5 Lessons I Learned from My Father

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As a mother, I often think about what life skills and lessons I am passing along to my daughter.  This fall, Rowan will attend school for the first time, and some days, I find myself feeling rushed to be sure she has all the tools she needs to survive and thrive in middle school.  The first ten years of her life we homeschooled, and as a result, every day presented opportunities to impart useful wisdom about getting along in life.  Now it feels like our chances are running shorter.

Because this is on my mind so much lately, and because this weekend is my dad’s birthday, I started thinking about the many life lessons I learned from him.  So, in no particular order, here are five life lessons (I’m sure there are more!) I learned from my father that I have found myself passing along to Rowan.

Have confidence in yourself:  When I was growing up, my dad was in sales, and he often had sets of cassette tapes featuring sales skills and other self-improvement topics.  I feel 100 percent certain that Dad is responsible for my love for all things self-improvement to this day.

My dad offered the tapes to me, and I can remember listening to these tapes during various periods in my life.  One was when I was a flutist in high school and college with extreme performance anxiety.  Between self-improvement tapes (NLP, I’m looking at you!) and a few visits to the university’s psychologist, I solved my stage fright problem.  That work served me well when I moved into my career as a financial planner.  While others fear talking to people individually or in front of large audiences, I have developed the tools required to excel at those things.

Now I find myself sharing age-appropriate tips with Rowan about having confidence in oneself.  One I am particularly fond of is to ask her, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” when she is nervous about something.  Then we proceed to discuss how she could handle that worst thing, and then suddenly, it doesn’t feel as scary any longer.

Be careful with your money:  This lesson from my dad came more indirectly.  I don’t remember many frank conversations about money growing up.  What I do remember, though, are a handful of stressful money situations in our family, and how my father calmly plowed through them and made it to the other side.  He didn’t give up.

I believe I internalized the lessons of what I wanted to avoid when it came to my financial life, and that has made me a more careful steward of our money today.  With Rowan, we started early with all the lessons needed about money: lessons like how and why to save, why debt is a bad idea, and why being generous is so important, among others.

Work hard:  When my sister and I were young, my dad would tease all the time about some former career he had had.  Something related would come up, and dad would say, “Well back when I was a brain surgeon . . .”  Working as a special education teacher and working in a gym shoe factory were other claims.  It got so crazy, that it became difficult to know which former jobs were real and which were pure fiction.  (I feel pretty sure we didn’t buy the brain surgeon one, but who knows, we were young!)

Despite all the joking, we did know how hard he worked so we could have the lives we did growing up.  I don’t recall ever hearing him complain about work.  He got up early, worked long days, and kept at it for his entire career.  Weekends found him working some at his office or working in the yard.  I don’t remember Dad spending much time sitting around.

This pretty much describes me exactly.  I have great difficulty resting and relaxing: I prefer to work and be productive.  Clearly, I absorbed the implicit lesson observed my whole childhood: to be successful, work hard and keep working.  That lesson has served me well, without a doubt.  The downside, however, is the difficulty with trying to not work.  That is a struggle for me.

Oh, and in writing this just now, I realized that unlike my father, I do bitch about work.  Specifically, I complain about the stress I feel.  I’ll have to give some thought to what message I am sending to my daughter through this complaining!  Ugh!

Be honest:  Let’s just say that my one-and-only criminal moment as a child involved an elaborate lie told to middle school officials and my parents.  Despite my utter confidence that I would not be found guilty as charged, my defense unraveled.  I had what turned out to be two glorious days stuck in in-school suspension (a story for another day . . . I’m just grateful it didn’t lead to more criminal behavior!)

My punishment at home was another matter entirely.  Sure, I got grounded for a week or so.  (In my family we always joke about how my sister and I were never really phased by grounding.  Can’t go outside with friends or watch television?  No matter, we’ll just sit home and read books!)  The real punishment was facing my parents after the ugly lie.  My father got right in my face and very calmly and directly said, “Don’t you ever lie to me again.”

Done and done.

I can’t say I never lie, because sometimes lying is necessary to get through life.  But I can say absolutely that I never lie when it counts.  Honesty is huge for me.  Hopefully Rowan is learning that lesson from me.

Love unconditionally:  This one is the toughie, to be honest.  With children, it is far easier – they are your kids, after all, of COURSE you love them unconditionally.  No matter what I have done in my life, good or bad (I’m speaking of good or bad decisions here mostly, since my entire life of crime consisted of the one event related above.  What can I say?  I was a model child!  A nerdy kid!), I KNOW my parents love me.  That is powerful stuff as you move through life.

While I still have work to do on this lesson in my life, my sincere hope is that Rowan is getting that message loud and clear: no matter what she does, whom she dates, what decisions she makes that I might not agree with, she has my unconditional love.

And Rowan?  Don’t worry.  I’ve got your back.

Thanks, Dad.


What lessons did you learn from your parents that have shaped you?  Share below!  Or if you want to start a discussion with some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your thoughts!

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