1. If you ever have a gut feeling that something is wrong with a person you are with or a situation you are in, trust it the first time. I have a very close friend that my dad adores greatly. One day years ago I started to tell him about a particularly terrible situation of betrayal that she was in. I started with, “She had a feeling…” and he cut me off there. He said, “Honey, if you ever feel like something is not right, you need to trust that feeling the first time you’re aware of it and do something about it immediately. Don’t wait around for things to get worse…because they will.” It was a reminder that my own intuition is like a built-in compass that will always point me to my “North” if I am paying attention.
2. Walk your own path and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Growing up, we had a lot of conversations at the dinner table as a family of four. I distinctly remember my father lecturing my brother and I about the meaning of this quote: In order to lead the orchestra, the conductor must turn his back on the crowd. We were really too young to fully understand the concept when he first explained it, but he brought it back up time and time and time again. My brother and I have always had a very strong voice in our heads telling us that sometimes we just need to turn the corner when everyone else continues straight ahead.
3. Life sucks sometimes. Find a way to deal with it and move on. My dad has little sympathy for complaints and pretty much no patience for whining. He never has. If I lament about something that was really not a major problem (and let’s be real- most things are not major problems), he will listen and then lay out practical options like “let it go” or “do something” to change whatever it is I don’t like. I initially get annoyed that he won’t just let me sit in my self-pity for a minute or two, but then I swallow my squawk and walk away because I know he is right.
4. You are never too old to create the career of your dreams. My father had several jobs over the course of my life and while he did always try to make the most of them all for the sake of our family, it was very clear that he enjoyed some more than others. Then, when I was in my senior year of high school, he was offered his dream job – with a catch; he’d have to move across the country if he accepted. And he did. Watching his passion and excitement coupled with my mom’s support was a lesson in following your dreams that I will never forget. To this day, I know few other people in my life that love what they do every single day the way my dad does and that is truly inspiring.
5. Do not give a shit about what other people think of you. My dad’s name is Joe. If you met Joe, he would literally not give a shit about what you thought of him. Okay, that sounds a little harsh, but hear me out; what I mean is… he has an uncanny ability to focus on the good things that people have to offer this world and to deflect off any negativity before it even touches him. I have watched him free himself (and the rest of us in our family) of the pettiness, opinions, judgments, criticisms, and fears of others. That stuff is just noise to him – noise that he doesn’t hear. He has more room for positive thinking this way, and that is some powerful stuff.
6. If something is hard, work through it and embrace the process. Don’t give up. When I was in elementary school I developed a story about myself that I came to believe: I wasn’t a math person. Translation: I struggled to make sense of some math lessons. It didn’t come as easily to me as other lessons. I had to work at it. Come high school, I was placed in an honors math class. I thought it was hard and I wanted out. I begged my dad to talk to my teacher and let me change classes. He begrudgingly spoke with her (probably because I really never backed out of anything and I promised I wasn’t exaggerating) and she said no because she “knew I could do it.” I ended up getting 100% on the state exam that year. I will never forget how mortified my father was when he saw that teacher again at the end of the year, but more importantly, I will never forget how he made me thank her for making me stay in the class and showing me that I could do well…that I could be “a math person.” I just had to believe it myself.
7. When making big life decisions, remember that your choices can have ramifications that affect other people. Years ago, I had to leave a job I cared for unexpectedly because of a personal issue I was dealing with. I wasn’t happy about leaving the job, but I needed to leave the location. My dad was in full support of my decision, but after helping me navigate the logistical aspects of my departure, he told me to always remember that my choices in life affect other people- not just me. He wasn’t shaming me and there wasn’t a hidden message in there; he just wanted me to reflect on the gravity of what transpired and understand that repercussions should be considered and weighed before jumping into something.
8. If you can’t picture spending your entire life with someone, get rid of him. My dad made it very clear to me that when it comes to relationships, there really is no grey area. There is only black and white. Either you want to be with someone for the long haul, or you don’t. If you don’t or you don’t think you do or you aren’t so sure or you mostly do, but not all the time – you need to move on. Let the person go and just move on.
9. Don’t be house poor and always know your budget. When I moved back home after college, my dad charged me rent. Despite (or more probably in spite of) knowing that all of my friends were living in their childhood rooms with built-in meals around the clock free of charge, my dad collected money out of my pay check while I lived under his roof. He taught me the importance of budgeting, the value of the dollar I was making, and how powerful financial independence is. He taught me how to factor in taxes, rent, food, and other expenses when planning ahead and then watched me confidently and capably move into my first apartment in NYC while also paying for graduate school. I may have been frustrated with him at the time, but the lessons my dad taught me then were invaluable…and he has surely gifted that money back to me one way or another over the years.
10. Education is priceless. My parents spent a freakin’ pretty fortune on my education… starting from, well, nursery school all the way through college. My dad stressed the meaning of getting out what you put in and following what peaked my curiosity in school. He praised my hard work, encouraged me to take challenging classes, and fostered a love of learning from a young age. It doesn’t hurt that he is the smartest man I know.
11. Travel, not only to see the beauty in the world, but more importantly to gain tolerance and understanding for people different than you. My dad has seen a lot of places and met a lot of people from all over the world, and he has encouraged me to get out there and do the same whenever possible. He has taught me firsthand that travel not only breaks down societal and cultural barriers built on fear, judgment, and ignorance, but also builds up personal banks of tolerance, acceptance, appreciation and empathy. Few things matter more than these.
12. Look for the lesson in everything. You can never tell my dad a story and expect him not to take some time to process it and then make some meaning out of it… and then talking about the meaning… and then applying the meaning to other aspects of life. He is a constant learner and he is constantly reinventing his schema of things as he gains new information. The evolving growth of his mind and perspective is admirable.
13. Call your mother. My dad made it clear that my mom deserves all of the love and respect a child could possibly give a mother. He made it clear that she is the ultimate giver, the rock of our family, the soul behind our steps. He tells me to thank her for everything, be respectful to her always, and c.a.l.l. her often.
14. Surround yourself with people that will lift you up, people that will challenge your thinking, and people that will push you out of your comfort zone. The people you surround yourself with impact your experiences and state of mind. Let go of the people that bring you down or accept the status quo and bring in people that build you up, push you out, and help you grow.
15. In the case of a serious f*** up, a calm demeanor (followed by a lesson) is very powerful. I was not a “bad” kid. But I made some bad mistakes. And I was fearful of disappointing my dad. If I accidentally knocked over a glass at the dinner table out of pure clumsiness, my dad would sometimes overreact, but when I really messed up, my dad would be eerily calm. He’d evaluate the situation, make sure no one was hurt, pause, and then educate me on how to make a better choice in the future. I never made the same mistake twice.
16. Say what you mean and mean what you say… there’s no need for all the fluffy stuff. Be clear with your words. Think about what message you want to deliver and get it out without anything extra. Sometimes, less is more.
17. Share your stories. Stories are powerful tools that connect people and help us all appreciate the life we live. My dad loves telling stories about his family, his childhood, his work, his adventures. He loves stories that are passed down and looks forward to hearing stories from those he loves and those he can learn from. And, he loves encouraging me to write my stories, too; he believes in the power of words and he believes in me.
18. Hardworking and handsome men that are also loyal husbands and loving fathers do exist. This is my favorite lesson of all. I love you, Dad.