Lessons I learned from my dad
OK. This might just be a vain attempt to get my dad to read my blog, but whatever.
As I was serving pancakes to my family one morning, I thought of my dad. I don’t like pancakes a whole lot, but if I do eat a pancake, a glass of milk must accompany it. I remember clearly, my dad telling me that milk tasted the best after eating pancakes, and he was right. My dad always knew what foods should be paired with what beverages (ice cream and water was a another crucial pairing). My dad always told me I didn’t drink enough water, which he thought was to blame for my surliness as a teenager (I’m not completely sold on that one, but it doesn’t keep me from recommending my teenager have a drink of water and calm down).
My dad taught exactly how long to dunk a cookie in my milk to ensure that drinking the milk after the cookies were gone actually became the most enjoyable part of the experience. He taught me how to put my thumb on the end of a hose to guarantee a win in a water fight even if the other person has a spray nozzle on their hose. He taught me how to get a teenager out of the shower, even if it involved ice-cold water and brief rage. He taught me how to sit on someone’s shoulders, how to pass the time in a doctor’s office by counting the ceiling tiles and how to sing a song when I don’t actually know any of the words.
More seriously, my dad taught me how to deal with someone who was making fun of my teeth, how to try until I got it right and how to consider the consequences of my actions. He wouldn’t have known it when I was a teenager, but his lessons stuck. I never followed anyone as a child or a teenager, and while I used the leadership quality to my detriment, it has served me well when directed appropriately.
As a teen, I remember my best friend, who was a “by-the-book” kind of girl, spending the night. I almost had her convinced to sneak out the basement window after my parents went to sleep, and then there were complications. My parents went out, and I didn’t know when they’d be back. However, I’d already committed to meeting some other friends down the street, and because of my integrity (probably another dadism, so maybe none of this was my fault after all?), I felt I couldn’t flake out. My friend, however, was not OK with the new situation and decided to stay behind. I told her to just pretend we both were sleeping if my parents came to check on me when they got home. I had no way of knowing whether that would happen.
I realize that this wasn’t my first mistake, but it was a mistake nonetheless. I sneaked out the window. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just walk out the front door. It’s not like anyone was there to stop me or hear me. But instead I sneaked out the window and left it open. Naturally, my dad, who already had an idea that I was up to no good at least half of the time, noticed the tampered-with window as he was walking into the house. According to my friend, he just came in and turned the light on to confirm his suspicions. I still don’t know if he thought he would find my friend gone as well, but I suspect not because both of my parents really encouraged the friendship, probably because she was a “good girl.”
At this point, I’d never done anything profound when sneaking out at night. Privileged, I wore black, threw myself on the ground when I saw headlights and marveled at the bravery of the kids who didn’t bother hiding when they saw headlights. Later, I learned to just go sit on the nearest porch and act like I lived there. Regardless, it was a worrisome activity for my parents, I know. When I came home, adrenaline rushed through my system because I knew my parents were home, but I didn’t know if my ruse worked. As I slipped my leg into the basement window, the light flicked on. I panicked and tried to pull myself back outside. Nope. A firm grip on my ankle prevented movement in any direction but the one toward the grip.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson that night and walked the straight and narrow for the rest of my teenage years, but in truth, my methods only became more creative. Disobedient, disrespectful and uncontrollable, I careened down a path that led to a separation of my heart from my dad’s heart. I didn’t know it then, but that distance would last for more than a decade. In the 15 or so years that followed, I knew more than I let on. I still talked to my dad, but never like I was a child again, and many times with a tone that drove a wedge further between us. I never voluntarily talked about my dad because the pain from what I saw as the greatest relationship failure of my life assaulted me with a force that still knocks me to my knees when I think of my own misconceptions.
But deep down, I knew better. My dad never stopped being my champion. He hasn’t stopped yet. He pulled my boyfriends “aside” and quietly, subtly threatened them if anything should happen to me at their hands. He told people when I made the slightest accomplishment even in the midst of my worst failures. My dad made sacrifices for me that I never asked him to make, and he never knew that I knew he made. He knew my choices were wrong, but I believe that he had a stronger conviction that I had to come back around. His conscience was clear, and he knew what he taught me, and he never lost his grip.
My dad is still my hero, and his opinion still matters to me. I sometimes look back and wonder what would have become of me if I had listened to everything (or at least something) he said when I was in those volatile teenage years, but volatile doesn’t begin to describe what kind of teenager I was. What I’m not doing is looking back like Lot’s wife looked back. I’m simply taking in the magnitude of God’s divine plan for my life and how that plan played out, despite my disobedience, over the course of my life to now. That plan still unfolds in front of me, and never far from my thoughts is how my choices have detoured to reach the exact place I stand, and also how “for me” my dad really has been.
I cried the day my eldest daughter graduated from high school, and my dad cried with me. It wasn’t just tears of joy. It was tears mourning the years that I’d lost while I disobeyed. And I know he shared those same breed of tears with me that day.
I love you, Dad. And you are closer to my heart now than ever. Thanks for everything. All that was worth it. I’m sure.