Sunday, June 15, 2008

Four Lessons From My Father

My parents were never big on toys. They claim this was an intentional and strategic parenting tactic to cultivate creativity and imagination within me and my brother. In this regard, they were thoroughly successful; however, I'm inclined to believe that their opposition to Barbie's Dream House and Nintendo 64 can also be attributed to the fact that, when we were growing up, they were young entrepreneurs who probably didn't have gratuitous toy budgets. The truth is my brother was partial to emptying the contents of a kitchen cabinet and making blissfully improvisational music with the pots and pans, while I relished the nights when my dad, an aspiring chef, brought home dozens of green, plastic cartons- the kind in which strawberries were sold- for me to construct whimsical castles of my own design. Plus, my makeshift blocks were so light (read: soundless) that I could gleefully knock them over without fraying my mother's last nerve.

Don't get me wrong, my brother and I had toys, but they weren't the highly coveted ones for which parents stood in long lines on Christmas Eve because a second-grader's sanity was at stake, and there was no play room in our house, flush with games and gadgets on every shelf and spilling over the edges of trunks and chests. Instead, we were encouraged to play any sport or undertake any activity under the sun- particularly the ones with minimal equipment needed and likelihood of bodily injury. Swimming, ballet, theatre, baseball, sailing, ice hockey, field hockey, track, and lacrosse- collectively, my brother and I were like a two-person college athletic department. Some careers lasted longer than others. I played soccer on an all-boys team once, but no one passed to me, so that was pretty short-lived. Thankfully, my parents also privileged vacations over material possessions, which was okay by everyone.

My point is simple: my parents taught us to value experiences over things.

And, for this, I am eternally grateful. Even now, I'd rather hike a mountain with my beau than receive an expensive bauble from him. My best friend and I prefer to share fresh rolls and tom yum soup for under $10, each, over swilling $10 cocktails at a swanky, downtown bar. My favorite pair of evening footwear? Neigh a pair of Jimmy Choos but, rather, a pair of gold Dr. Scholl's wedges that I unearthed at Marshall's recently, the ultimate bargain shopping triumph. I literally did a victory lap around the apartment in them upon returning home from the expedition.

My parents taught me lots of other lessons too, like tying my shoes (so many footwear references, here, I feel like Carrie Bradshaw, albeit on a MUCH smaller budget!), using scissors, and not resting on my elbows at the dinner table. However, in light of Father's Day, I'd like to focus on a few lessons that I learned from my dad. There are lots of them, including driving and, consequently, speeding, but for the sake of brevity, I'll share only four.

1.) "Boys are a four-letter word." It's amazing that I would look upon this maxim of his with anything resembling approval or nostalgia, now, because during my youth, I cringed whenever I heard it. He would say it in jest, meaning boys, in our house, were a concept as vulgar as four-letter swear words. Eventually, dad lightened up, but I still think his wary eye helped me cultivate a belief in and reliance on myself, above all else. I'm dismayed when women, particularly in this day and age, await the rescue of prince charming rather than reach down for the reservoir of strength that resides within themselves.

2.) Do something right, or don't do it at all. Spoken like any self-made man or woman, my dad constantly underscored the importance of hard work. As a result, I've found that a superior work ethic rarely goes unnoticed, and when people take notice, it means you've made an impact. Make enough of an impact, often enough, and you become the master of your own destiny.

3.) The more you have, the more you give. When I was a kid, before my parents had much wealth to share, they gave rides, opened the guest room, provided jobs, and always offered an extra seat at our dinner table to someone in need. More recently, my dad has hosted golf tournaments for charity and donated to worthy causes when possible.

4.) Food is love. My dad is a chef. He can create gourmet meals in minutes, out of a seemingly bare cupboard. We often joke that you could give him a carrot, a Twinkie, and some wasabi and he'd somehow turn it into a gourmet meal. Seriously. I'm not kidding. I've seen it . . . Okay, maybe not the Twinkie. The lesson, here, is that food is a resource to be celebrated. Carbs are not the enemy, nor is dessert. Enjoy your food. Break bread with others. If you love someone, cook them a meal.

Happy Father's Day!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful words from a beautiful soul. I love it!

Lauren said...

I second that!

Anonymous said...

It is wonderful when you can put your life experiences to share with others that are so thought provoking. The writer's life of simplicity, sprinkled with good family values, has made her beautiful inside and out. Dad, you did a great job!