Since writing my first story about lessons I learned from my dad, he sadly passed away at the beginning of April. I’ve continued to reflect on all the things he taught me and wanted to share them here. I was also lucky enough to record an abstract of the first piece for KQED radio’s Perspectives feature. You can listen to it here.
Lesson Number Seven
I’m about five or six years old. I’m alone in the dining room at home, staring at the very shiny, silver-plated carving knife on our sideboard. I want to do something that I’ve seen my dad do many times. I can’t help myself.
I run my thumb along the blade and OUCH, I immediately cut myself and I’m in shock. I’d never seen that happen to my dad (who unbeknownst to me, is lightly checking the sharpness of the blade).
I run into the kitchen crying, with a few drops of blood on my thumb. I know I can’t tell my parents that I was playing with the knife, so I make up a story about messing with the door and cutting my thumb on the latch.
I watch my dad examine the door latch. Pushing it in and out with his thumb, perplexed that something so blunt could have cut me.
As I watched my dad, I experienced guilt for one of the first times and learned that it doesn’t feel good to lie to the people who care about you the most.
Lesson Number Eight
I’m probably four. I’m upstairs alone getting washed up for lunch. On tiptoes, I put the plug in the sink and I turn on the taps, watching the water flowing out and running my hands in and out of the stream.
But I can’t turn off the tap. The water keeps coming. I panic! I don’t know what to do. I start trying to push the water down the small narrow overflow as fast as I can, but it’s too little, too slow.
In desperation, as I watch the water start to spill over the side of the basin onto the floor at an alarming rate, I call downstairs. My dad rushes upstairs, none too pleased to see the scene unfolding. He turns off the tap, and asks me in a gruff manner, “What else do you think you should have done?”
Sobbing, I tell him I just don’t know.
He leans over and pulls out the plug.
Just like that, my dad taught me that there is often a simple solution to what might seem like a crushing problem. You just have to look at things differently.
Lesson Number Nine
I’m around 12 or 13. It’s England in the 80’s so we don’t have a shower in the house, and part of my nightly routine is to have a hot bath – especially in the chilly, dark depths of winter. Our bath tub is pale yellow, surrounded by black tiles. The carpet is turquoise.
I lock the door with its opaque, patterned 50’s glass and, exhausted after a long day at school, get into the hot water. And then I do what I have done a few times before. I fall asleep.
The next thing I know there is a banging on the door, and a crash as the lock is broken. My dad bursts through the door, furious and scared that I hadn’t answered when he knocked on the door. He knows about my sleepy bad habit and is afraid I will drown.
For my part, I am embarrassed and befuddled. He leaves. But not before yelling at me never to do that again, and to keep the door unlocked in future.
And so I learned that when you scare the people who love you, their concern can be expressed as anger.
Lesson Number Ten
I’m a teenager. I am crazy about fashion and love to go shopping – mostly window shopping as I don’t have much money. I have a friend whose parents own a little boutique and we hang out there, trying on clothes and dreaming of being able to buy them.
My dad promises to take me shopping in London for the day on my 16th birthday. And he makes good on that promise. My mum comes too. My parents aren’t the types to spring for new stuff, so this is a real treat.
I squeeze into the bucket-seat in the back of my dad’s sports car. As I remember it, I get to miss a day of school too. We head down to Oxford Street and go to Miss Selfridge, inside Selfridges Department store.
My dad tells me to go pick out whatever I want, but to consider buying one pricier, nice item that I can accessorize with less expensive pieces: dress up, dress down. I can’t believe my luck. I am giddy. It’s one of my best day’s ever. Not least, because my parents are going through a divorce and life is pretty crappy.
And so my dad taught me a core principle of style, and that sometimes trivial things like shopping can really lift your spirits.