs Too

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I have very few memories from growing up that don’t include a soundtrack of Dad’s choosing. He was the king of BMG and Columbia House and ordered everything, even if he had never heard of them. Some of them were obviously bad choices (see Kentucky Headhunters). He even let us pick an album or two from time to time. When we were in the car listening to the radio, we played “Name the Band.” Chances are the answer had “the” in its name (The Beatles, The Stones, The Doors, The Band, The Allman Brothers, etc.).

Your kids aren’t always going to like your music, and you definitely aren’t going to like a lot of theirs. Maybe if you’re lucky there will be a modern day teaming of Pearl Jam and Neil Young proportions and you can both be happy.

If not, your kids will still know how to gauge your mood and what you listen to to get through those things that you still just can’t explain yourself.  Trying to make sense of Vietnam and Kent State as a young adult aren’t far off from trying to make sense of The Reagan Era and Rodney King trials. Buffalo Springfield and Public Enemy have more in common than “He Got Game,” and you’d be surprised how they can help spark conversations about the bigger picture.

Your kids are going to have a Vietnam, an A.I.D.S. epidemic, and may already be trying to get a handle on Charleston, Oak Creek, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner. You need to know who their Chuck D will be.

Don’t Get In Fights, Unless…

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There were two clear exceptions to this rule that Dad explicitly laid out:

1) Never throw the first punch, but never let someone get away with throwing the first punch. Otherwise they’re just going to punch you again.

2) Never let anyone disrespect your mother. ‘Nuff said.

It Will Heal By The Time You’re Married

This was one that Dad picked up from his father and it works on cuts, bruises, shots, hurt feelings, broken hearts and most things that are tear inducing. Parents can’t always make the pain go away, but eventually it will stop and they’re going to get over it, him, or her.

Do It For Your Mother

Kids ask “why” and “do I have to” all the time. Doesn’t matter if it’s clean up your room, take off your hat at the dinner table, please get dressed, or make your bed.

Eventually the whys will wear you down and you’ll resort to “because I said so.” I was the kid that would still ask “why.” I had no idea who this Emily Post character was and I would eventually have to un-make the bed to get back in it anyway. So what was the point?

“Do it for your mother” was different though. It was basically a way of teaching us empathy. Being a parent is tiring and I’m only now starting to realize the amount of sleep deprivation I’ve caused mine over the years. Small victories can be huge when you realize you spent the whole day at work with your shirt on inside out.

When Dad resorted to this one I knew that a) I was likely being an unnecessary pain in the ass b) Mom likely had enough things stressing her out at that moment and I didn’t need or want to be an additional one c) doing simple things for other people goes a long way.

My kids are still little so I’m not really using this one all that much, but they still get it. Generally when you see an unhappy Mommy, you see an unhappy kid. Given the choice between being lazy or helping Mom not lose her shit, they’ll likely make the right choice. If not, “because I said so” in a much angrier tone will eventually make a compelling argument.

Always Watch Out For Your Sister. Not Because She Needs It, Because She Deserves It.

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I’m the youngest so it wasn’t like my big sister could depend on me for protection. But she’s also brilliant and badass so she didn’t really need me in that department.

She once sent a neighborhood kid home with a black eye when he thought it would be funny to sneak up and tackle her. She referred to the 1st exception in the no fighting rule, and a few hours later that kid showed up on our doorstep with his father to complain about being roughed up.

As I said, my sister is no damsel in distress and I fear for anyone that treats her as such. But as I hung over the upstairs balcony to eavesdrop, I learned why it didn’t matter that my sister was able to end the problem. It should have never started.

Unapologetically and very calmly, I heard Dad explain to this kid’s father why he should be thankful that he made it home with only a black eye. Men don’t hit women, and they definitely don’t come back and cry about it when they get hit back.

My sister is awesome and pretty fearless and I hope that my daughter gets some of her traits. I certainly don’t want her to feel like she can’t stand up for herself. But her little brother also needs to know that even when she doesn’t need him, he should still be there.

Dance With Your Spouse. Do It Often. And Do It In Front Of Your Kids.

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Even in my parents golden years I still walk into their kitchen and catch them dancing while making dinner, paying bills or doing any other meaningless task. Chances are if Van Morrison comes on, they will drop everything. My brother, sister, and I did the typical “AH, GROSS!” as kids, but that’s how we learned that Mom and Dad were more than just a mom and dad. It’s kind of hysterical to see it now as an adult.

It’s weird, but this actually became my measuring stick to determine whether or not I saw myself having any real future with anyone. When bills are piling up, dinner needs to be made, and we’re bogged down with the day-to-day, will this person say, “hey, let’s just dance for a little while?” or will they keep trying to balance a check book? More importantly, are they someone I’ll want to put the check book down for?

Our kids think we’re silly, but I’d rather that than have them think cooking and banking are what marriages are made of.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

 

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