That got me thinking about my father, or Daddy, as any proper Southern gal calls her pater familias. There are a lot of things that I don't think he's right about (who knows? maybe I should just give it another decade) and many things that I've learned reverse lessons from. But he's pretty wisdomous in many ways and as I make my way through the "real world," I increasingly realize that he knew what he was talking about. This is my salute to the top 10 things my Daddy taught me about life.
As an aside, you might be wondering why my Mama doesn't get this same honor. The simple answer is that she is sickeningly right about everything in life, so a tribute to her "I told you so" moments would be exhausting. The upside to this uncanny tendency of hers is that women are supposed to become more like their mothers with every passing year, which means that I am constantly inching closer to omniscience.
- McDonald's Is Evil: Long before Supersize Me or Fast Food Nation came out, my father hated McDonald's with an unconcealed fervor. His reasoning was not rooted in a belief of the superiority of organic foods or a sense of indignation at the calorie/fat content. He just knew a bad burger when he tasted it. "That food is crap and you have to be crazy to waste your money on it. We're going to Wendy's." Until the age of 9, he successfully convinced me that his car was physically unable to enter the McDonald's parking lot, like there was some invisible force field that repelled it from the premises- yes, it is embarrassing that I believed him for that long. I used to get unusually excited when I got to eat McDonald's with a friend. I thought I was so denied- everyone else got to eat McDo's. The upside? He was right. That is one crappy burger, and since I didn't grow up eating it as an afterschool treat, I have no nostalgic associations with it and rarely stop there. I have plenty of other gastronomic vices, but the Golden Arches ain't one of them.
- Wear A Hat: My father is follicularly challenged (read: bald) and is a little touchy on the subject. I don't understand this problem with men. They accuse women of being vain, but the second their receding hairline comes up, they get completely self conscious. I hardly even notice those things- anyways, I digress. Daddy has taken the only sensible route to this problem and shaves his entire head. It makes him look distinguished, I think. In any case, I have never known him to have much hair and I have always known him to have a hat of some sort with him. He is outspoken on the subject- as a child, he reminded me on a daily basis that you lose X% of your body heat through your head. The percentage varied based on the amount of emphasis he wanted to place on the point. The statistic itself, whatever the true percentage, is based on faulty study, or so my roommate tells me. Nevertheless, I have found that a hat really is a good idea most of the time. First, as a fashion statement, since not many women still wear them. Second, in the winter, it does make you feel warmer and more snuggly when you're walking around in the snow.
- There Are Some Things You Can Never Take Back: Sometimes, when we're watching golf together and I'm about to settle into a nap, my father will suddenly drop one-liners of wisdom on me. A recurring one as I was growing up was, "Be very careful what you say to people, because there are some things you can say that you can never take back." I'm not sure why this was such a mantra with him, but I guess it worked, because that one piece of advice is something that I have repeated to myself and others countless times. It's just so true- as I've found myself having to have hard conversations with people and just repeating this in my mind over and over. You have to be so careful about what you say to people with whom you have an ongoing relationship. Because even if you say you're sorry, if you cross a line, the memory of it is still always there.
- Handy Skills Will Make You A Hero: My daddy is a contractor, meaning that he's handy with fixing things and using tools. Make that super handy, with the notable exception of questionable electrical skills (sorry, buddy, it's true). I'm not saying that these handy skills have been transmitted to me by osmosis. Quite the contrary- he has always been of the "I'm going to show this once so you better pay attention" school. Regardless, for a clumsy girl, I have acquired quite a repertoire of around-the-house skills, making me a modern, independent woman. However, more importantly, I am able to grunt and talk tools with my male coworkers. Daddy has similarly enabled me to talk sports with the same group, dazzling them with my piercing insight into the television broadcasting practices that discriminate against the SEC.
- There Is A Correct Way To Load A Dishwasher: I was vehemently reprimanded as a child for incorrectly placing a dish in the dishwasher. At first, I thought it was because he was abnormally proud about his dishwasher loading skills, since that was his only contribution to the family meal. The most complex culinary process I've seen him execute is defrost on the microwave. So dishwashing has always been his area of expertise. I thought he was just being uptight. However, according to an article I recently read, his technique is actually word-perfect for maximum dish cleaning in a standard dishwasher. And since I've been so trained to follow this process, my loading skills are likewise ideal. Gracias, papa.
- Being In Love Doesn't Last Forever: Again, my dad drops random words of knowledge on me every once in a while. I forget the context, but one time he turned to me and said, "Nobody stays in love forever- you'll fall in and out of love all the time. You can love someone without being in love." This is a pretty counter-cultural concept, when you think about it, one that is reinforced in church teachings on marriage. What it means is that being in love is great, but that's not what marriage or any long term relationship is really about. The giddiness and giggles fade, at some point. They may and probably will return some day, but just because they're gone doesn't mean that all hope is lost. If you've chosen someone decently suited to you and invested in your relationship with that person, even when you're not in love with them, you'll still love them.
- Pay Your Bills- Every Month: I didn't realize how vital this lesson was until the recent economic downturn. One gift that both of my parents gave me was an open dialog in our house about finances. Not specific dollar amounts, but financial principles, which my CPA parents were obviously well-versed to speak to. I took it for granted that I knew basics about playing the stock market (don't panic- buy low and keep it) and buying real estate (don't bite off more than you can chew). The most pertinent lesson, however, was that barring some unusual situation, you pay off your credit card every single month. I later learned in my business classes that the principle behind this practice is that credit cards are essentially unsecured loans at extremely high interest rates. Well-thought out and planned debt isn't a bad thing- but paying 18% interest on an iPod is just silly. Friends would get into sticky credit situations as I went through college- I didn't get it. Why would they put themselves in that position for small luxuries that they just couldn't afford? But upon further investigation, I realized that their parents had never mentioned any of that kind of advice or maybe didn't even have it to give. I learned these lessons through no merit of my own- I'm just lucky.
- Everyone Starts Off As The Grunt: My daddy has never been a teddy bear. I mean, to me he's obviously dear and his bark is worse than his bite, but he's definitely a no-nonsense, down to brass tacks kind of guy. He scared my friends a little bit as I was growing up. In any case, he's just not the kind of guy that you go to if you're looking for sympathy.* I'd be venting about not getting enough playing time on the volleyball court or about getting stuck with the crap work on a project and he'd just deadpan, "Suck it up. Everyone starts on the bottom. You won't get anywhere without working hard and proving yourself." And again he's right. Geez. When I started my job, there wasn't much for me to do, so I volunteered for every kind of bitch work you can think of. I made copies, I got lunch, I procured office supplies, and generally just made myself useful. One of the managers that I was working with would say, "This is a disgrace. If my daughters were doing these kinds of things, I would tell them to quit." Well, there's a reason why I'm still at that client and he rolled off right after that. Because I'd been faithful in the small things and done it with a smile, the partner personally recognized me and gave me a much more responsible role than I should have had for my level.
- Intimidating People Are Less Scary When They Have Patronizing Nicknames: My dad calls people "Big Boy" when they get on his nerves in negotiations. It's said in the most contemptuous, placating tone you can imagine. It incenses the recipient to the point that they just look pathetically red and don't seem nearly as intimidating. I've not determined my own equivalent yet, but I'm thinking maybe "honey child." Or "sweetie cakes."
- Stories Are Important: It may be strange to those who know his general dislike for books, but my dad is a huge part of why I want to be a writer. It's not because I saw him with a nose in a book all the time. It's because to this day, there are few things that I enjoy more in life than listening to him tell a story. He tells them with such warmth and character, spinning even the most mundane incidents into tall tales. If you've seen the movie Big Fish, he reminds me of that a little bit, except not as fantastic and more believable. In any case, I know that my mother pushed me more towards the form of expression my love of stories would take, but there's a reason why both of my Daddy's daughters are avid readers.
*I will note, however, that last winter when my key wouldn't turn in the lock at 11 o'clock at night in a snow, he stayed on the phone with me while I loudly wept. He stayed with me until I finally made the lock turn thirty minutes later and was the picture of comfort and sympathy. Maybe he's getting soft in his old age... or maybe he just couldn't bring himself to be hard on a crying woman ;)