Fathers can be complicated. Sometimes they love and support us unconditionally. And sometimes, well, not so much. Ask anybody about their relationship with their dad, and there’s a pretty good chance you’re opening up a can of worms.
But here’s the crazy thing. All fathers—the good ones, the crappy ones, the ones who aren’t around as much as we’d like and still make us tear up when we hear “Cat’s in the Cradle”—they all have something to teach us.
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With Father’s Day on the horizon—it’s tomorrow, if you haven’t already bought a tie—we asked 30 people to tell us what they’ve learned from dear old Dad. We talked to men and women between the ages of 18 and 72. We asked for the good stuff and the bad stuff, because it all counts.
Dads are here to guide us (even if they don’t always have a map) and help us become decent, loving, successful human beings. How they get us to that place is sometimes an uneven path.
- You’ll meet an asshole every day in this life; make sure it’s not the person in the mirror.
- My dad used to keep a list of what he called Sermons in a Sentence. My favorite one, which I use with my kids, is “Attitude determines altitude.”
- Marriage is work. But if you do your job, the pay and benefits are pretty good.
- My dad taught me to fight oppression, always, and to question why the black guy or the fat guy or the Jewish guy or the gay guy are the ones humiliated and laughed at in entertainment. He hated that.
- Though it wasn’t an intentional lesson, he taught me how to crush someone with a few words. He also taught me how to scale and gut a fish, which I guess is a similar skill.
- The only advice I ever recall receiving from my dad was when I was leaving for college. He said to me, with tears in his eyes, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
- Be a lady, but don’t take shit from anyone.
- He sat me down one day, told me to pay attention to every single thing I was about to see, and then popped a dusty copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail into the VHS player. Of the many life lessons I learned that day, perhaps the most vital was: What doesn’t kill you is just a flesh wound.
- He gave me a keen ability to identify shortcomings and failures, which I’m working to unlearn.
- Dinner etiquette. He said, “You never know when you might have the opportunity to dine with the president.”
- Never buy anything with someone who you can’t cut in half. This advice was given to me when I wanted to go in on a VCR with my roommate.
- My dad died when I was ten. So I guess the best life lesson he ever gave me was, finish your broccoli and never skip a doctor’s appointment.
- How to sneak down to better seats at sporting events. Although when I was four and we got caught, I started to cry.
- He adopted me and taught me that long lunches where you talk about everything and remember nothing are beautiful things.
- When you go to a job interview, always be polite to the receptionist.
- My dad was a homicide detective. He showed me slides of a murder when I was ten. Naked bodies against walls, blood splattered all over, but he would hone in on one specific detail and say, “Do you see that?” He taught me about attention to detail and noticing where everyone is in a room and if anyone is acting out of the ordinary. Anticipating people’s moves before they make them.
- Dad taught me how to return stuff to a store without apologizing or explaining.
- My father was a brute. Bad dad. Terrible. Abusive in all the unique ways. If he taught me anything it was to not want to be like him. I thank him for that.
- He always told me not to borrow trouble.
- My dad was a green beret. After he retired, he was a bit lost on how to entertain small children when my mom wasn’t around. I can remember him teaching us how to play blackjack for pennies when I was five.
- He taught me to respect powerful and dangerous things, but not to fear them.
- Everything in moderation—including moderation.
- He taught me to photobomb before that was a thing. Because every picture is more interesting if there’s a stranger in it.
- I grew up on a ranch until I was eight or so. My dad was putting me on horses as early as I can remember. He’d say something along the lines of, “If you get bucked off, dust yourself off and get back on.” It took many years to realize he wasn’t just talking about horses.
- Work hard in college, but not too hard.
- Never sell fireworks out of my school locker. He never mentioned if he knew this from experience.
- Expect a train on any track, at any time, in either direction.
- He taught me that everybody should be able to make one breakfast, one fancy dinner, one dessert, and one complicated cocktail.
- He taught me that it’s okay if someone isn’t worth your time.
- You’ll never win foosball if all you do is spin the thing. Applies to life too.