I'm not a parent yet, but I will be later this year, and the lessons my dad taught me about being a person will surely translate to how I behave as a parent. Some of them are good lessons and some of them are a little questionable, but either way, these are the things he taught me that have influenced me most in my life.
1. You can go almost anywhere if you act like you belong.
Let me preface this first one by saying that my father is a white man born in the 1950s, so that perspective might color this a little bit. That being said, I still think it's a good universal lesson. If my dad has to pee, he will walk into any building anywhere and use their bathroom. If I run a 5K while my dad is in town visiting, he will join me in the "runners only" beer tent and enjoy free beer while wearing a sweater vest. My dad does not think it is inappropriate for him to be anywhere; he is a 60-year-old man and he belongs at every frat party and every indie electronica club show. There's a certain freedom in this behavior. He believes enough in himself and his right to be present that nobody ever questions him. If you walk in somewhere with your head held high like you own the place, maybe people will think you own he place. And, of course, this is a behavior born of inherent privilege, but I think if we all believed we belonged a little bit more, it would be harder for others to believe that we don't.
2. No one cares what you look like in your driver's license picture.
When I was 16 and got my driver's license, I showed my dad because I was proud I passed the test and made this great step toward becoming an adult, but also because I had managed to not look like an ogre in the picture, which I felt deserved some kind of acknowledgment or praise. This sort of thing is important to 16-year-old girls. You know who it's not important to? My dad.
Girls are often told that the most important thing they can be is pretty. My dad looked at my license picture and said, "you know, it just doesn't matter." My dad, the feminist. But in all seriousness, this is probably the closest thing to a feminist my dad has ever been. What you look like just doesn't matter that much. And if no one tells girls that it doesn't matter, they might keep thinking that it does, well into adulthood. And that is good for absolutely nobody.
3. Don't call people at hangover o'clock.
When I was a teenager, I worked at a deli in my hometown, less than a mile from my mother's house. I worked pretty much every Sunday from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., and I resented every second of it. The guys who ran the deli insisted on playing Italian opera on Sundays because of Jesus, I guess. This meant I had to work the register and listen to opera, my least favorite thing, without even the companionship of top 40 radio. Quelle horreur.
My dad told me that he would help me buy a car if I saved money at my job by matching what I saved. I thought this was a HORRIBLE arrangement and totally unfair because all my friends were gifted their parents' old cars. So one day, filled with righteous indignation while I was walking to work, I took out my (ridiculous, gigantic, with an antenna) cell phone and called my dad at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. When he picked up, I said, "Oh hi, just thought I'd call to check in," to which he replied, with enough attitude to match that of a 16-year-old, "You know, some people like to sleep in on Sundays." I thought I had the cleverest retort when I shouted, "YEAH I LIKE DOING THAT TOO BUT YOU'RE MAKING ME GO TO WORK" and hung up.
It's taken me until recently to recognize that he was correct and I was being a tool. Some people, who work at jobs all week and give ungrateful children everything they need and want like to sleep in on Sundays. Sometimes those people were maybe out late the previous night, making bad decisions, who knows? One thing I do know, is that at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, nobody cares that you are walking to your job at the deli. My dad was willing to match what I saved which smacks of so much privilege I can't even, and I did not appreciate that fact at the time. Being forced to work for what I wanted taught me the value of delayed gratification, working toward a personal goal, and getting up early to get what I want. As an adult, I can't even say necessarily that I embody those values, but I know that they are values, and that's saying something, isn't it? And I know I'm totally going to be a dick to my son when he tells me it's "so unfair" that he has to have a job. You know what's unfair, future son? Capitalism. It's hard out there. Get used to it. NOBODY LIKES HAVING A JOB.
4. Make your own traditions.
My parents got divorced when I was 9 years old. Being a divorced dad meant that my father had to get a little bit creative around the holidays. I'm not sure where this impulse came from, (Necessity? Poor planning?) but the first Christmas Eve my brother and I spent with my dad by himself, we had tacos for dinner. Maybe because it was our favorite meal? Maybe because divorced-dad-on-Christmas-Eve clichés -- like that part in The Santa Clause when Tim Allen burns the turkey and they have to go to Denny's and there are a bunch of other single dads there -- are true? I don't know. The world may never know. But after that, every year for Christmas Eve dinner, we have tacos. It's one of my favorite family traditions. Which leads me to believe that nothing is really sacred, which can be a freeing notion, if you let it. Do you have bad memories of Thanksgiving? Make your own tradition! Like maybe in your family Thanksgiving dinner is ice cream. You're the parent now, you can do whatever you want, and if you do something fun, it might become part of the history of your family forever. Isn't that nice?
5. Feelings are manly.
My dad is a crier. He cries watching almost every movie, most notably Babe: Pig in the City. He cries at weddings. He cries watching plays. When the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, I called him from Kenmore Square and he said, weeping, "the first time they broke my heart was in 1967." My dad's emotional displays led me to believe that a man who feels things deeply is a man I'd like to spend time with. It also made me believe that my feelings are valid. This has served me well in my life. I feel my feelings and then I move on. I hope to teach my son emotional intelligence from a young age. And listen guys, math and science are important, but so is empathy. They should probably teach college courses on emotional intelligence, but in the meantime, my son will have his grandfather to look to for an example of emotional masculinity. And being secure enough to cry when a young pig has a big adventure in a far-off city is pretty manly, if you ask me.