Too often, we wait too long in life to realise the lessons we are learning from our parents and those around us. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned from my parents and decided to start sharing it with you. Maybe you’ll share with me what you’ve learned too.
When I was about 9 years old, a teacher came to me after an assembly and said, ‘Your dad is at the back of the room looking for you.’
I shot back quick smart, ‘Oh yeah? You’ve never met my dad, how do you know it’s him?’
Not to be outsmarted by a precocious 9-year-old, she replied, ‘It’s written all over your face, you look just like him.’
To be fair, no 9-year-old girl really wants to hear that she’s the spitting image of a 45-year-old man but I am the spitting image of my father; blue eyes, round cheeks and that same chin.
Although now I can see I have the Godfrey eyes and my mother’s hands, I have always been, in one way or another, ‘just like your dad’.
Recently I’ve got to thinking about the very tangible things that I’ve learned from him. Maybe it’s because my dad has regular health scares or I’ve simply been to a few too many funerals this year – but I’ve been wanting to tell people more and more, where I’ve learned some of the core aspects of who I am. Where I come from.
To be clear – these are my words for what I’ve learned from Dad, not his own. But when I think about everything he is (and isn’t) I stumble across these themes time and time again.
- Relentless optimism.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve observed my Dad pick himself back up and continue on. When health has failed or work has been a struggle, he continues on. He’s always finding new opportunities and things to push forward into. He’s taught me to look for opportunities at every turn. To believe that things can turn around on a dime or on a long slow bend – and that there is always hope.
- Believe in yourself, even when no one else does or should.
There are no shortage of people who believe that will believe in you to a degree, but there will be times when the amount of belief you need is beyond what anyone else can give you. Whether it’s been pushing a creative idea beyond the limits of approvals or being too broke for gas when trying to crack a new deal open, my dad has taught me the power of remembering just how good you can be. There is one incident I remember with such clarity it brings tears to my eyes even now – Dad’s words were simple and to the point. ‘Tash, look at your little finger. You’ve got more creativity in that little finger than the rest of us put together – now you just need to remember that, ok?’
- Whenever you can, make somebody laugh.
I used to groan when Dad would make jokes with the checkout lady at the supermarket, although secretly I’d always be impressed when he could make them smile. I’ve learned that it’s a gift to bring a little light into someone’s world whenever you can. Dad’s taught me that you can’t be too serious all the time or you’ll get out of balance. And that sometimes when things really are pretty serious, you need a good laugh more than you think. That humour can get pretty dark, but I got that from him too, I think. I’ll never forget the first time he talked seriously about getting a tattoo (after my sister and I both had them) – his suggestion was a zipper over his bypass scar, with a tag saying ‘in case of emergencies, open here’. I used to be too serious about everything and now I probably err on the other side, but I think Dad’s side is better in this instance. It’s better to laugh and carry on than to miss the chances to smile with people.
- Everybody is a potential friend.
To be fair, I learned from both my parents to welcome people with open arms, but hospitality is still a little different from making friends wherever you go. I’ve never seen Dad turn up his nose at. I think I become friends with bartenders because my dad has always been friends with the people who served him, from the local pizzeria to the mechanic or the wine merchant. He’s never polite for the sake of being polite or friendly, he’ll back it up almost every time. It’s genuine.
- Don’t blink in the face of the unexpected – don’t ever judge.
I only recently learned from Dad that he used to consider himself a bit of a homophobe. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing that as he’s long since changed his mind – as usual, he met someone who he welcomed into his life and couldn’t help but learn to love a gay man as a dear friend. When Bruno eventually passed from illness, it was easy to see the impact it had on him. Here’s the thing: I never knew that. Dad doesn’t blink in the face of the unexpected, he just takes it in his stride. There’s not much that can faze me these days and I think I learned that from him too.
- Humiliation is disempowering to you and others.
There have been plenty of opportunities where my dad could have read the ‘I told you so’ script to me on repeat, throwing old and new failures in front of me. Not because he’s cruel but just because that’s how some people are. But Dad has never taken an opportunity to do that, even when I’m sure he’s wanted to. And when I’ve faced humiliating experiences, he’s never dwelt in them – rather he’s helped me pick up and carry on. He’s helped brush over those humiliations to preserve my dignity in front of others.
- If you have to do something tough and you feel bad, it’s probably the right thing for the right reasons.
This was a much more direct and recent lesson. I was sharing some struggles I was having in communicating some pretty serious implications to a colleague. I was feeling awful about the process although I knew I needed to follow it through. Dad said, ‘someone once told me that when you have to do something tough, or say something tough to another person and you feel bad about it – it’s probably the right thing. And it’s a good thing that you feel bad about it, because it means you do really care about the person.’ Changed my whole week and the course of my relationship with that colleague.
What’s important about these lessons? Well, they have become part of the fabric of how I do life. They are criteria for my humanity – my Dad is very human.
I’m not as good a daughter these days as I used to be. Still, I want people to know that when they see me at work or at life, my father and all I’ve learned from him is an integral part of me. It’s good to remember where I came from and to share what I’ve learned from him because I think they are good lessons for all of us.
There’s something redemptive about recognising the gifts our parents and mentors bring us from their own experience, good or bad.