Friday, April 26, 2013

Lessons from Daddy

I vividly remember a remarkable amount of stuff from the time I was about two and half to five years old.  People probably think I make most of it up, and I suppose it’s entirely possible that I did. But I think I would make it more interesting if I was inventing it all.  I remember the mundane, looking at a worm in a puddle, brushing my hair, biting a thermometer. Okay – that was pretty exciting, actually. If you ever wanna see your mom jump, make her think you’re ingesting mercury.

Among the memories are three specific and particular lessons from my dad. He taught me many things from philosophy to engine timing, how to figure the pitch of a roof to which berries are poisonous if you’re fly fishing and need a snack. There were many pieces of advice throughout my life that I’ve kept with me. But three statements he told me at that very young age have stuck with me and I’ve thought about each of them nearly every day for the last four decades.

1) It’s a lot easier to make sure one little girl is being good than three little girls.
I’d come to him for the tenth time probably in a day, tattling that one of my sisters was committing some offense of which he should not only be aware, but take action against. He was under the hood of a car, either tinkering or just hiding and he said the words first to the engine. I climbed up the bumper and leaned in, too. “Daddy, what? But she…”  And he looked right at my miniature face and repeated himself. “It’s a lot easier to just make sure one little girl is being good.”   

I love that he didn’t explain it, but rather turned back to what he was doing and left me to figure it out. After a few minutes of enjoying the shade of the car hood, I got it. Don’t tattle. Don’t rescue. Keep an eye on yourself.  Just make sure one little girl is being good.  

2) Don’t pretend to be anyone but yourself.
This one, like many of his rules, was most likely meant to keep us from squabbling and interrupting his book/magazine/nap.  We were playing outside and along with some friends, acting out a scene from a PBS show called New Zoo Revue.  There were actors in animal costumes with massive heads – and of course, they wore clothes – and then one normal human who for whatever reason hung out with them. Tensions were rising about who had to be Henrietta Hippo and Freddie Frog and who got to be the real live human character. Again, a man of few words, my dad said, “Don’t pretend to be anyone. Just be yourself.”  Looking back, I am quite sure he meant it as a solution to the problem right that minute – but it served me well for the next forty years, too.  

Knee socks. I love knee socks.

3) Little boys cannot hit little girls.
And big ones can’t either. I was armed with this information as I headed off to my first day of first grade. Too bad more daddies don’t tell more little girls this, and little boys, too. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention anything about little girls and pinching, so I was unprepared with the 6 year old in front of me in line turned around and declared, “I can pinch you so hard you bleed,” and then proceeded to do just that by latching on to the thin skin on the back of my hand.  I reminded her of it nine years later when her boyfriend took me to a concert instead of her.

I don’t know if I’ve left my children with indelible life lessons. Probably not. My advice to them has been more along the lines of  “don’t cry unless you’re bleeding,” “if you get a dog that sheds, buy matching clothes and furniture” and “never underestimate the power of white space.”   My husband is more the purveyor of wisdom. As all good daddies are, apparently.


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