Every year I perform the same ritual. I rack my brain and search the Internet to figure out what to get my dad for Father's Day. What do you get for someone who doesn't need anything or want anything? Growing up I learned that the best gifts are the ones that are homemade and from the heart. But at my age a macaroni-covered ashtray spraypainted gold isn't going to cut it. I've been making cards and bowls and cakes for my parents for years. This year I decided not to do any of that.
I have a great dad. He isn't gushy with words of love and therefore I also am not gushy with him. But I don't want to make the mistake of missing the opportunity to tell him that I recognize all he gave me.
So, in honor of Father's Day, here is my list of 6 lessons a great dad taught a lucky daughter.
1. When people say, "It can't be done"--ignore them. My dad can fix anything. He studied engineering in college but became a businessman instead. That didn't stop him from being able to use his skills daily. Once after he moved into a new house the cable man told my dad that he wouldn't be able to get cable in the downstairs bedroom. "Yeah, right," Dad replied. He spent the better part of a Sunday crawling under the house with who knows what. He laid the cable, connected it, and--BAM!--we had cable in the downstairs bedroom. The takeaway for me was much more far-reaching than not to take no for an answer from the cable guy. I learned that if you put your mind to something you can make it happen.
2. Girls can be handymen. When my husband and I purchased our first home my dad bought me a drill. He didn't give it to my spouse. He gave it to me. The drill came with a package of drill bits. My dad said after I used each bit he would get me a bigger pack. I put my mind to using that drill for everything. I hung mirrors, drilled holes for towel racks and I even put a hole in our maple tree to make maple syrup. That drill made me feel powerful and capable. Maybe since my dad didn't have any sons he gave his knowledge to his girls without thinking about it. Or maybe he just didn't buy into the idea that girls can't fix stuff. I chose to believe it's the latter. When my daughter was in preschool she did a project about her parents' jobs. She said "My dad writes books and is a sports writer. My mom fixes things." Mission accomplished.
3. You don't have to raise your voice to get your point across. My dad has never--not once-- raised his voice at me. He didn't yell when I can-opened the side of his car. He didn't yell when I stole his company's phone card and used it to call my friends around the country. He didn't even scream the time I got kicked out of sleep-away camp, and he had to drive six hours to Maine to get me. Dad just kept his cool and said the three worst words (I'm very disappointed). Then he would hold us accountable for our actions. That levelheadedness was a lifeline. At the end of the day we knew that whatever we did, he would be there for us, and we would work it out.
4. If you have something, share it. There is nothing my dad has that he wouldn't share with a friend or family member. He had a great beach house and everyone was always invited. You may have had to sleep on the couch or floor but you were welcome. He would lend you any shirt even though he knew he might never get it back. If you needed a car for the weekend, he would go without one so you could go off with your friends. He showed us that giving is better than receiving.
5. If you cook it, they will come. Parenting experts carp about the importance of family dinners, and for good reason. My dad rarely missed a family meal. In fact, meal times became the center of our universe. When my parents divorced, dad took on cooking as an all-day activity. We read recipes. We shopped at specialty stores for ingredients. Next we cooked until nighttime and ate our masterpiece for dinner. When parents take the time to prepare the family meal with thought and love, the kids--even as teenagers--will come running. I learned that from my dad.
6. Actions speak louder than words. My dad is a man of few words and as he ages they have become even fewer. For years I waited for the moment he would say he loved me. Now I think how silly to wait for words instead of seeing the actions that were so much more tangible. My dad is the kind of guy to pick you up from the airport at 2 a.m. He is the dad who spent hours working with me on my science fair project. And the dad who made sure we had everything even when we didn't appreciate it. I know my dad loves me because he showed me in a 1,001 ways.
This Father's Day, I passed on the tie and the cologne and a shaving kit. I hope my dad likes this list just as much.
A version of this blog previously appeared at The Family Coach.