This quotation is by the man who wrote intelligent books, some which are
still incomprehensible to me. Have you ever attempted to read the Italian
author’s book, “Focault’s Pendulum?”
The words in this quote mean everything to me:
“I believe what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd
moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little
scraps of wisdom.”
By the author of “The Name of the Rose,” Umberto Eco.
UNINTENTIONAL LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY DAD
1. Just Go With It or “Winging It”
I used to get a little embarrassed at my Dad’s use of his intellect. I felt, for
sure, that others eyes were getting ‘glazed over’ and their minds were off
in another direction. My teenage self felt this way.
Sometimes, while I would take a walk with my Dad and the family dog, I
would hear him make observations on neighbors’ plants or yards, new
constructions or techniques they were using in decorating that he would
mention to the people in their yards. Sometimes, he would include a
rather esoteric or highbrow comment. I would kind of look away, thinking,
“How silly is that to say to him/her?”
It was not until my Dad passed away, years after I was a teenager, that I
had a neighbor from those days of his commenting, tell me with heartfelt
words, “I miss your father’s stopping by and his very articulate comments.
He was quite astute.”
2. Be Yourself.
It was not until I was taking Elementary Education courses in Bowling Green
State University, that I heard in a classroom about what is more commonly
known as “Dyslexia.” I had some concept about “slow” learners, “busy”
children and “poor” readers. These were words used about my brothers
from teachers who felt I had been excelling in school. I always felt bad for
“the boys,” as my Mom called them. My parents used “individualized” ways
to label my creative brother who was very “busy” and my calm, serious
brother who seemed “slow” to teachers. They both turned out “brilliant”
and the labels teachers tried to place on them did not stop them, due to
parents who were positive reinforcers.
My Dad, it turned out, may have been ‘dyslexic.’ Here is an example of
his showing this quality. It was (again) a little embarrassing to me. While
in Girl Scouts, annually in late Winter we would have “Father-Daughter
Dances.” It would include a nice dinner and a square dance.
My Dad would head right, as the caller announced, “Allemande Left.”
Then, he would turn to the right, putting his hand out to swing the next
arm, when the square dance caller would announce, “Allemande Right.”
Everyone would be running into each other. I would look back and wonder
how this NASA engineer (sorry, but I did think this) “Could be so stupid.”
Then, when we would finally get straightened out, maybe due to his own
relief, he would pick me up and swing me in a big circle.
Oh, yes, you bet I get tears in my eyes now for this lovely memory!
Also, pity for those girls who did not have a father show up for this event.
3. Be Romantic
My Dad would gather us up, three little ‘peas in a pod,’ to read to us each
night. We listened to tales of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh, the
Three Robbers, and later, while maybe too ‘old’ to have stories, Sherlock
Holmes and Watson. He sure did like this bedtime ritual. Mom also liked
the relief, since we three were born in four years time, she has continued
to teach high school.. Lots of English, World Lit and Spanish papers daily
had to be graded.
My Mom would watch the time and then, come away from her table of
papers and say, “Bob, it’s time for the kids to go to bed.” He would stand
up and give her a big kiss on the mouth. I have so many friends who tell
me they never saw romantic kisses exchanged between parents.
Nor did they see their parents dance in the kitchen.
I cannot imagine this!
On Sunday mornings, Dad would be in the shower, then in the kitchen
making breakfast as Mom would get our clothes out and help to get us
ready for church. Having mentioned this before, but never hurts to repeat
this ritual. He was “in charge” of us, once we were dressed and ready.
I will never forget the morning I realized with a punch in the stomach
feeling, as my Mom walked down the steps in our North Olmsted house
in her ‘Sunday best’ – – a yellow dress, yellow hat and her white gloves.
There was a worshipful look in my Dad’s eyes, and his words echoed
these feelings as he exclaimed,
“THAT is the reason why I read the Sunday Comics to you every week!”
4. Say You Are Sorry
Although my Dad loved the book, “Love Story,” and bought the complete
book after reading the ‘condensed one’ in Reader’s Digest Condensed
books, he did not like the quote on the poster for the movie when it came
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
He was adamant about telling us when he lost his temper or ‘cool’ that
he should apologize to us. Separately, sincerely.
I know that he did not have a good father role model, sometimes we may
have thought he showed too much anger or frustration towards us, but
as a parent later on, I could understand how stressful and serious Dad’s
work all day must have made his fuse shortened while at home.
I will never forget all the good things. I try to paint a wash of forgetfulness
over the bad moments when he stormed around over things like bikes
being left out in the rain, (he never had such luxuries) or flippant comments
we made that showed ‘disrespect.’
When we all went to see “Love Story,” my Dad openly wept. This was one
of our first times to see a sad movie together. He also wanted me to have
a pink felt hat and a white long coat, which may or may not have been the
direct result of watching this movie.
While he was dying of cancer, I laid next to him and asked him why did he
and Mom make their marriage “Look so easy?”
He said, “I learned to recognize my flaws and faults. I learned to express
my sorrow at hurtful words. I wanted to make it work. I think the men in your
life didn’t have a clue to the gem they had within their grasp. I did, in your
My Dad cried over war, prejudice and wanted to fight against these. The
two of them stood up for so many causes. They walked in the march for
equality together. He had known poverty and never let us forget that
others knew much worse than anything we would ever see or know.
5. Be Fruity or Nutty
On the road in a station wagon, Dad would make sure we had peanuts
and cashews. We also had fresh fruit, apples, tangerines and oranges.
There were either an empty potato chip can or a bag to throw shells and
skins into. Turns out the acid in the fruits helps to counteract the acids
in upset stomachs. Also, protein snacks satisfy appetites, along with
We learned that coffee, Coke or a little sugar would not hurt us.
We found out, sometimes the hard way, Try to stay quiet when there is
road work or slowed traffic jams come up.
Absolutely never joke about “Being Lost.”
A can of sweet snacks like Good and Plenty candies, butterscotch, rum
or cinnamon candies was a necessity for keeping his energy going. We
were parceled out some of this, but if the can seemed to be getting empty
we also knew to stop getting into it!
While we would go South towards my Grandparents Mattson trailer park,
we would hear Dad making up lyrics for country songs. They usually went
like this, “My wife has left me, my truck has a flat tire, my dog is dead and
I wanna go home.’ Dad was silly and would also play, “My Father Owns a
Grocery Store” (and in it he sells. . . ) then you would give initials for the
food or non-food item. To this day, when I am on a trip with my grandies
I mention this game and they ‘know’ my father although he never go to
see any of his great grandchildren. I make sure I tell them about how he
is up there in Heaven ‘rearranging the stars,’ too.
6. Meals and Food Are Not the End, But the Means
A bowl of lumpy mushroom soup or Cream of Wheat were not to be
complained about. We would get a lecture reminiscent of the kids who
were being raised during the Depression.
A can of sardines in the bottom of the stocking was better than a Lump
“Eat and Stop Complaining.”
This really resonated with me more (again) as a single parent.
7. Work Hard
We got sick about the story of how he had to hitch hike to Kentucky and
go over the bridge from Cincinnati, Ohio into Covington. If there were a
family ‘legend’ this is always going to be it. We included it in his Obit, too.
We never were given anything ‘big’ without a bargain being made. If it
were an expensive bike or instrument, we had to put in some ‘elbow
grease’ to ‘earn it.’ I feel this really helped me to not complain about my
up’s and down’s in Life. He taught us all determination.
The truck driver who took him to the top of the hill in Cincy, to show
him the crowded Urban scenery, who told him he could get out of what
the trucker called a “ghetto” and “become someone” gave him the drive
to succeed in school and get scholarships and enter the engineeering
5 year Co-op program at U. of Cincy. A Bearcat he was, in so many ways.
We were never given a car or money for any big items. We could work
for those, we were taught.
8. Volunteer and Give Back
My Dad loved church. He found his way there in college and never
stopped believing in the “Peace that Passeth All Understanding.” In Huron’s
Episcopal church, Reverend Brownlee asked for people to take time off
from their jobs to go to Washington to picket and march for freedom for all
My parents took us to Aunt Amy and Uncle Orrin’s house for a week, while
they headed off to march. This was not the end of their giving. Mom took us
to Head Start and we piled all of our good puzzles, reader books, and some
toys like my kitchen set and their Tonka trucks to set up a ‘school’ in the
basement of a Sandusky Baptist Church. This was our daily morning
commitment for at least three summers. It was not until we went to the
Palmer family wedding that I realized how rare ‘white folks’ were at all
black weddings. This photo in my family photo album makes me smile
and remember. The money for two girls to go to nursing college and
stewardess school was also part of this period of time. There were others,
I am sure, we did not know of.
9. Love One Another
The three of us kids were told to quit fighting and stick together.
My Dad was an ‘only child.’ He emphasized how lucky we were. We did
feel happy being together.
“Solve some of your problems. Ask your brothers for help, when you can’t.”
We were never allowed to go to bed angry. This has been a recent change
in philosophy in counseling and I agree it should not be set in stone. The
current idea is, “Go to bed and sleep on it. It may not be as big a problem
as your tired self thinks.”
I felt that my brothers and I were taught to rely on each other. This became
evident when Mom would work with teenagers after school while we were
at a babysitter’s house. Looking out into the dark, of the Boos’ family picture
window let us feel a little sad. But, then we had each other. We were never
When I have problems and need some faith to get me through, I call
or text my brother, Rich. He is the calm one, who teaches. He recently
(once again) told me in a text, “I hope it works out. I will pray for you.”
I love texts, you can keep them and re-read them, when in doubt.
When I have relationship questions and problems, I cannot tell you how
often I would call my brother, Randy. He would tell me the ‘guy’s side of
what was going on.’ This helped me a lot through the years. He also was
one who asked me for the ‘girl’s side of things.’
10. Be Faithful
This includes in your relationships, your commitments and your choices.
“Your word is your promise.”
“Look up.” This often was followed with, “How BIG is your GOD?”
Dad felt our God was inclusive of all faiths. He felt a strong belief that
God gave us brains so we would become able to understand the need for
science, medicine, psychology, mathematics, and education. He felt the
Seven Days (in the Bible) it took God to create Earth, may have been
representative of years passing. Seven periods of time, possibly.
The Creation was like a story or allegory, meant to include dinosaurs and
evolution. He was one who really believed in Space and possible aliens.
He definitely respected the downtrodden, Jewish people, Native Americans,
Africans, Asians, and any other persecuted peoples. His friends were
represented in our guests at our houses. I could also include a great family
of Italians from Strongsville who had a son I had a crush on. We attended
Bar Mitzvah’s and other diverse events. I did not know others did not have
this ‘rich’ of a life, until I went to college.
What you may take from this list is hopefully some ideas about what your
own Dad (or if you call him “Daddy” or “Father”) gave to you. I am sure
you may have another role model to share. If sadly your Dad was not all
that important in how you led your life. I hope you will share a story about
someone who “Made a Difference in your Life,” as Father’s Day is coming.