What My Father Taught Me
from FTD Magazine
Every year for Father's Day, Full-Time Dads Magazine asks a select group
of people to comment on some aspect of fatherhood. " ...we
asked our correspondents to share with us something special that
their father taught them. We were very pleased to receive
contributions from several notables, and from a lot of readers.
Full-Time Dads extends a hearty thank you to all those who contributed."
Editor, Full-Time Dads.
I have fond memories of the "quality" times my Dad
spent with me (and usually my twin brother). My Dad had a business
making wooden toys for kids. As a 4 and 5 year old, I would often
go downstairs to the wood shop and watch Dad as he worked so skillfully
on the lathe or the band-saw... cutting chunks of wood and magically
turning them into trains or trucks or puzzles, etc. Sometimes,
my brother and I would pick up many of the silver dollar shaped
drill press scraps and pretend they were money. Dad would mark
numbers on them and teach us how to count (pluses and take-aways).
Some nights, Dad would be preparing the 1963 Ford station wagon
(with the big round tail lights with the reverse lights in the
center) for a trip the next morning across the state (NY) to visit
relatives. I would go out to the garage in my P.Js. and watch
as he changed the oil, filled the washer fluid, checked (and sometimes
replaced) the fan belts, etc. He once showed me how to do a brake
job. As he did with the wood-working tools and machines, Dad
explained all the things he was doing to the car and would always
answer the questions my curious little whirring mind would conjure
up. So, I learned a lot about shop tools and auto mechanics.
Unfortunately, cars are a whole lot more complicated now than
they were in the 1960s. For that reason (and the sake of time),
I rarely do much to my cars besides replace the air filters, wiper
blades, fill the washer fluids (the easy stuff) when needed.
Dad also taught me (a 5 year old) the shifting pattern (how to
shift) of a standard. He had an early 1960s VW Bug. When he
and I would run up to the store for something, he'd let me shift.
When I was 18 and had just learned how to drive, I got lost on
a dark night in the Bedford Suyvestant section of Brooklyn. I
didn't see a stop sign and a speeding taxi cab slammed into the
car (my mother's) which I was driving.
When I was going over the accident reports and insurance forms
with my father, I learned that the taxi cab was actually an illegal
"gypsy" cab. I suggested to my father that we "get"
him and that if we turned him in for being an illegal cab we wouldn't
have to pay for the damage to his car and it wouldn't show up
on my insurance, etc.
My father explained to me that there was nothing wrong with being
a gypsy cab driver-that no yellow cabs would go into those areas
and that the car was the man's livelihood and we had no right
to put him out of business just to save my neck or some money.
Twelve years ago I flew from my home in Minnesota to spend Father's
Day with my father in California. This wasn't a typical Father's
Day visit, but to say goodbye to my father as his cancer rapidly
advanced. We hadn't had much of a relationship up to that day
and never did much talking. He wasn't verbal or demonstrative
nor was I. I knew he loved me simply because fathers love their
children. He never told me he loved me and I never told him. That's
the way we did things in our house.
In a brief discussion while we visited he reminisced as he told
me a bit about his career growth from a poor boy to a very successful
businessman. He had accomplished a great deal through his hard
work. He had reason to be proud of what he had done and I had
the benefit of his success. "Maybe I didn't do things right,
I never really knew you or your brothers. I did what I thought
was right." This visit didn't change our behaviors, we shook
hands and said goodbye as I left. Our relationship ended as we
As a father for more than 14 years I look back and understand
why I am staying home full-time with my children. By his actions
my father taught me to do what I think is right. I tell my children
I love them every day, I hug them and I talk with them and let
them know how important they are to me. However, as much as we
would like to believe that we are all ideal fathers we are not.
We all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them, just as
I learned from my father.
My father taught me strong moral values. He taught me personal
responsibility. He taught me honesty and trust, he taught me to
be compassionate and to respect all life. He taught me the value
of education, he taught me how to play and enjoy sports, he taught
me how to make good decisions in life. He taught
me to have fun and to laugh, he taught me the meaning of work,
and he taught me the meaning of love. He did this by being a nurturing
father, a baseball and tennis coach, a firm disciplinarian, a
hard and dedicated worker, and a loving parent.
My father was one who was there to share with me in times of joy and in times
of hardship. Generously he gave me his personal time, his hard-fought
efforts, and his true self so that I may grow up to face this
challenging world with courage, hope, and faith. My father was
not perfect and he did have his faults, his struggles, and his
weaknesses. He taught me, however, how to face these problems
and challenges with a positive attitude and a strong will. These
examples and the great memories I have shared with my father are
everlasting and have positively influenced my life like no one
else could have.
The significance of my father's influence on
my life has led me to a one-year volunteer commitment to working
with low-income fathers. My hope is to instill in them the great
importance and significance of their role in their children's
lives. Even though I am not a father myself, I know from my father
and my experiences growing up how much it means to be the best
father you can be for your children.
The older I get, the better I understand my
father because I find more and more of him in me.
He didn't teach me to throw a ball (was it
really all that important?). He did teach me to
care about people, to keep learning, to have
beliefs and to live by them.
It took me awhile to realize what he gave me
and I will always be grateful that he lived long
enough for me to tell him so.
It was not all bad. He taught a small boy the fundamentals,
laying the foundation. He just wasn't there to put on the finishing
touches. By his absence, he taught a great lesson in self-reliance.
He did buy me my first baseball mitt and spent hours preparing
it and me, though he never saw me use it in a game. And, since
I did not grow up to be a professional player it was not of much
practical use. As I look back, there are a few things I learned
from him that I still use today.
When my first marriage failed, I already knew how not to be an
absentee father. I had already learned that child support was
much more than writing a check. I understood that fathering was
a lifetime commitment.
I learned from him what he did not know.
I also learned to drink in moderation as he drank to excess.
But most of all, I learned forgiveness. As soon as I was mature
enough, long before it was too late, I made my peace with him,
man to man, father to father. I learned to separate the dad from
the man, to love one and understand the other. I discovered that
I had to be a good son if I were to be a good father.
Though still a difficult man, we have a relationship now. I understand
the demons that drove him even if he does not.
After all, what kind of son would I be if I did not, at least,
learn from his mistakes?
-John F. X. McLoughlin
Sometimes people teach by example and sometimes they teach by
demonstrating consequence, i.e., what not to do.
My father was raised by three women who adored him and an absent
father, so he had no real sense of how to act like a father. Because
his father deserted him, he spent his adult life working to support
a large family. Because he did not know how to express affection
and felt it to be unmanly to do so (as did many a member of his
generation) he was strict and critical and demanding and, not
so surprisingly, angry.
He taught me the value of a kind work, a hug, catching somebody
doing something well and most importantly the helping value of
My father has always been honest and outspoken, but gentleness
seemed to have eluded him until his grandchildren were old enough
to talk back and he and my mother finally decided to go their
own ways. A kinder, gentler man emerged which also has given me
the perspective that most everything is fixable given enough time
and that not only adulthood, but old age may be the place where
we choose for ourselves.
-Dr. Joy Browne
When you think of father-son relationships, the same images
always come to mind. You know the ones.... The dad teaching
his son to play catch. The family car's hood up with father and son,
covered in oil, tinkering with the engine. Down in the basement,
man and boy, with tools in hand, building things with wood. I
must admit that I have somewhat similar remembrances of things
past, but none of these are his greatest gift to me. My dad
taught me something that I use every day. He taught me how to
Those iconic images of father and son, we did them all. Yet,
they were something out of a Twilight Zone episode, not a Norman
Rockwell painting. We played catch with the baseball, but I was
so uncoordinated that I'd keep missing the ball... and it would
hit me in the head. We'd try to fix the car together. But the
minute the hood went up, we'd stare at the engine like we were
janitors trying to do brain surgery. So we'd wash and wax the
car and take it to the mechanic. And anytime we'd try to build
anything, well... God bless my mother for accepting the fact that
her bird feeder was a death trap for any animal who came near
One might consider all these incidents as failures. But that
thought never crossed our minds. We were too busy trying to
catch our breath as we laughed ourselves silly. You see,
laughter is something the two of us have seriously shared ever
since I discovered my father's collection of comedy albums when
was seven. While other sons were building soap box derby cars
with their fathers, I was laughing along with mine at Bob
Newhart, the Smothers Brothers, and Bill Cosby. Through the
years, my dad has shown me the importance of a sense of humor.
And the best way to keep it: by laughing at yourself.
I can recall the situation that first got me thinking about my
father's lessons of laughter. Whenever we had company spending
the night at our house, it would be our job to move the sofa bed
from its usual spot in the basement to the second floor
guestroom. (Don't ask why we didn't just keep in permanently
in the guestroom; it's a family conundrum.) It was comical to begin
with because even though we'd done this dozens of times before,
we could never remember all the little tricks, all the ins and
outs of successfully navigating the couch through the house.
My mother just assumed we knew what we were doing; she didn't know
that it was like Laurel and Hardy trying to move the piano up
a flight of stairs.
The couch had to be tilted at strange angles to make it through
the doorways. Inevitably, fingers would be smashed. Tables and
light fixtures had to be removed from certain hallways. Usually,
we "remembered" this after a few good shin bruises.
The couch, following some unwritten law of physics, got heavier as we got
closer to the guestroom. And to make matters worse, we never
knew when the bedsprings might unfold and attack us. So as the
couch thwarted us at every turn, we would cope with the situation
by cracking jokes and chuckling at the predicament. This
obstacle-filled and painful task would take hours, but the
laughter always eclipsed the grunts, groans, and yelps. When
you are laughing so hard that you think your lungs will burst, you
can easily shrug off the bumps and bruises life (or a couch) can
I am thankful that my father has always been able to find humor
in situations and has passed this trait down to me. If the two
of us watched "Field of Dreams" together, we'd probably
react the same way to the scene where father and son play catch. A tear
might come to the eye, but then we'd look at each other and start
to laugh. My dad would say, "Remember when we'd do that
out in the backyard and you'd catch the ball with your forehead?"
And I'd say, "No. I guess I don't remember because of the lasting
effects of the concussions."
"Yeah, well, that sure
was a nice hospital." The two of us laughing at our own little jokes.
I suspect that this bond is not restricted to fathers and sons
because I have a one-year-old daughter who's already started to
develop her sense of humor. (Hmm, I wonder if it is genetic?)
The other day she was playing on the floor with her toys. All
of a sudden, she urgently motioned to me with both hands. I assumed
she was going to give me a big hug or a kiss. As I leaned my
face towards her, she bopped me on the nose and started to laugh.
So I started to laugh. And that made her laugh even more. Howls
of glee echoed through the house, the two of us laughing at our
own little jokes.
When I was young, we spent most of our vacations in Colorado
where Dad would take my brother and me trout fishing, teaching
us how to work a stream... quietly, quietly. He encouraged us to
swim in the river, and we gathered gooseberries, too. Dad loved
horseback riding, and we would all ride through the country side.
I think he was somewhere in his nineties before he quit riding.
In any case, he is the one who gave me an appreciation of nature.
Dad thought politics was an honorable calling. If I ever expressed
any cynicism, I was soon taken to task. My own interest began
at the dinner table as mealtimes meant discussion of the day's
events. Interestingly enough, Dad was initially against my running
for the Senate while Mother was very supportive. When he got used
to the idea, however, he even gave me some good advice. If I visited
a town, I should make it a point to see the newspaper editor;
and if I went to a cafe, I should go back and talk to the
After the first election, some people said I had ridden into
office on Dad's coattails. Perhaps so, but I thought his were
the best to be found... and I still think so today.
-Senator Nancy Kassebaum
The best way to describe my dad is to say he is a lot like Bob
Newhart. He has a laid-back style and sense of humor. When I was
growing up he always possessed a calm, sensible, look-at-the-big-picture
attitude and tried to show me how to keep things in perspective.
I grew up in the typical 50s-60s kind of household--mom at home
and dad at work. Yet he always tried to make time for me. We had
a lot of alone time, doing everything from errands to day trips
to vacations. What I remember most about those excursions was
just being able to talk to him about whatever came to my mind.
Something not many of my friends can relate to.
I like to think that I have my father's redeeming virtues, although
to a lesser degree. I could certainly use more patience at times.
Both my wife and I are trying to maintain healthy communication
with our girls. I just hope I can be as calm and sensible as my
dad was when my three are teenagers.
This article originally appeared in Full-Time Dads, and is copyright 1995-1996 by Full-Time Dads. No reprint or
other use of this article is allowed without express written consent of Full-Time Dads.