Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Father’s Advice to his Daughters: Lesson One

I have two things in life- my family and my words. I am blessed to still have my parents with me as I approach (much too quickly) my fourth decade of life. They have done more for me than I could repay if I were given ten lifetimes more with them. I sat tonight after work eating a homemade meal, sorting through and organizing some tools, and then brainstorming on a project I plan to start later this week. I realized that so much of who I am comes directly from the lessons I learned as a boy. My parents gave me so much knowledge and more importantly the ability to put things together for myself. I realized that I could do a better job passing these ideas along to my girls.
I didn’t really think about how much of my Mother’s cooking prowess I picked up over the years. Cooking was just something I did without much thought or effort. I can whip something up on the fly without much preparation or planning. Mom managed to install this knowledge in my head without me even realizing it. I played helper (maybe that should read PLAY) to her frequently. My tasks over the years never seemed complicated. I would stir this or pour that with just a smattering of requests to open lids or cans. My fried potatoes are pretty mean, but they still don’t top Mom’s. Still, without her very subtle guidance, I wouldn’t be able to boil an egg. I took this for granted for years. Cooking isn’t something everyone can do.
In a very similar way, my Dad taught me to fix absolutely everything. Over the years we have rebuilt everything in a car, repaired sinks, mounted air conditioners, sharpened tools I have dulled, built a trailer, built walls (Mom and I did most of the tearing down of walls), painted, spackled, glued, assembled, and polished. Our most recent adventure has taught me a huge amount about the working of a submersible pump. Because of being Dad’s helper I can figure out how to do most anything. Very much like Dad, I am not afraid to rush in where Angels fear to tread with a wrench in one hand and a hammer in the other. This also is something unusual. Most people pay to replace or repair their things.
Just for the record girls, there are no jobs that come to mind where you need a wrench in one hand and a hammer in the other. I do recommend this tool set on any dates you might go on in the future. Upgrade to a sledgehammer and a pipe wrench should either of you consider getting married. I can fix most anything, but I don’t even know how to talk about a broken heart. Do us all a favor and don’t get one.
Mom was never confined to the kitchen, nor was Dad forbidden to enter it. Mom can turn a wrench and knows the working of an engine. Dad makes great eggs. Don’t let anyone define your role in the world. Be whoever you want to be without hesitation or shame. Most importantly as you become the people you are meant to do it yourself. I believe DIY is at the heart of freedom and happiness. I have always appreciated things more than I have earned, maintained, and repaired as necessary.
It may be hard to beat Mom’s baked spaghetti, meatloaf, or Christmas ham, but you should try. Learning how to do everything for yourself makes the things that others do for you taste sweeter. Be easy on the sweets though. They really aren’t good for you or your teeth. Brush those teeth. Do it three times a day. Floss. Use mouthwash. Take care of your gums and teeth. You will miss them if they start to go!
That is the difference between accepting a gift and expecting things to be done for you. Entitlement is not good for anyone. No one in this world owes you anything except for the people that brought you into it. We owe you a good raising, a whipping when you need one, and love as close to unconditionally as it is humanly possible to give. Fair warning girls, my Mom, and Dad frequently remind me that I am not to big to whip. You never will get too big either. I will let you know if I ever get ungrounded. Your Grammy grounded me for life in sixth grade and I am still serving time.
Punishment can be very good for you. I believe that most mistakes can be forgiven if you learn your lesson. At times in life, that lesson is going to cost you something. It took me a lot of years to figure out that you cannot easily get a speeding ticket if you aren’t driving above the speed limit. Those fines eventually got the message through to me. I slowed down.
On a side note, if you do the crime be willing to do the time. It is very immature to be mad at the policeman that pulls you over for the crime you were committing. Be polite. Say yes sir or yes ma’am, whichever is appropriate. Pay your fine. Don’t think about being clever and fighting the ticket if you actually did what you were cited for. That will only teach you that you can game the system.
Conversely, if you didn’t do anything, don’t accept blame. Grammy’s favorite idiom to me has been,” I don’t take no shit from nobody.” I think the triple negative works. It lends an eloquence that,”I take no shit from anyone,” just doesn’t quite impart. If a person of (alleged) authority is in the wrong be polite, say yes sir or yes ma’am, and don’t accept their wrong answer. There are right and wrong times to back down. Be smart about which is which.
While we are on the subject shit is a “bad word”. You shouldn’t curse. It sounds like you lack the ability to express yourself intelligently if you cuss all the time. Whenever possible find more creative ways of imparting your feelings through colorful, non-vulgar language. However, if you stub your toe.”Oh, shit that hurts,” is a perfectly acceptable utterance most anywhere or in any company. You don’t want to be close to anyone who would judge you for that one.
If you find yourself in the poor position of calling a preacher a “piece of shit” at church I promise to very quietly excuse us from the meeting. I will quietly, but firmly bust your ass in the privacy of our home. I won’t warn you of this until we are in the parking lot. I know when and where to drop these gems. I learned well from my Uncle Shorty, my Grandmother, and (she might deny it) my Mom. You will understand perfectly how to use cursing to excellent effect if you study my Mother. She once repeated something Donald Trump said and left scars deep in my brain. She just doesn’t say words like that. If you trumpet them all the time they lose effect. Used properly “bad words” will catch attention better than a slap in the face.
Violence is another tool that I hope you both never have to use. You should learn about violence. You should understand it and how to apply it. You should be willing to use it if absolutely necessary to astonishing effect. No one should ever expect you to be capable of any sort of violence. You shouldn’t ever talk about it. Keep violent thoughts and ideas to yourself. No one should see the first punch coming. If you do it right, it is entirely possible to completely end a violent situation without anyone seeing you act violently. This is true mastery of the force of violence and of yourself.
My Father taught me a simple idea. You should never throw the first punch. Once someone tries to hit you though you should fight. There is only one way to fight. You fight to end the other person. You don’t stop until they cannot get up. No one has ever wanted to fight me more than once.
I would add when it comes to the subject of fighting that you should only talk with your fists. Talking tough or loud is stupid and a waste of time. Once a fight is inevitable what is there to say?
Words are much more dangerous. You should study them. Learn to love language. Learn to love grammar. Math (the language of numbers) and Grammar are immutable. They have rules. They have structure. You can master them. You can command them. That isn’t true of many other things. Words are what sets humans apart from animals.

I will close this first lesson with one final piece of advice. It may be the thing I have most benefited from in life. You cannot control much in life. In fact, the only thing you truly own is the thoughts in your head. The space between your ears belongs to you and you alone. Be careful who you let in there. Don’t be afraid to evict someone that isn’t worthy. Own the space that is your mind and be comfortable there. If you can be at peace with yourself no one can bother you.

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