June 7, 2014

Learning from Dad's Mistakes

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Fathers hold a special place in our lives, forming our first impression of the masculine ethos. They are the measuring stick by which we judge all the other men we meet. My dad was a strong, reliable and hard-working father who taught me the value of a solid work ethic, the importance of honesty, and how to use a hammer. But despite his best efforts, my dad was not perfect. I learned just as much from watching his mistakes.

Doing it yourself isn’t always best.
My dad was a dedicated do-it-yourselfer, and I learned how to wield many a tool by tagging along beside him. However, even as a child, I could tell when he was flying by the seat of his pants, most memorably when he was attempting electrical work. He was once rewiring an outlet in the kitchen, on his own, when we heard a loud pop and a scream. He had cut through a live wire. Thanks to Dad, when I need electrical work, I call an electrician, and I look to the experts whenever a topic or decision is over my head. When you don’t ask for help, you can get yourself into financial trouble or even hurt.

Affection matters.
My dad came from a generation of men who didn’t believe in showing affection. He was kind, and I instinctively knew he loved me, but not because he expressed it verbally or physically. As a child, I longed for his attention and craved big, bear hugs. My desire for his affection didn’t change as I grew older. I learned by his weakness the importance of affection in the parent/child relationship, and that we are being derelict if we don’t provide it.

Life is about the little things — not the work things.
My dad was a hard worker and traveled for a living throughout my childhood. Most school nights he was on the road, which meant he missed the lion’s share of my small milestones, like the kindergarten talent show that was so important to me at the time. I now know that my dad missed out as much as I did. From being there for my own children, I know that watching the baby steps is one of life’s great treasures.

When in doubt, throw it out.
Our garage was bursting with my dad’s stuff. He was a serial hobbyist, and every new hobby came with its own gear - everything from jewelry making supplies to woodworking tools. While it was fun to see a variety of items make their way to our garage, this habit created an overflow of stuff. Whenever a hobby went dormant, the gear didn’t go away. The old stuff would just be pushed back, to make room for the new paraphernalia. This clutter created a mess and regrets, but also a promise of better behavior for the next generation. As a result, we always run lean and clean in our house. Not using it? Gone.

Embrace your weakness and showcase your humanity.
My dad wanted to be a superhero in our eyes, a worthy goal. But in the process he covered his perceived weaknesses by being aloof and uncommunicative, acting as if he had all the answers. He didn’t grasp that it didn’t matter to me, that I didn’t need him to be perfect. Consequently, with that lesson in mind, I tumble through life with my own children. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and instead we learn together. Sometimes I’m the source of wise counsel, and oftentimes, they are.

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