It always fascinated me how much wisdom and insight can come from someone who doesn’t seem to be trying to give it. I’m used to thinking hard when giving advice and putting in effort. But my pops (referred to as Pops, The Old Man, The Phenom) seems to have honed the skill of dropping knowledge bombs in the mix of rants, half-asleep comments, and one-liners. It’s a quality of his that I never really appreciated till I was much older. Below are some lessons from my old man that I’ve taken with me in life. They’ve helped me navigate difficult times, acknowledge the reality of things, and instilled in me wisdom that I hope to one day pass along to others.
Lesson 1: “Gifts are given, never expected.”
When I was younger, we were at a Christmas dinner party with my dads friends, and I was given a Christmas gift. As happy as I was, I couldn’t help but continue to look under the Christmas tree with all the other gifts (some the size of my entire body) waiting for some lucky individual to receive. I leaned over to my dad to ask him if there happened to be anymore for me.
My dad quickly tugged on my arm and told me not to be inconsiderate. I didn’t think I was, because I saw other people getting a bunch! What my dad said next greatly shaped the way I viewed celebrations and gifts from then on out:
“Son, don’t ask for gifts. They aren’t expected, ever. They are given, because the person giving it wanted to. They don’t owe you it.”
Pretty heavy for an 8 year old right? I was a bit discouraged at that, but it made me pay attention. The gifts others were receiving were from long-term friends; from loved ones, from family. The fact they went out and got a gift for someone they never met was kind enough. It was a lesson: that gifts are unconditional. That’s the point. You give one when you want to show someone your appreciation for them. You never expect gifts, because expecting them ruins the point of them to begin with. They become a necessity.
As the lesson settled in, I stopped asking for gifts. For my birthday, the only thing I asked for was time spent with friends and family. Same with Christmas.
I guess it helped everyone save some money too.
Lesson 2: “You’ll decide what’s best.”
After every rant when I was in a difficult situation or faced with a hard choice, my father would listen (often tinkering with something or cleaning the house), and when I was done ranting he would respond almost exactly the same every time. No matter the issue: school, travelling, work, etc., he’d chuckle and say:
“You will do what’s best for you.”
The answer always felt routine, like he wasn’t really listening. I noticed him respond like that periodically as I was growing up. It was his “textbook response” – the one I learned to expect over time. As time went by, I noticed a trend: that every situation I ranted about turned out alright in the end, even if it didn’t go my way. I turned out alright. And I started seeing the mindset behind the answer: that while there are always people to turn to for advice, ultimately you will make the decision. It has to be you: if it isn’t, then you’re not living life on your terms. Asking for advice is great: but you must make your own call. My dad’s response was always a reminder that, while it is my decision, things will turn out alright. But I have to decide what is best for me.
Or maybe he wasn’t really listening. He plays Candy Crush on his phone a lot.
Lesson 3: “Have a childhood”
My dad was fairly against me working when I was younger: as compared to some parents who encourage (and sometimes demand) their child get a job when they turn the legal age to do so, my father was vehemently opposed to me working until I needed to or wanted to (which was around when I got to university). There was a stark contrast between the rationale of parents who said “my child is going to work to learn responsibility, finances, and work ethic. No more lounging on the couch” and my father who actively discouraged getting a job and encouraged us to enjoy our lives and relax.
At first I felt fairly lazy – all these other people were working at a young age while I was hanging out. How come I my pops wasn’t keen on me working?
I remember he was telling us a story about his youth, and how at 12 years old his father died of a stroke – leaving him, the 2nd oldest of the family, as the next person to help take care of the family (my oldest uncle had already left for school at that point). My father, tasked with helping his mother take care of 7+ other kids, had to drop out of school to start fishing to make money and bring home food for the family. He’d spend days on the boat in the Caribbean Sea fishing to support them. When he told me that story, his insistence that I not work suddenly made sense: he didn’t really have a childhood. At 12, he had to grow up, and fast. He wanted me to focus on my education, to enjoy my time as a child, and when I grew up, to then look to work.
That’s what I did. During my youth I volunteered where I could, and got involved in my final years of highschool. I focused on Karate, Sunday school, student council, and spending time with my friends. I eventually started working (and a lot) when I was in University (and I’m glad I did – the jobs I worked were all so unique and I learned a ton from them). Looking back on my childhood, I am happy I didn’t work when I was young and got to enjoy it. And I hope to build a life for my (hopeful) family, and for my community, where children can have a childhood and don’t have to grow up before they need to.
Or maybe he was lazy and didn’t want to worry about dropping me off and picking me up anymore than he had to.
My father taught me a lot – in his own way. With side comments, snarky comebacks, and knowledge bombs during one of his rants. I’m grateful for the lessons he’s taught me, and I’m happy to have enough awareness to notice them. After all, some of life’s greatest lessons aren’t put infront of you. Sometimes, you need to pay attention.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!