Becoming a parent opened a window for me and allowed me to view my parents in a new light. Being a therapist did the same. I spend my time at work talking with individuals about how their parents had an enormous influence on the kind of child they were and the kind of parents they are or want to be. As I speak with individuals about facing challenges, dealing with emotions and connecting with others, I find myself sharing phrases my dad has said to me throughout my life. In honor of Father's Day, I want to thank my dad for being present, for being the kind of person whose actions match his words, and for being the kind of man I hope my son grows up to be.
Here are a few of his most valuable life lessons.
1. Things are never as bad as they seem, things are never as good as they seem.
This phrase was said often as I became a young adult; when I got a bad grade, got rejected from a college or got a great job offer. To many of us, situations seem only amazing or awful. We feel the need to be perfect or else we are failures. My dad never jumped to extremes and spent time and effort teaching me that I could do the same. It was only after I became a therapist that I realize my dad was unknowingly teaching me about cognitive distortions and “black and white thinking.” He gave me the gift of living in the grey zone.
2. Wait a few days before making any important decision.
I am impulsive by nature. I like to make decisions quickly. My dad is not driven by that same kind of anxiety that some people are. He always made me let things simmer. Some decisions deserve a few days.
3. You can add value without being the best.
My dad wished for children that were good athletes. Unfortunately my brother and I were not. My dad was the coach of my little league team and I was one of the worst players. Instead of sticking me in outfield to chase butterflies or putting me in a position I wasn’t qualified for, he put me as catcher where I could I be part of the infield, but still feel okay dropping the ball now and then. I learned to contribute and succeed in my own way. Being a successful member of a team or group means figuring out where you add value.
4. Work your ass off the first month of a new job. First impressions are everything.
This lesson is lost on generations younger than me. Impress people in the beginning; it will last a long time.
5. Parents do not need to agree with all their kid’s decisions; they need to support them.
I transferred college and changed careers after turning 30. As a man who likes to be prepared and secure, my dad was incredibly nervous. He did not agree with some of my decisions, but always told me that whatever I chose, my parents were behind me. Looking back, I realized I felt confident to make those changes because of the support I had. Be your child’s biggest cheerleader, even when their choice wouldn't necessarily be your choice.
6. Presentation matters.
I bit my nails into bleeding nubs and ignored my dad’s requests to stop biting for years. He kept saying no one would hire me with those hands. Eventually I told him I would try to stop. When I did I got a job.
7. Always carry cash and extra sharpened pencils.
My dad showed me that preparation is half the battle. For the SAT exam he brought my friends extra sharpened pencils, knowing that someone would forget or not have enough. As an adult I rarely show up unprepared. Preparation is especially important now that I am a parent. Being prepared decreases my anxiety and increases my confidence.
8. Make time for family “meetings”
As an office manager for most of his career, my dad took on the role of head administrator of our family. He often organized meetings with the whole family or with individuals. In my meetings, we would go over school paperwork, bills, college applications, camp packing lists and anything else that could fit in a file cabinet. During the meetings my dad would spend time explaining the paperwork. He would show me what he was filling out, the reasons behind his answers, and answer any questions I had. As a teenager I would roll my eyes, but as an adult, I see myself doing the same thing with my family. The meetings not only taught me how to take care of the to-do’s in my life; they were also an excuse to spend time together.
9. Show up for the people who matter.
As an adult I've realized how strong this lesson is ingrained in me. Life isn’t about doing everything for everyone; it is about doing the right things for the people who matter. Call when someone needs to hear your voice; surprise your child by showing up at their sporting event; make the effort to do something nice when it may not be most convenient for you. My dad taught me that being a good person means being good to those who mean most to you.
10. Ice cream is a food group.
In my house there was no such thing as too much ice cream. Ice cream floats, Carvel cakes and tubs of Edy’s. Dads, take your kids out for ice cream. It is special quality time and a memory they won’t ever forget.