What my dad taught me

Puttering. Plain talk. Making a cookie sandwich... daughters learn strange and wonderful things from their fathers.

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By Jennine Profeta


Father’s Day reminds me of the many reasons I have to thank dear old Dad. Aside from the DNA, I inherited other impressive traits from him. Some, such as the ability to throw a baseball or check the oil in my car, I picked up because Dad had no sons to teach. Others he passed on because I was a girl. To this day, when a man hurts my feelings, I still hear my father’s voice saying those three
little words: “He’s a bum.”

Looking back, I know I received an unusual education from my dad. Mom’s teachings were practical — she covered girlie stuff such as makeup application. But Dad had to figure out his place in my life. He grabbed precious moments, such as the time our basement flooded, to teach me about water pressure and drainage systems. Dad’s lessons were unusual, unorthodox, and seemed to have little relevance to my future — kind of like my bachelor of
arts degree.

Actually, the more I compare Dad’s teaching and my degree, the more I realize Dad gave me an informal liberal arts education. Though I didn’t leave home with a mortarboard and diploma (just pieces of his furniture), I did have a better understanding of how the world worked. I think the lessons we learn from our fathers aren’t always easy, but they make us better women. And so, in honor of Father’s Day, I’ve compiled a transcript from other women that describes a basic education at Daddy U.

Performing 101

Embracing your inner clown
This elective course, not taught by every instructor, is still a favorite among many dads. Using the show-don’t tell method of teaching, dads focus on classical comedy — not Shakespeare or Molière, but folksy traditions such as playing Santa and giving horseback rides.

“One of my fondest memories is of my father making a cookie sandwich,” says Karen, a 36-year-old actress. “He put a Fudgee-O cookie inside a buttered dinner roll and proceeded to eat the entire thing.” While such antics are often just a way for a dad to bond with his child — or get her to snort milk out of her nose — Karen feels there was something more valuable behind it. “He was always doing things that I thought were nonsensical to prove the point that, Hey, just because you think something is odd doesn’t mean it is odd to everyone.”

Karen adds, “It was my first exposure to the idea of thinking out of the box. It seemed as if anything I scoffed at, my father would do. He taught me to take chances and be different, even if it is silly.”

Developmental psychology
Dress for success
This is a mandatory subject for every grad of Daddy U., in which the instructor shows confidence in the pupil, allowing her to flourish. These lessons are like a sticky note on the soul.

Pam, 43, remembers her dad in his younger days as a snappy dresser who loved custom-made suits. “When I was a teenager, he’d take me to these factories in Montreal that had huge rolls of luxurious cloth,” Pam says. “He’d always look at everything and say to the clerk, ‘Show it to my daughter and let her decide.’ I remember as a 14-year-old how huge a task that was. He has no idea what it did for my self-esteem.

“What my dad did was instill a vote of confidence,” Pam continues. “It was a lesson in respect. Today, as a parent, I’m aware of how something so simple can have such far-reaching implications for my child.”

Introduction to linguistics
Say what you mean, mean what you say
A father’s legacy is often his words. When Anumpa, 37, was a girl, her family moved to Zambia and her dad took the opportunity to teach her about semantics. “One night, my dad heard me crying and asked what was wrong. I told him that I hated being there. I hated everything and everybody, including the big hairy spiders,” says Anumpa.

While he couldn’t help but laugh, her dad was concerned about her use of the H-word. “I remember his saying: ‘No matter how hard it is to be here, you should think very carefully before using a word such as hate. A word like that is very strong, and you’d better be really sure that’s what you mean.’

“To this day, I feel guilty using the word hate,” Anumpa says. “His point to me was that we underestimate the effect of certain words that we use every day.”

Applied theology
Putting faith into action
A prerequisite to this course is Spirituality 101. Although the religion may vary from teacher to teacher, the fundamentals are based on the universal proverb: Practice what you preach.

“The greatest thing I learned from my dad was that you’ve got to have faith,” says Yvonne, a 39-year-old marketing director. “Whenever I was confused or angry, he told me, ‘Trust in the Lord, Yvonne.’ Somehow, an explanation always came after the fact.” Yvonne adds, “The only time my life ever seems to go right is when I take a leap of faith. I never know where I’ll land or when I’ll get there, but I always believe I’ll land safely.”

Modern philosophy
How to know when fair is fair
Throughout her education, the student will face the question, What will I be when I grow up? A good instructor continually finds ways to test his daughter’s emerging convictions, whether she likes it or not.

“When my dad taught me to ride my very first two-wheeler, he refused to let me use training wheels,” says Tina, 36, a market researcher whose father died when she was young. “He said: ‘You can ride it when you can ride it.’ I walked that bike around the neighborhood for ages and finally, one day, I just did it.

“He taught me that it’s important to do things for yourself, that no one is going to just give you things in life,” Tina says. “I think I’m stronger because of that.” CD

From Chatelaine, June 2004. © 2004 Maclean Hunter Ltd. (Canada). Reprinted with permission. www.chatelaine.com


We women aren’t the only ones who’ve learned from dad-daughter relationships. Here, some fathers reveal the life lessons they’ve picked up from their daughters and daughters-in-law:

ANGER MANAGEMENT
I’ve never been yelled at by anyone the way I have by my daughter. It actually helped me in a business situation when I was dealing with someone who was behaving like a 6-year-old. Normally, I’d feel the need to yell back and get defensive. Now, I concentrate on what needs to be resolved.
- Ron, father of Hannah, 7, and Sophie, 3

COOKING CLASS
I’ve had to expand my culinary skills. I have three grown sons, and I have to say that the arrival of our daughters-in-law has upset certain routines. My sons used to sit by the pool and drink beer on hot summer days. Now, it’s margaritas and martinis. Barbecued beef was the mainstay of our summer diet. Now, it’s grilled Atlantic salmon with kale. How do you barbecue kale?
- Ed, father-in-law of Jen, 33, and Heather, 29

BEYOND BELIEF
My daughter has always had this thing for fairies, and I think growing up she believed she was one. She’s given me the ability to believe in magic.
- Dan, father of Rebecca, 18

SELF-WORTH
One thing I’ve learned is that, no matter how imperfect I feel, I know I’m not totally worthless because I’m raising a warm, compassionate, bright, terrific little girl who makes my day with a smile and a hug.
- Ralph, father of Audrey, 7

 

Jennine Profeta