It happened suddenly.
A long time ago, back when I was still in high school, my father died. He was just 49 years old. Damn.
Dad was a good guy.
Now, more than 50 years later, I still think of him often. When I was growing up, he was part of so many vital experiences. Together we went on camping trips, built things, took things apart, and visited interesting attractions. Dad exposed me to a wide variety of history lessons, peculiar opportunities, and kitchen fiascoes.
All these were chances to see how a man behaves and learn what a man thinks. Let me share a couple examples with you.
In the woods.
Camping with Dad was fun but also a life lesson about what you could and could not control. On camping trips, Dad seemed to think that Nature didn’t care if we were comfortable or miserable. If we were lucky and properly prepared, it was permissible to luxuriate in comfort.
But, if the weather turned cold, got windy, and rained, those events were not to be taken as a personal attack by Nature—just something that happened in the woods. Dad would take miserable conditions with a smile and work to find ways to make us all warm and dry.
Figuring out how to stay dry or how to cook dinner in a high wind became an immensely satisfying victory. And everything that went wrong became a lesson you could use to come into the woods better prepared next time.
It turns out that these principles also apply when you come out of the woods. When things are going well, it is okay to enjoy it. And when things are going badly, it is smart to look for a lesson.
In the kitchen.
On days my Mom couldn’t be home for dinner, Dad would take over kitchen duties. He taught me that one can put anything one wishes into an omelet. Society may have conventions about omelets and those conventions may have wisdom in them and deserve to be respected. But, when you are making and eating the omelet, you are free to add any ingredients that appeal to you. No official rulebook applies. Experiment. Go crazy if you want.
And clean up the mess before Mom gets home.
On the road.
Dad took us on a lot of long road trips and short Sunday drives. Often, somewhere along the journey, the whole family would feel the car unexpectedly slow down. Then Dad would pull into a road-side ice cream establishment and treat us all to ice cream cones.
Of course, the ice cream was excellent, but the real pleasure was in how unexpected the treat was. No discussion. No anticipation. Just an unexpected treat. Is there a life lesson here too? Just this—there is a lot of bonus power in a surprise.
Or maybe this—don’t constantly push toward your goal. Stop for some bliss now and then.
Dad was wrong
Dad taught great lessons, but sometimes he was wrong.
Here’s one example. Dad taught that it is wrong to swear. He believed that a man doesn’t need to stoop to crude profanities to communicate.
In general, he was right. And the situation has gotten worse. Today, foolish, foul-mouthed, nincompoops are blunting the evocative power of swearing through overuse. But a total ban doesn’t make sense.
People can experience a wide spectrum of feelings, so why eliminate any portion of the broad spectrum of human expression? There are times when conditions are so objectionable that only a blistering curse can convey your true feelings. Like when you lose a cherished loved one without warning.
I wish Dad was still around so we could argue about this topic.
Pittsburgh, May 31, 2018
PS: It was Dad’s attitude about swearing that led me to create the Classy Curse Mug project—a way to express your vile passions with refined good grace.
June 16, 2020
Just read this now so even though it’s a couple of years old, still new to me!
Your dad taught you well Don, in the too-short of time he had with you. You honor him with your tribute. Well done on the stories about him, and on learning the good stuff he taught.