What My Father Taught Me

“Don’t you wish you had a son?”

This question was often directed at my father, who has three daughters of which I am the oldest. Every time, he answered surely and quickly, “Nope. I love being a dad to girls.” And he really does. Even when the house was full of GHDs, giggling girls and clothes strewn all over the place – my dad seldom moaned about the lack of testosterone in his home.

That "I-love-them-but-when-are-they-going-to-sleep" look on his face. Now I get it.

That “I-love-them-but-when-are-they-going-to-sleep” look on his face. Now I get it.

To my dad, we were never little princesses waiting to be rescued. We were brave explorers with something important and significant to offer the world. I think that’s why all three of us are opinionated, adventurous woman, full of ideas and passion. We did plays and dramas, but we also put up posters of our favourite cricket players on our walls. He went to endless ballet concerts and piano recitals, but he also taught us the rules of rugby and how to surf. I remember my friend’s parents chuckling at me as an eleven year old little girl shouting “Oh COME ON, ref, that was SO offsides!” during a Sharks game – a tribute to my rugby-mad dad.

I learnt more from my dad than how to spot a bias referee, though. As I now parent two children of my own, I think back on what was normal in my childhood and realise that amongst the many things he showed me, there a few that standout and shape the way I try to do things now.

1. Don’t take things too seriously

Every morning on the way to school, we would drive past the local boys high school. This was a major event for us 13 year olds, straining to see which boys we knew but dying of embarrassment if one of the white blazered prefects spotted us gawking. My dear father would inevitably slow the car to a snail’s pace, press down on the hooter and not let go until we were past the school. Always the clown, he just knew which buttons to push to get us laughing at what other people might think of us. When we were smaller, and still sometimes as we got older, on the drive to school he would keep driving around and around the circles in our neighbourhood until we were all shoved over to one side of the car, laughing and begging him to stop. Being a kid, especially school and friends and the opposite sex, can be overwhelming. My dad would somehow casually put it in context for us, and remind us that taking these things too seriously can steal all the joy and light out of every day life.

2. Connect before you direct

My dad recalls coming into our rooms when we were sulky, sullen teenagers. He would sit on the bed, while we rolled our eyes and fielded his questions about school, and friends, and weekend plans. We tried to ignore him, but he would stay patiently, even sitting in relaxed silence until eventually we would start to chat. He had the wisdom and patience to just hang out until we overcame our adolescent indifference, and we would end up laughing and telling stories. When it came time for him to say no, or draw limits, or negotiate some conflict with us, there was a bridge already built. Instead of generally keeping his distance and then occasionally intervening to tell us what to do, we had a relational currency that he used when it mattered. I only realise what a difference it made now that I something similar with my boys.

3. Say it with actions, not just words.

My dad lived out what mattered and usually he showed us, instead of just telling us. When I turned thirteen, he took me on my first date. He opened the car door for me, took me to dinner, and told me, “This is how a boy should treat you.” He also asked my hapless grade 11 dance date, “So young man, what are you doing with your life?” and then told him that he would punch him in the nose if anything happened to me. It was one of the most mortifying moments of my life, but secretly I loved to tell that story.  I knew that he set the standards high because he thought I was the best.  A couple of years ago, I was setting the table for some special event at my folks’ house and I complained that my mom never had nice, fancy, decor to make it all look pretty. My dad quickly reminded me that they would rather take us kids on a holiday somewhere than buy something new for the house, and that we had been privileged enough to have some amazing experiences as a family. It was a humbling reminder that people matter more than stuff, and he seldom had to say it because he actually lived it.

Of course, my dad wasn’t perfect and growing up you soon realize the struggles and faults of your childhood hero. But to be honest, the lack of perfection just made him more real and more reachable. I hope to give my kids these same gifts some day.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

My dad is not just a great father. He’s pretty great at some things, too. Like leading, speaking, and consulting. He’ll be publishing his first book soon, and you can check out his Facebook page here, and his blog here. 

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