What I Learned from My Dad

In honor of Father's Day, I compiled a list of 10 things my dad taught me. As the oldest daughter of this cool '60s-era man who loves classic rock, classic cars, and often sports a nice silver ponytail, I have learned a lot over the past 40 years. Dad is a man of few words, and even fewer expressed emotions. My over-the-top, touchy-feely nature labeled me the "emotional one" at an early age. Although we do not have this personality trait in common, he has taught me so many things just by watching his life.

1. Work, work hard. My dad was always up before the crack of dawn. He ate breakfast and went to work hours before I was even out of bed. When he finally got home, he went right to work in the yard or garage. Even though he does not have a job to go to now, Dad continues to get up early and work on projects around the house. Probably much to his surprise, I have adopted his workaholic tendencies, often working before the sun rises until after the kids have gone to bed.

2. Learn about the world. Follow the news. Make public policy your business. Dad is currently fighting the city over an issue that would have easily flown under the radar if it wasn't for his diligence. He listens to what the politicians say, watches exactly what they do, and then calls them on it. His thoughts do not always line up with my own, but I respect him for taking the proactive stand that he does. Because of him, I make it a point to pay attention and form an opinion now. This wasn't always the case, but over the years I have adopted his newshound mentality.

3. War is hell. Dad served in Vietnam. He never spoke much of his experiences; all I know for sure is that he was a tank commander in the Army and he put a lot of his fellow soldiers in body bags. War documentaries were watched with an intensity that I never really understood. Now that I am older, and have a son the same age he was when he served, I watch them and cry.

4. Take good care of your teeth. Remember to brush and floss three times a day. "You want to keep your original set don't you?" The memory of him tapping his teeth and reciting that phrase is permanently etched in my mind.

5. Save for a rainy day. Although Dad has been out of work for two full years, he was well-prepared and has been able to maintain his always frugal lifestyle. I am still working on this, but he is a fantastic example. He cares for his own with what he has. A big garden and smart money habits have kept him and the family afloat, and my youngest sister in college throughout the ordeal.

6. Pay for quality. Take the time to research before making a major purchase. If you are going to buy something, you might as well buy something that will last. Consumer Reports was a common resource on the coffee table. He also taught me, the most expensive isn't always the best choice; most of the time the best product will be just a step down from the priciest item. It took me a while to figure this one out, but I've found it to be a good guideline.

7. Prepare for winter. Growing up, my dad's specialty was making large quantities of tomato sauces, spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce. The pantry was always full of jars of canned fruits and vegetables straight from the large garden. He is also good for buying in bulk. During a financially tough time in my life, he came to my door with a case of tuna fish, a case of peanut butter and a case of orange juice concentrate along with several of his homemade tomato sauces. None of these items were purchased just for me. Lesson learned, stock up when you can.

8. Stay in touch with your siblings. In recent years, Dad has taken more of an interest in staying in touch with his brothers. Although all three brothers live in different parts of the country, they have taken a trip to Washington DC, traveled to each others' homes and are even remodeling a classic car. Like my dad and his brothers, there is a wide age gap between my sisters and I, but this is no excuse for not staying in touch.

9. Be excellent. If you are going to do something, do it 110%. As an engineer who worked as a quality control inspector, Dad is a perfectionist. He likes things in order and done to the very best of your ability. If you can't do something yourself, hire the best person for the job. For example, when he needed a barn built, he went to experts on barn raising, a team of local Mennonites. His solid barn was built in one day.

10. Pursue your passions. My dad turned my old bedroom into his own personal man cave, complete with a killer stereo set up including an 8 track player and a working reel to reel player, old tin signs, unique cigarette rollers and little pieces of personal history -- even my first name tag from my part-time job at the grocery store. The day I saw that little name tag, I knew better where I stood with my dad. Right next to a nifty antique and a pile of 8-tracks, I am really, truly loved.

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