Turkeys, Nature, and Knives: Lessons From Dad

My dad is a hoot. Anyone who knows him will agree. He is smart, hard-working, and funny in a self-deprecating yet magnanimous way. My sister and I knew a long time ago that our spouses would have big shoes to fill in the primary-male-relationship department. (They were filled rather well, by the way, but that’s another story.)

I don’t often tell my dad how much I appreciate all the many lessons he taught me. So, in honor of Father’s Day and every day, here is a snapshot of a few of the countless things I have learned (and am still learning) from my dad:

Be generous in ways big and small.

My dad sits on boards and gives to charities and tithes his church, all the things one would expect of an upstanding community member. But he also taught me to give in smaller, more personal ways, to make generosity a personal act of connection.

My parents used to hire a man named Jim to handle yard work. Every week or two he mowed and trimmed, weeded and edged, and he took great care of the yard over the years. One spring evening I was already in bed when I heard the doorbell ring. It was Jim. My dad had heard that Jim’s house burned down and he immediately called Jim to come over. Dad loaded Jim up with sheets, pillows, blankets, and other items to help his family out until they got back on their feet. Jim, a grown-up daddy just like mine, sobbed like a child in our entry hall as he thanked my father. I can still hear the sound of his cry and of my dad’s hushed voice as they talked of adult things I could only imagine at the time.

See the good in everyone.

The biggest insult I heard my father hurl at anyone was to call them a Turkey. Examples of Turkeys include certain representatives from the IRS, the FDIC, the NFL referee association, and other organizations with lots of capital letters. Of course he probably saved the swear words for times when us kids were out of the room. But when we heard the T-word come out, we knew Dad meant business. And this leads me to my next lesson.

Give everyone a break.

Or even a couple of breaks. Someone has to royally mess up to earn the dreaded Turkey Title. I’ve seen my dad forgive everything from rude customer service to personal loans that were never repaid. He’s not a pushover, just intelligent enough to know when to roll with it and when to pick his battles.

Have fun and have a hobby or two.

Over the years I have thrown myself into hobbies with obsessive zeal. Drama, running, yoga, knitting. They come and go, but when my hobbies are hot, my life nearly bursts with hobby energy and devotion.

Same with my father. Running, weight lifting, archery, camping, fishing, poker, and, of course, hunting have all come and gone or come and stayed over the years. And don’t even get me started on his collections of knives, ball caps, key chains, t-shirts, beer mugs, fishing rods, cowboy hats, and matchbooks. Many a naïve and unsuspecting male visitor to our house has been lured into Dad’s net of hobbies with a simple, “Hey, Come see my knife collection,” only to emerge hours later, scarred for life by being force to hold a native tribal knife-handle made of a petrified walrus penis. (I can can only imagine the Google hits on that last sentence.)

Yet, in all these things, Dad models the right balance of enjoying his diversions and knowing they are just that, fun distractions.

Love nature.

Dad’s love of nature relates back to many of these favorite hobbies, and I am grateful that I inherited his version of tree-hugging. One of my favorite childhood nature memories is lifted from a camping trip that my parents describe as disastrous. Car trouble, stranded women and children, hitchhiking, and fishhooks stuck in hands all pepper the recounts of this family vacation gone awry.

But all I remember is my first big nature walk with my dad. The hike may have only been 200 yards but it stretches for miles in my memory. I picked up a big stick and told Daddy it was a knife. I picked up a skinny stick and declared it my bear claw. Then we sang “The bear went over the mountain,” as we clamored through the woods. I think of that hike every time I force my kids onto the trails of Glen Park Canyon or into the lush woods of Golden Gate Park.

Take care of your family.

And not just with money. My dad is the kind of man I could cry on when I lost the coveted part in a high school play and when I lost a pregnancy. It’s important to take care of children’s physical well-being, but it is even more important to offer a warm emotional shelter for tough times.

Never let anyone else decide who you are going to be.

This statement was thrown into so many heart-to-heart chats growing up that my eyes still automatically roll in their sockets as I type this sentence. However, I now find myself starting to repeat it to my 5-year-old daughter.

And as an adult woman I find that those words guide me more and more through difficult situations. Be it with the mean woman at the print-on-demand publishing company who makes me fear she’ll destroy my book, or with a child who just won’t seem to do exactly what I think she should be doing at that very moment, I try to remind myself not to let the other person decide who I will be that day. It is jarringly simple advice, but incredibly tough to follow. It means having an inner core of self-awareness and confidence to keep me stable when the world rocks around me. I work on it every day, with my father as my role model.

Thanks, Dad, for being such a good one!

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3 thoughts on “Turkeys, Nature, and Knives: Lessons From Dad

  1. As the sister of the above mentioned great dad, I would have to agree with MOST of what she said! He has been a great brother, except for the time he shot me in the achilles heel with an arrow, or the time he ran over my foot at school, or the time when I was a teen and he went to get some boys and brought them over to apologize to me for something. (I could have sunk into the ground that time!) And, he gave me some pretty good neices also!!

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