Things I learned from dad

I used to wish my dad had passed on skills like how to play hockey or fix cars. Now I appreciate his wisdom


From Monday's Globe and Mail

January 26, 2009 at 11:41 AM EST

No matter how much he tries, no matter how gifted with empathy he is, no matter how naturally sensitive, a man can never fully understand or appreciate his father until he has become one himself.

Every son must have some regret about his father at least it's a rare son that doesn't. The litany is well known: He wasn't around enough or wasn't affectionate enough. He was there but was a domineering tyrant. He didn't support your career choice. He was too focused on his own career. He left his wife (and more importantly, your mother). He didn't leave but should have.

When it comes to my father, my biggest regret, the only regret that I remember, is that he died too soon. He lived a good, long life, dying almost nine years ago at 83 of prostate cancer. But he was 54 when I was born, and he never got to meet my son and daughter.

My father, like all fathers (it must be in the paternal DNA), worked hard to pass down his wisdom to his progeny. At the time, I didn't appreciate it much. The fathers of my friends all seemed to have good, solid, practical talents, whether it was teaching their sons how to play hockey, fix cars or repair their homes.

I must admit that my father did teach me how to swim and ride a bike. We even threw the ball around a bit when I was a kid, but he didn't teach me many practical things.

I still remember turning 12 and hoping for something fun and useful for my birthday. Instead, my dad came home from work and proudly handed me a collection of Hemingway short stories, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye.

My father loved books. The walls of many rooms in our home were lined with bookshelves. History. Philosophy. Poetry. Politics. Novels. Biographies. Short Stories. Essays. Plays.

I still remember my 12-year-old sense of disappointment when my father handed me those books, but now, more than 25 years later, they're one of my favourite birthday presents.

My father was well read and had an immense vocabulary, but his daunting grasp of the English language came with a light touch. He'd use polysyllabic and obscure words in almost every conversation, but so gently that you could almost always figure out what he meant.

His erudition had, at least as far as his sons were concerned, a supremely annoying side. When my younger brother and I were growing up and would go to my father with a problem, there was never any simple commiseration, no fatherly "You'll do better next time."

Instead, every mundane childhood problem was addressed through recourse to a plot situation or character in something or other by Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, Hemingway or others from the Western canon: "Well, you're not alone in feeling that way. That's exactly how Odysseus felt when he couldn't get home for 10 years."

As I grew older, I came to realize that despite this annoying habit of relating almost every personal challenge to some plotline in a book, my father did offer some practical advice, advice that I remember every time I look at my son and daughter.

My dad excelled at enjoying himself, no matter where he was or what he was doing, or what was happening to him. One of his favourite phrases, the closest thing he had to a motto, was: "Enjoy yourself."

True to form, it operated for him on more than one level. Enjoy who you are, your talents, your thoughts, your foibles, your strengths, your challenges, your character.

In my more reductive moments, I sometimes think there are only two lessons in life: First you learn how to live and then you learn how to die.

If this is true, my father put his learning to the test. As he lay dying in a lot of pain, he relished the novelty of the experience. He had never died before and he was darn well going to enjoy every last minute of it.

As for living, my father taught me many lessons. Work at what you like and then it won't be work. Books and words are important. Do what's right, not what gives social or economic status or what others expect or what might be in fashion.

Tell the truth, not what you think others want to hear. Be curious, like a child. Take care of your family. Be there for your friends. Whatever you decide to do, do it as well as you can. Teaching is an honourable calling, whether it's your profession or not.

Don't complain. Be grateful. Accept praise and criticism with the same grace. And, most importantly, enjoy yourself.

When I see my young son and daughter laughing, telling jokes, rhyming off words and making puns, I think of you, Dad. Wherever you are, enjoy yourself.

Daniel Goodwin lives in Saint John.




Commentary in the Globe and Mail by the Ottawa Mens Centre

Ottawa Mens, from Ottawa Capital of Male Gender Apartheid, Canada) wrote: Thanks Dan, Its wonderful to see a solitary article that says something positive about a father. Father is becoming a taboo work, it frequently means a child is never going to have a relationship with their father because our Family Court Judiciary approach custody and access issues with preformed conclusions that men are violent raging bulls devoid of parenting skills while mothers are sacred cows with halo's around their heads. Sure, that must be true on some very rare occasions. The reality is, across Canada at most elementary schools, MOST Children do not reside with their biological father, for many its a two mother's or a step dad. For the children who grow up never knowing their father, as adults they bitterly resent their mother's actions in removing their father from their lives.
Canada's birth rate is declining, and a major cause is Parliament's failure to legislate a mandatory presumption of equal parenting after separation. Still, our legislation is "gender neutral" but not in practical law where judges, particularly the extreme underbelly who make "Power orders" or "Sheffield Orders" that deprive fathers permanently of any right of reply to any allegation of a vindictive mentally ill mother. You see, female mental illness is a taboo subject amongst the underbelly of the Judiciary that have a pathological hatred towards father's and a willingness to Flagrantly Abuse their Judicial POWER to ensure a child never sees their father again. Its a small percentage of the Ontario Judiciary that make most of the horrible draconian decisions, and they are aided and abetted by the Chief Man Hater in the Ontario Court of Appeal, Justice Feldman who has a PUBLIC RECORD of making more decisions against men than any other Judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal. These are "indirect" decisions, carefully loaded to allude to a win while making sure the issue is buried for ever.