My father taught me how to put toilet paper on the toilet paper dispenser. The dad-approved way is the “overhand” method, where the loose edge of the toilet paper threading over the top of the roll and dangling from the front of the roll. (Perhaps this is less appropriate for a father’s day tribute, but I also distinctly remember a time during potty training when he taught me to fold toilet paper carefully, instead of wadding it, for the purpose of wiping my hiney. This, the most efficient and least wasteful method, is perhaps the earliest example of my father’s bent towards sustainability.) My father taught me how to put a jack under a frame member in my car and elevate it so that I could change the tire or oil. (He also taught me how to change the tire and the oil. And what a frame member is.) He explained the purpose of a ball bearing is, and how a CV joint works. He taught me to keep the area behind a refrigerator clear so that it can cool off properly.
My father taught me how to do it myself. I watched him manuever through a hundred thousand do-it-yourself projects, from building a treehouse to testing the electrical conductivity of fruit for my sister’s science fair project to digging a pond in the backyard to using a forge to building a harp in my bedroom on January, and through this learned how to find the information, parts, and help that I needed. He taught me how to do phone research and coordination, and how to follow paths of recommendations from one information source to another. He taught me how to research before the convenience of the internet. Watching him taught me how to get the help I needed from the people I interacted with, or, as I like to call it, how to befriend and charm everything and everyone from rocks to telephone poles. He taught me how to build relationships with people, from waitresses to pawn shop owners to folks at the health food store to the guys at the harp center. He taught me how to plan and how to improvise to use the materials available, something that came in particularly handy during the harp project when we were glueing down the backboard. We ran out of clamps and instead used an elaborate weight and pulley system with tea towels, fire bricks, and desk chairs. This improvisational regard towards materials taught me the value of saving things and reusing things. (He once built me a play house made from a packing crate. This is not to mention the blacksmith shed and garden shed he made from other packing crates. During the process of building those he also taught me how to shingle.) He taught me how to dumpster dive for useful things, and how to pull neat things out of trash heaps (as well as where to find the best trash heaps to pull things out of.) In short, he taught me to recycle. He taught me that if you are going to do something at all, you should do it as well as you possibly can the first time. Do it right, and you may only need to do it once.
My father taught me the importance of health and the environment. As long as I can remember my family’s staples have been whole grains and vegetables, and my father knows the health food shop guys by name. He has always been invested in the sustainable option, from the windmill at my grandparent’s house to the sustainable pond filtration system for the koi pond in the backyard. He taught me to be a good steward, to leave places better than I found them, to ensure that everything was properly cleaned and put away before calling a project finished.
My father really taught me how to communicate, which has turned out to be really vital in what I’m doing now. As I mentioned earlier, he really taught me how to talk to people–everyone–with respect, and how to listen to them with empathy and interest. Listening to his stories taught me how to tell my own; his skill as a storyteller built mine. He taught me how to make people laugh. I occasionally steal his material for the express purpose of making people laugh (I am particularly fond of the “squeezing alligators to get Gatorade” joke).
He also taught me how to experiment, not just in cooking but in life in general. He was never afraid to add a dash or two of this or that to whatever he was concocting in the kitchen, coming up with some truly awesome things over the years. (Though we have always given him a hard time for the one or two things that stand out in our memories as not quite as successful. Such is the curse of a trailblazer. And yet suddenly I crave Hawaiian chili.) He always seemed to exude an air of, “We can try it and see if it works, and if it doesn’t, we can try something else.” This flexibility is something that has been endlessly useful to me as a leader, as a computer scientist, and as an adult trying to get things done. My father is always willing to try–and I hope I emulate that.
Okay, so there are a hundred thousand things my father taught me, and listing them here makes me realize the futility of listing them at all, because I can never hope to cover them (and my siblings specifically instructed me that I was not to show them up by writing five pages… did I also mention that my father taught me how to talk a lot?) He taught me how to focus a camera and wind film, how to draw and swing on possum grape vines, how to aim a rifle and marinate a chicken. He taught me a hundred thousand things–to be curious and knowledge-seeking, to be creative and inventive, to be gracious and grateful. But mostly, and most importantly, he taught me that it was okay to be myself. I’m a little strange, you know? But as my friends have always said, “Meeting your father explains a lot about you;”–he’s a little strange too. His acceptance of his own strangeness made it so much easier to accept mine.
Oh–and one more thing–he taught me how to make a duck puppet, and how to make it sing along with the radio in the car.