I had a father and I am a father, and I have known a wide variety of fathers.
In a lifetime of not taking things very seriously, I accept the responsibility of fatherhood, and now grandfatherhood, with due consideration. I also understand the powerful “father figure” effect when a man engages a protégé. You need not have contributed biologically to “father” someone, to inspire (for good or ill), advise and – most importantly – grant approval (as it is due) while sustaining a meaningful silence when your charge is being unwise.
The most important words a father can say is, “I am proud of you.”
Fathers hold a certain position whether they want it or not, whether they are capable of fulfilling the role or set bad examples. We don’t even have to be there – absent fathers withhold a love that is sorely needed by their children, and the absence of a father can affect people throughout their lives. Mothers are necessary by biology. Fathers are necessary by morality.
We put out several calls on Facebook this week, and I polled a sampling of my email contacts. We received some wonderful stories, excellent words, and we are happy to share them here. If you have words from your father that have stuck with you, or you have a story you would like to share, please put them in the comment boxes below this post. Thanks to everyone who responded, and thanks in advance for everyone who chimes in.
Jonah Evans is a wildlife biologist, his dad is Brent Evans, a counselor and Cibolo Wilderness co-founder. He writes: Here’s a nice Brentism: “Moderation in everything… even moderation.”
Elizabeth Luna, marketing director at Southwest General Hospital: My dad always said: “Because I said so!” Now that I’m a new mom, I can see myself saying the very same thing soon.
Food writer and fellow bon vivant Julia Rosenfeld: The visits my father made to me in his later years were filled with stories and humor. One morning he sat down at the kitchen table for a cup of coffee, a glint in his eye, and imparted the following wisdom: “I was about 16 or so and working in a small grocery store in Newark. My mentor was an older gentleman, clearly moving into his twilight years. He taught me everything about the business. One day he came out of the restroom and looked me square in the eyes. ‘Morris,’ he said, ‘I’ve reached the stage in life when a good shit is more important than a good fuck. Someday you’ll understand.’ Julia, my dear, today is that day.”
Susan Allan: My Dad was a man who learned his trade under his brother. He was a machine press operator, a draftsman and eventually had his own machine shop. Made airplane parts. Parts for most anything. When I was a young child I would go with him on Saturday morns to the shop and “play” while he worked on blue prints. My treat? Lunch at Ptomaine Tommy’s in downtown L.A. … the best chili in the world! None like it since. Happy Fathers Day to all the dads out there.
Allison Greer, vice president of external relations for Center for Health Care Services: When I was a little girl my father would take our family to swim at the neighborhood pool on Sunday afternoons. Our favorite game was to stand on his shoulders and dive into the deep end. I always thought that was a great metaphor.
Mitzi Moore: My dad used to say, “There’s no such thing as a threat. It’s either a promise or a lie.”
Joni Vara, literacy solutions project manager, Scholastic Achievement Partners: My dad was raised in a very traditional Mexican-American household yet he raised all three of his daughters with these words: “I want you to get an education so you won’t ever have to depend on anyone. I want you to never worry about relying on a man. I want you to be able to take care of yourself.’”
Geekdom member Carl “Tex” Morgan’s dad told him: “It’s trivial to find the patience to overcome your own limitations, but it takes true mastery to help other people overcome theirs.”
Dyvontrae Devon Johnson: My dad is a man of few words. The greatest lesson he ever taught me was, “Stop and think.” It’s always a lesson worth revisiting.
Kay Kay Valentine Smith: My dad said if I went water skiing that some dumb ass drunk would wrap the rope about my arm and pull it off! This managed to keep me from successfully staying up on skis the whole first day I tried! Eventually I realized that this vision of disaster had to be released and I hung on and loved it!
Dave Foss: Whenever I was in a teenaged fit about something or other and feeling mad and sad, dad would always say, “Dave, don’t go away mad . . . just go away.” Which would, of course make me madder and highly frustrated! I would go away, though. All these years later I realize it was an effective way to cool off and have some time to find a balance. Didn’t seem like it at the time!
Dorrie Woodson, award-winning jazz pianist: My father never ‘told’ me anything in particular that I remember, but this I will say: he was a farmer of a small farm, and he used to take me with him when I was a young girl to peddle vegetables and fruits from door to door in a nearby town; he bought me an upright piano for $60 when I was about 10 or 11, listened to election returns on the radio with me, and drilled for maple syrup with me in the wooded area behind our house, and a dozen or so other very memorable things which were more important than any words. He was a person of exceptional character and there was a strong bond of caring between the two of us. All this I remember of my father.
Chuck Leifeste: When I was a boy I would ask my dad (curious if he knew someone I knew), “Hey dad, do you know so-in-so?” He would immediately respond “To know him is to love him.” He was not overly religious, but he had strong morals and a sort of kind love for all. Always stuck with me.
Karen A. Dittman: My dad told me, “Now you take this brush and use this sharp end to scratch the skin underneath the sheep’s tail; then you dip the brush in the bottle and swab it where you just scratched. If you scratch yourself and get any on you, you’ll get hoof and mouth disease.” That was one of my first jobs as a child.
Artist Kay Stewart Hemmick: He told me once, “Money, money, who’s got the money? The world is about ‘How can I get your money?’ Your job is to hold onto it!” He said once, “Peal your potatoes one by one, that way you will get the entire pile done!” And, “If you run straight, then left, I will throw you a later pass pattern with the football.” I wish he would have told me to go ahead and be and artist, but he thought our family had too many artists and not enough realtors. He was also a stockbroker. He told me that the stock market was like climbing up a ladder with a yo yo … buy low, sell high.
Folksinger Anne Feeney: My dad always said, “Any family that generates garbage at this rate will never be rich.”
Denise Wechsler Barkhurst: My dad worked in a prison when I was much younger (elementary school) and I have very vivid memories of him describing the prisoners and their lives. I believe that his stories were the first step in my life towards a lifetime of social service.
Life Coach Elizabeth Garland: My Dad and I have had a long distance relationship since I was five. I used to stand on the toilet and put shaving cream on my face (just like him), and while watching him shave, mimic every move with the back of my toothbrush. I adored him. He was so funny and made me laugh! We had regular visits twice a year (two weeks at Christmas and two weeks Summer) until I was 18. One month a year for 13 months makes just over one year together. Then it all stopped. I think I have seen him four times since then. At one point a decade passed without us talking to one another; that is past. Now we call to say hello and share jokes every other month. For 40 years he has called and left messages, identifying himself as “Hi! This is your Father, Tom, from Maryland.” I recognize his voice instantly and always smile, albeit bitter sweetly. Why would he think I had forgotten him? I love him. He is and always will be My Dad. Misunderstandings and miscommunication can happen in any family. There comes a time in your life when you simply stop the background noise and listen to your heart. What is it saying?
Brenda Turner Adams: My dad, bless his heart, always said, “Do it right the first time!”
Rick Brown: My Dad always said, “Do as I say and not as I do.” I thought that statement to be arrogant as a kid, however today I take it to mean my Dad knew he was fallible, and thought more about our direction than his own. My Dad is not here anymore and I miss him, we would have been great friends when I grew up. :)peace
Bob Bevard: When I was 17 and I had moved out after HS graduation, I learned my Father was god. The way I learned this: every time I went back to the house after that and knocked on the door, he would look out the window and say: “Jesus Christ, are you here again?”
Cynthia Phelps: One of my favorite words of wisdom from my very practical father is “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot.” It comes in handy when fishing and is also an excellent metaphor for elegant solutions over uneducated toiling.
Gilbert Arias: “A little poison does not kill. It only stuns”
Poet Don Mathis is the son of Dan Mathis, who told him: “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” Don also sent us an acrostic poem – the first letters are aligned vertically to form a word or phrase.
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Fathers Day Acrostic – by Don Mathis
Fathers are fun – and serious too!
And you learn more from them than you do at school.
Think of all the good times you’ve had.
How would it be without your dad?
Everything would be harder with no mentor for growth.
Reflect on the man who loves you the most.
Soon will come the day for you to fill his shoes.
Do you think your dad would accept an excuse?
Always try your best, that’s what he would say.
Yes, think of your dad on this Fathers Day!
San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford is the father of Holly Allegra Whitford McLauchlin, and birthfather of Maj. Brian Luti. gary is half of Extraordinary Words, providing marketing copy and consultation for business, non-profits and agencies. He regularly contributes Every Word Counts to The Rivard Report.