I was not an easy kid; I know that very well. My parents really had their work cut out for them, especially by the time I hit my teen years—attitude for days. My dad and I argued quite a bit, but only now do I understand that we argued because we’re so much alike. My dad gave me everything I needed and made me work for the things I wanted. I am the adult I am today because of the traits gained from each milestone.
Learning to Swim (Age 6): I was terrified to go in the water. For every pool play-date, I strapped on my floaty-wings and fluttered until my arms were tired, with no intention to learn how to properly swim. My sister could lap the pool three times around in the time it took me to float from one side to the other. (I admittedly felt left out.) My dad liked to cheer me up by doing cannonballs into the pool or he’d ask me to jump and he’d catch me. Well, the community pool was out of life vests one day and that meant that I would be sitting out, watching my family swim around without me-- all because I was scared. “Jump, I’ll catch you. It’s the same way we always do it, just without your floaties.” My dad convinced me to jump, only, instead of catching me, he let me land in the water and doggy-paddle my way out of panic. The lesson I learned: he says he just couldn’t catch me fast enough, but he was really trying to teach me to take risks and be fearless. He doesn’t always agree with my decisions now, but he respects that I follow my gut and rev-up my ambition, just as he taught me to.
Piano Lessons (Age 9): I hated practicing. I hated practicing so much that I learned four songs and only played those four songs for the first several months of lessons. Why? Because I was lazy and felt like I needed to be outside with my friends or watching TV instead of trying to read through the dots and lines of my sheet music. “We’re paying a lot of money for those lessons. You wanted a piano so we got you a piano. Play a little longer. The better you get, the more you’ll like it.” I don’t know if it was the guilt of feeling like I was wasting my parents’ money or the feeling like I was being challenged, but I started practicing every day. I kept getting better and better. The lesson I learned: you can’t get things you want without working for them. (I also learned to get used to my dad being right.)
Math Homework (Age 12): Math homework was INFURIATING. I would sit at my desk in my room doodling around the multiplication tables and fractions until someone came in to check on me, and even then, I’d flash a smile and get back to not doing my homework. It was the embarrassment of getting called on in class and never knowing the answer that made me come to my dad for help. We made a plan and agreed that he would check my math homework every night. Even though I had to sacrifice my doodling hour, my math skills dramatically improved. My art projects were a bit less detailed, but I had a new sense of confidence. The lesson I learned: patience. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. Years later, I’m not sure I could multiply a fraction if my life depended on it but my dad’s patience with me reminds me to be patient with others. Just because it’s easy for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t be hard for someone else. Some people take longer than others to learn and those people end up being the best to learn from.
Learning to Drive (Age 15): This is no easy task for any parent. My dad bought two traffic cones and we drove to the local community college after hours to practice parallel parking, stopping at stop signs, going the speed limit and other driving basics. I didn’t get the basics down very quickly. Being a teen who wants to drive but doesn’t want to put in the practice hours doesn’t quite add up to success. I came close to hitting a biker one day. “If you’re not going to drive safely then you’re not going to drive at all! You could have killed that person and you could’ve gotten hurt yourself!” Seeing my dad so mad didn’t make me instantly become a better driver but hearing those words and feeling the weight of the responsibility of sitting behind the wheel hit me hard. The lesson I learned: safety. Your parents want to protect you every minute of every day, and when they can’t, the best they can do is teach you to protect yourself and others around you.
My First Credit Card (Age 16): The day I got my first credit card was like a celebration of me getting all the things I ever wanted! It didn’t take long for me to hit the credit limit. I could only hide bank statements from my parents for so long and I couldn’t be home in time to retrieve the mail every day just in time to keep my money problems a secret. My dad firmly decided that I needed to pay off my credit card on my own, even though my mom wanted to help me pay it off. The lesson I learned: the responsibility that comes with handling money you don’t have. I paid off that credit card and when I finally did, I felt a sense of relief from getting myself out of the mess I got myself into. My first experiences with money were not good experiences and I can’t say that I’m perfect when it comes to handling my finances now, but I’m getting better and I know I was lucky to learn a lesson that most twenty-somethings don’t learn until their debt becomes too hard to manage.
My First Boyfriend: (Age 17): Every girl remembers her first boyfriend. I remember feeling like such an adult, even in the midst of all the high-school melodrama. I think I just really liked the sound of the word “boyfriend.” My dad was not the overprotective father who insisted on meeting every boy I talked to. He was actually pretty laid back about it, as long as I was home at a decent hour. He’d occasionally ask, “is that boy still being nice to you?” His hope was that every boy I dated would treat me as sweetly as I deserved to be treated. As expected, I cried over that first heartbreak like it was the end of daylight. I insisted on eating ice cream and wallowing, just like I’d seen girls do in the movies. The only thing that brought me out of my state of sorrow was talking to my dad after I decided to finally come out of my room. The lesson I learned: someone else should not determine your happiness. Not all boys are bad and just because this one broke my heart, doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. I got so caught up in my relationship that I forgot how many other things I had to be excited about. My dad taught me that dating is fun, but only if you have your own focus and passion to share with someone else. He said, “with everything you do, you’re interesting, smart and probably won’t stay on the market for long, so keep doing the things you want to do for you.”
Each of these lessons resonates with me every day. So much so, that I live by my dad’s words of wisdom without thinking about what I’m doing. He taught me well and he made me a strong, independent individual. If I’m just like my father (as my mom says) then I consider that to be a pretty great thing.
Happy Father’s Day.