By Amanda Russo
When I found out I was pregnant, I naturally looked to the woman who gave birth to me for guidance. I turned to my mom for parenting advice, a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold. In my interactions with my daughter, I often hear her voice in the back of my head -- words and phrases she said to me a million times now flow from my lips (sometimes against my will!).
Yes, my mother certainly taught me how to be a mom. What I didn't anticipate was the influence my father would have on my journey into motherhood. My dad has three daughters and lucky for him, we were fierce adventurers as children who never shied away from camping, fishing or fixing things. Or, perhaps we never shied away because of our father. He taught me many important lessons and I think of them often as I care for my daughter each day. Here are five of the best ones.
1. Be patient.
Sometimes he taught this lesson by example, like when he took the three of us fishing. He always brought his rod, but he never got to catch anything. He spent more time trying to teach us to bait hooks (but doing it himself because "worms are icky") and untangling our lines from trees, rocks and the bottom of the lake. While toiling to ensure his daughters learned to fish he sometimes had an odd expression on his face and I realize now what it was -- he was waging a massive internal battle to keep his patience. My sisters and I would complain that it was hot and we weren't catching anything. "You have to be patient," he would say. Those words echo in my mind now when my toddler throws her dinner on the floor and insists that she doesn't need shoes. Be patient.
2. Pay attention.
I learned this lesson at age four when I fell walking up the stone steps of our home with my hands in my pockets. I would have smashed my face, but my dad caught me. "Pay attention," he said. "And never walk with your hands in your pockets." (I never have since.) He taught me to pay attention when we hiked in the woods. He would point out certain birds and types of trees. He knew all of their names, and now I do too. I paid attention. Now, when I hear my daughter laugh or when she shouts, "Mommy, watch meeeee!" I don't get lost in my smartphone. I pay attention because I know the moment will be gone in an instant.
3. Enjoy the little things.
The house I grew up in was on an acre of land and that provided a large yard to play in. It also provided my father with a great deal of grass to mow. After watching him push the noisy gray metal contraption in circles for an hour or so, I'd see him crack open a can of cold beer. As a child, I thought his hard work had made him thirsty (and it had) but there was also something about a simple reward after a large labor that I would only come to appreciate later in life. When I frantically chase an ice cream truck with my daughter and we enjoy a creamy cup of vanilla or when she asks for a "group hug" and whispers "I wuv you" to me and my husband, I think of my father drinking that beer and I enjoy the little things.
My dad is notorious for laughing at his own jokes. The punchline has hardly been said before he's convulsing in a fit of hysteria. My sisters and I still tease him about this, but as a mom, I now appreciate how necessary a good laugh can be. When you're exhausted and covered in snot and chewed cookie, a good laugh can work wonders. After all, it's the small joys of motherhood that make up a lifetime of happiness.
5. We're only human.
When we're kids, we think our parents are infallible gods who have all the answers to every question and who can never do wrong. As we age, we realize this isn't the case, and when we become parents we begin to understand the truth: Parents are only human and, quite frankly, we have no idea what we're doing. I worry that I don't spend enough time with my daughter. I worry about her happiness and her safety and her education and her friends. I worry that I'm not perfect. One of the most important lessons I learned from my dad is that parents are far from perfect. And our children don't expect us to be. They love us anyway -- flaws and all.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. You make me a better mom.
Amanda Russo works as a Pre-K teacher in Brooklyn where she lives with her husband and daughter.
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This post is part of HuffPost Parents' Father's Day series, exploring the lessons our dads taught us about parenting.