June 18, 2011

Things My Father Taught Me

Becoming SuperMommy with Poppa, 26 years ago and 3 years ago

I've been reading/hearing a lot of Father/Son stuff around the web for Father's Day, and I'm slightly bothered.  I'm not a son, but I do HAVE a father.  And I love him very, very much.  And while I understand that the bond between a boy and his father is unique, so is the bond between ANY child and their father.  And the bond between ANY child and their mother.  And so I would like to pay tribute to my father, who has no sons, because he taught me so much about being a human being. 

Poppa and DD

Things My Father Taught Me:

Make up your own job description.  Whatever your job title, the reality should make you part teacher, part inventor, and part entrepreneur.  These three skills will take you anywhere, so long as you're clever enough to utilize them.

Learn to make friends.  You need to know how to laugh at people's jokes, to make them laugh at yours, and to poke fun at yourself without actually making yourself a target.  You need to know how to ask people personal questions without offending them, to find out truths about their inner selves, and show them how good they actually are.  You need to make other people feel smart, because they mostly are smart, and most people are bad at seeing that in themselves.  You must set people at ease by taking them off their guard.  Being open and honest to the point of awkwardness can help with this.
Poppa went to Deep Springs College because it was the hardest to get into

You have to keep very high standards.  You cannot settle for less than you know you are capable of.  No matter how comfortable a situation might be, if you are intellectually stagnant you might as well be intellectually dead.  You must constantly challenge yourself to do things that are harder, that you have never done before.  Because you never know whether or not you're going to be good at something until you try.  And it is always more rewarding to be good at something hard than to be good at something you already know.  Take pride in your work.

It's important to try new things.  To have new experiences, to get yourself out of your element.

Poppa in Amsterdam (picture by Aunt Genocide
That said, it is also important to remember your values.  No matter how you experiment, you must remember that every action you make says something about your character.  This means that you must self impose limits, and that nobody will know better than you where they should lay.

Never speak or act out of anger.  You will always regret it.

You need money.  But it doesn't buy happiness.  It can buy lots of cool toys, the latest gadgets, and the opportunities to create happiness, but it does not actually provide you with real satisfaction.  You can make money and you can lose money, but real happiness is not owning the car of your dreams, it's laying in a hammock in the sun with a good book and the sound of the wind in the trees.  Real happiness is in moments with people you love, doing what you love, and no amount of money can buy that.

Learn to appreciate good food, especially good beer.

Poppa with his friends at my wedding
True friends are friends forever.  You are always in the process of growing, of becoming somebody new.  But at the same time you are always fundamentally who you are, and nobody knows this better than your friends.  So keep your friends, remember them, and cherish them.

It's okay to have flaws.  Be aware of them, but don't let them consume you.

Cultivate your quirks.  They might make life difficult for you but they also make you memorable, they make you unique, and as you grow up they make you interesting.  And interesting people are good company for everyone.

Never be afraid to say, "I love you."  Also, cry freely and often.  Laugh even more.


A scene from my recurring nightmare
I could tell you stories about my dad, about when he would say crazy things in his sleep, or make me and my sisters Cheerios with Corona for dinner, or say wildly inappropriate things to my red headed friends.  I could tell you that he's a brilliant writer, and an internet guru, and a jet setting world traveller who goes places I can only DREAM of visiting.  I could tell you that he's the subject of one of my recurring nightmares, or that he may have helped save the world from nuclear catastrophe.  I could tell you how he made millions of dollars and lost it all.  I could tell you why he was written up in Playboy as a kid.  I could tell you about finding my own father in history books at the library when I was a teenager.  I could tell you how he taught me that I am capable of being a much, MUCH better writer just by editing myself.  Heavily.  And that editing yourself is much harder than writing.

Instead I'll just say that he's my dad, and that it's Father's Day.  I didn't get him anything, even though he could actually use some neckties for once (so if you know of a good place to get a vegan necktie, let me know!  He still has birthdays!).  But what I got FROM him was all of my ideas about what it means to be a success.

What I got FROM him was gigantic host of neuroses, a set of complexes about what I have to accomplish in order to feel validated as a professional and as an artist, that I know I will never satisfy.  Because my father has very large shoes to fill in that regard.

What my father taught me was how to be a different version of him.  It's what every child learns from their parents.  He also taught me a lot of what I know about being a parent.  About rolling on the floor with my kids, and being ridiculous, and making sno-cones.  And like the things I learned from my mother, I believe these are important things.

Grandmommy, Poppa, M, me, and Phil Forsyth
I am proud to be somehow like my dad.  I hope that someday my own kids will be proud to be somewhat like me.  And I hope that my father takes pride in knowing who I am, and that a great deal of who I am is another of his own successes.


  1. I love this post. Funny enough, I learned a lot of the same things from your dad. Happy Father's Day Nathaniel!

  2. Terrific post! It made me laugh...it's wonderful that you love your father and yet acknowledge his not so great traits. That makes it even more special.

  3. wow. I am loving this!
    Came over from Multiples & More and I'm glad I did.
    Your papa sounds fascinating and like a brilliant man who knows what life is all about.
    What wonderful lessons he taught you!

  4. What an amazing tribute to your dad! You say you didn't get him anything for Father's Day...but - if he reads this - I'm guessing he'll think you did.

    Stopping by from Multiples & More. Thanks for the inspiration. :) :)

  5. This was a great post. Your Father is a very wise man. What's more - he seems to be a very authentic person.




  6. The best response I can give is to say that I spent 7 weeks failing to come up with a clever and appropriate response. You left me at a loss for words, a rare experience. Thank you.

    I will say that I'm touched and grateful. Sometimes, reading about the twins, I feel wistful for when you and your sisters were small. This lovely Father's Day gift reminded me that different pleasures come with each stage of life's journey. Watching your grown children flourish, as they write their own life stories, is a pleasure unavailable to young whippersnappers.

    Also, please know that you are the only one who can assign yourself a list of goals; you are under no obligations. But I encourage you to make a list so long you will never finish it. Who wants to run out of goals?

  7. Oh, one more thing -- your link to my (apparently award-winning!) NATO article is broken. This link should work better.



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