I knew it would be a good day when, early on a Saturday morning, my dad would wake me up by singing, “Good morning! Good morning! How are you today? Good morning! Good morning! It’s time to get up and play!” Then he would whisk me off to a secret father-daughter breakfast at the Dandy Lion diner. Some of my fondest memories are of time spent playing with and learning from, or just being with my dad.
Any time I have a question, he has an answer. He isn’t showing off, or making up answers to move me along, he’s just really stinkin’ smart! My education would have been a lot more difficult, and much less successful, if my dad hadn’t taken the time to help me.
Aside from helping me with schoolwork, he taught, and continues to teach, me many practical skills. He isn’t “MacGyver,” but he can fix just about anything. Just watching him work encourages me to be resourceful and thorough. First, I study what needs to be fixed, and then it seems as though a conveyor belt of potential, readily available tools runs through my mind until I settle on the perfect ones. Then, voila! Problem solved. Dad would take me along to the lumberyard and hardware store, and he’d let me sit at his workbench out in the garage. I see him break things, and instead of showing anger or embarrassment, he jokes, “One step forward, two steps back!” I laugh with him, but each time is truly a lesson in persistence and the importance of trial and error. At 81, his workbench is still in the garage, but now it’s known as “Papa’s Fix-It Shop.”
We built a dollhouse together. First he taught me how to draw pictures using perspective, enabling me to create on paper the image of the house that I had in my mind. Next we bought the supplies and built my dream house. I didn’t even use it all that much. It was the shared process that I enjoyed the most.
Dad taught me how to fish. We would go out to Christensen’s pond, bait our own hooks, cast our lines, and sit and wait. We even tried ice fishing there! We didn’t last long, even with bottom heaters, but that’s an experience I won’t forget.
Dad isn’t a jock like some other fathers, but he encouraged physical activity. He would go to the gym to swim and workout. He took me to the biggest hill to go sledding, and he taught me how to successfully swing a golf club. He would cheer me on from the sidelines of the soccer field and applaud my dance recitals. Dad also signed up to coach my town basketball team when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember ever actually handling the ball during those games; I just ran up and down the court. He didn’t give me a hard time about ‘getting in the game.’ He saw that I was having fun, and knew that was enough. From there, my love for the fun of the game grew. I became more and more involved in sports as the years passed, ultimately leading to a career in teaching others how to live a healthy life through physical activity. And, having both graduated from Big 10 schools, we always have something sports-related to talk about and root for.
Dad also took me to the Gun Club to teach me how to shoot. We’d practice with his revolver at the range. I learned a lot about safety, control, and patience from those outings.
Dad taught me how to create art using sunlight and a magnifying glass. I learned about poetry, and gained an appreciation for jazz. I was able to internalize the values of listening without interrupting, living one day at a time, and ‘letting go.’ One day he would teach me how to draw a body in proportion, and the next would be a lesson in operating a manual transmission. A regular lesson is, “Say your prayers and take your C’s!” He is a modern day Renaissance man, and I am forever grateful for the knowledge he is so willing to share and instill.
When mom worked nights, dad and I would cook together. During my vegetarian phase, he used the opportunity to introduce me to okra, eggplant, and falafel. Peanut butter and pickles is an unforgettable combination, as are the sundaes he could always conjure up for TV time.
I knew it would be a peaceful night’s rest when dad would tuck me in and, instead of reading me a storybook, he would create a tale on the spot. Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear would always have a new, exciting adventure, in which Baby Bear would prove to be heroic and successful. She would swim to the rescue of a distressed swimmer, or score the game-winning goal. The sky was the limit for “Baby Bear,” and he never leads me to believe otherwise. Now my daughter tells me of his nighttime stories in which she is the heroine, and they seem to have the same enchanting effect.
Oftentimes, it seems as though fathers get nervous about how to relate to their daughters, asking, “What do I say to her?, What would we do together?, or How will we connect?” If my father ever lacked confidence in how to address these quandaries, I could never tell. The adventures and lessons didn’t happen everyday, but they were regular, and they still exist. The fact that he came home from work every evening and asked me about my day could have been enough. But he took the time to share his self with me, and that is how I know he loves me. It’s as easy as that.
I am filled with awe as he, now as Papa, continues to share his time and talents by creating meaningful, invaluable experiences with my daughter.
What do you miss doing with your dad? What did you learn from him? What do you wish you had been able to do with your dad? What would you change and what would you keep the same? How will those experiences affect how you parent?