My dad turns 86 soon. As his birthday approaches, I am conscious of how appreciative I am of the impact he has had on my life. He has been an active part of my life, and he has taught me vital lessons. Without his guidance, love, and patience, I would have been an entirely different person. His influence and presence in my life has helped me live a better life.
Here are 7 Lessons I learned from my dad. Maybe you can benefit from them too.
1. It’s ok to cry.
My dad is a strong man—physically, emotionally, and mentally. He is over 6 feet tall with an athletic build and a very confident stance. Yet, he is also a humble and kind man.
I did not see my dad break down emotionally very often, though he had plenty of reason to, taking care of 7 kids while being the breadwinner in the family. He worked hard and diligently as he and my mom raised each of us to adulthood. Whenever there were difficulties or setbacks, he did not take them out on us. He found a way to balance his viewpoint while remaining optimistic.
My father faced many difficult moments in his life. He grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during the 1930’s, not a particularly easy time. Due to the Depression, money was scarce. This was also before desegregation so he experienced a lot of challenges as an African-American man.
I can count on my fingers the number of times I saw my dad cry. However, these few instances helped me understand the importance of releasing emotions so you can move forward. The moments which stand out in my mind were when his parents passed away, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and when any of his children were going through a particularly difficult time. I was able to see how a man was not afraid to grieve, cry with us, express his sadness, and show how much he cared about our wellbeing. It was important to see this as a child because it made me feel safe and loved. And it was a subtle, yet strong reminder that it was ok to cry.
2. You can always start over.
My father had to raise 7 very different children while helping my mom to manage the household. We were a big family, including two children from his previous marriage. Yet he never reneged on his parental responsibilities to any of us. He was always there for us—in the good, celebratory times, as well as the dark and difficult ones.
My father experienced lots of financial success. However, when the economy rapidly changed, he lost his executive level position.
After looking for other job opportunities and not finding any, my dad took on several paper routes. He worked those routes to get some income coming in until he transitioned to a better paying job.
As a child, I didn’t think about how hard this had to be for him. My successful father worked a menial job with way less pay and professional stature without complaining. This served as a powerful example for me about how you can always start over and regain your footing.
3. Your name is all you got so don’t mess it up.
My dad was big on building a good name and reputation. I didn’t really understand the value of all that as a kid.
It annoyed me that people in the community, church, and other places knew my dad. I could not go anywhere without people referencing their interactions and relationship with him. I felt pressure to be better behaved than other kids. I felt like expectations for me were greater because of my dad’s good reputation. This may have been self-imposed, but I felt like people were holding me to a higher standard because of how well respected my father was.
Over time, I realized why my dad cared about our reputation. Your name is all you have. Your reputation comes into play before you enter the room.
My dad had us watch biographies and read about people who lost their good name due to cheating, stealing, bribing, or some other bad behavior. He would point out that, even after they corrected the bad behavior, their reputation was ruined. People still remembered what they had done to ruin their good name.
Without a good name, what do you have to earn others’ trust? People judge you based on your reputation, who you are as a person, and your behavior. These are soft qualities. Once they are lost, the road to restoring your good name can be a difficult and long one.
4. See the humor, even in dark times, because it will help you to get to better times.
My dad is the eternal optimist. As a kid, I found this very annoying. He could see the positive in bad situations. When I was going through a bad moment, the last thing I wanted to do was laugh or find something positive in the situation.
I naively thought I could plan out everything meticulously and make life go my way. Unfortunately, life gets in the way of our best laid plans. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” is a saying that really applies to life. Because life rarely plays out the way we intended.
We all have some control over our lives. But much is outside our control. That’s why we have to learn to go with the flow. By keeping a positive outlook and a sense of humor, we can grow from the difficult times. And sometimes just laugh at the craziness of it all.
5. Enjoy every minute of your life
I joke with my dad and mom that I can barely keep up with them because they are constantly on the go. They are busy retirees who make sure they balance out their lives with spirituality, friendships, fun, and whatever else makes them happy.
My dad makes time to see people in the hospital, take a phone call from a friend, and goes on short trips. He lives in the moment. He is particularly good at letting go of past regrets, not lamenting old mistakes, and focusing on the present and future.
When he goes on short trips, he often takes my mother along. She usually doesn’t want to go; yet afterwards she is glad that she took the trip. He did the same thing with us kids. He would take us completely out of our comfort zone, moving us to neighborhoods or surrounding us with different types of people. He did this so we would have an appreciation for all kinds of people and feel comfortable no matter what environment we found ourselves in.
By doing this, my dad helped his family to live a fuller life and have richer experiences. It gave me the courage to travel, feel comfortable interacting with different types of people, and to be open to new experiences.
My dad’s philosophy is to prioritize what is important in life and enjoy every moment. Life is short. You have to make the best of it and remember that it’s your one shot at living the life you want.
6. You are capable of doing anything if you are willing to try.
I often take on something new. I want to get outside my comfort zone. I will work hard at the new task until I have some mastery over the subject. I get this trait from my dad. He is a perpetual learner, an experimenter. I am always curious as to what his next move will be.
I have watched him try many new things. He jumps in with an open mind to each new adventure. When he wanted to live a healthier life, he changed his diet and created an exercise regimen. There was the juicer, the vitamins, the vegetarianism, all stages he went through all on his quest to live a healthier and longer life. When he wanted to run a marathon in his 50s, he came up with a training plan. He stuck with it until he completed his first marathon.
These examples were subtle ways he was telling us kids that we too could do anything. He showed us by example how we could accomplish our goals as long as we stayed focused, were willing to learn, and took steps to execute a plan and move forward.
Whenever my dad wanted our family to have a particular experience, he made it happen. He was always enriching our lives. He is still showing us how to go after what you want. He reminds us by example that the only limiting factor is setting the limitation on yourself.
7. Everyone has a good quality or two.
My dad always sees the good in people, even when others are focusing on the not so positive. He is incredibly compassionate and forgiving because he believes that people for the most part want to do the right thing.
As a kid, I found this quality in my dad to be frustrating. The truth is, everyone’s intentions are not always good. And while everyone has a good quality or two, some people have a tendency to rely heavily on their bad qualities.
However, my dad’s focus on others’ good qualities enhances their ability to show their good side. A difficult childhood, loss of love from parents, or bad scenarios playing out repeatedly can breed negative personality aspects. If love is exhibited to these people, however, and they are held in higher esteem, sometimes they will rise to the occasion.
If I was angry or I didn’t want to forgive someone for hurting me, my father would remind me that we are all human and imperfect. We all fall short. And most of the time when someone is critical of you, it is not about you. It is usually indicative of a battle they have going on in their own life.
By focusing on a person’s better qualities which are there, underneath the surface, sometimes you can help. Your positive attention may make those better qualities shine. People often want to do the right thing, but life can get in the way. This causes some people to act out to self-protect or out of insecurity. I try to see the good in others, understanding where they may be coming from in their negativity and bad choices.
As you can see, my dad taught me a lot. More than the lessons on this list! But I’ve found these 7 Lessons to be important ones to remember.