The things I learned from my dad that he didn’t teach me

A little more than two years ago, I experienced what billions of people experienced before me: I lost my dad. On the second Father’s Day since his death, I have spent some time thinking about what he taught me in the 50 years that I knew him.

My dad loved to teach. The first part of his long career was spent as a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He also loved to “hold court” and talk to any audience available – about almost any subject imaginable.

But as I reflected on his life, I realized that things I learned from my dad were not the things he taught me with his words, they were the things he demonstrated through his actions. In fact, I can’t remember him ever telling me to do any of these things, even though they thoroughly defined him to me. That was a surprising realization, given his propensity for loquaciousness. In fact, he was the kind of guy who would say “propensity for loquaciousness.”

This is what I learned from watching my dad.

  1. Be kind. My dad was a person of considerable stature in reputation and physical terms. Not only did he have an impressive academic and professional resume, but he was six feet tall and considerably north of 200 lbs. At the same time, he was a gentle soul with kind eyes and manner. He wasn’t the kind of person who got angry, he got “disappointed” instead. In very small ways, my dad expressed his kind nature. Looking out for underdogs, choosing a gentle word instead of stern one, and considering the positive in people instead of picking at their faults.
  2. Be a mentor. Always the teacher, my dad was a mentor to many people during this life. After his death, I heard from many people who told me that my dad had been a mentor to them, took them under his wing, and quietly provided advice and counsel. He was a mentor in his academic life, his professional life, and his personal life.
  3. It’s OK to be a nerd. My dad was a nerd’s nerd. One of his favorite stories from his youth was the time when he was a paper boy and got to wait inside the store where the papers were delivered unlike the other boys because he entertained the customers by adding up their orders in his head faster than the cash register. Before it was cool to be a nerd, my dad made it OK to be smart.
  4. You don’t have to swear. This is a small point, but one of my dad’s qualities that is a favorite. In the 50 years that I knew him, I don’t ever remember hearing him swear. He just didn’t find it necessary.

Like everyone, my dad had his flaws.  And I certainly do too.  But on this Father’s Day, I’m going to do my best to be a kind, mentoring, nerd who doesn’t swear. Just like my dad taught me.

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