Things My Dad Taught Me

By Charles Davenport

Fifty-eight years after the founding of Mother’s Day in 1914, we established a day for dads in 1972. So, the official recognition of fathers seemingly did not occur to anyone until over half a century after we began doting on moms. (That is taking the “ladies first” principle to extremes, is it not?) One suspects that society underappreciated the importance of fathers. It still does. This despite scores of studies that demonstrate the critical role dads play in the lives of their children.

My father passed away long ago, but his spirit lingers in the lessons he taught me (and my siblings) in our formative years–the 1960s and 70s. Dad died suddenly, so I was deprived of the opportunity to thank him for my spectacular childhood. As an adult, one of my loftiest ambitions was to make him proud. I think he knew that.

I would need this entire magazine to document everything my dad taught me, but I can provide a few highlights. He was far from verbose; in fact, he spoke less than anyone I have ever met. He taught by example, and it was highly effective. Here are a few of the most important things I learned from my father:

Read: I sometimes did not see my dad for months, outside of suppertime, even though he was home. That is because his face was continually obscured by a book, a newspaper, or a magazine. He adored, and had thoroughly mastered, the English language. In fact, one of his favorite activities was writing argumentative letters to the editors of local papers. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!)

Self-Regulate: Dad was the epitome of stoicism—calm and level-headed at all times. He felt deeply, but did not show it, and almost never got rattled. I only saw him weep twice: the first time was when our first Irish Setter, Lady, passed away; the second time was at the funeral for his father. Dad was studious, contemplative, and reserved. I believe his demeanor instilled a sense of quiet confidence in the rest of the family. I only saw him outwardly furious once, but that is a story for another day.

Laugh: About the only thing (other than our Irish Setters) that could crack Dad’s shield of stoicism was something funny–and that happened often. The spark was frequently his word-nerdiness. For instance, one of the local TV stations used to preview their evening newscast with a spot called “Eyewitness Newswatch.” Those words would appear on the screen, accompanied by dramatic music, and then, in a grim, solemn tone, the local “broadcast journalist” would tease us with hints about the riveting tales the station was working on–so, stay tuned! It was dreadfully serious business. One afternoon, in the midst of a startling, breathless “Eyewitness Newswatch,” Dad deadpanned, “Nitwitness Eyewash.” I laughed until I cried. That was a typical “Dad-ism.” Dad also played along with, and sometimes instigated, the pranks my younger brother and I pulled on Mom and my two sisters. One of our favorites was rubber snakes, which we would place on the outside walkway just before Mom came home. Another was fake cat droppings–we always had at least two or three cats–which we would deposit on the girls’ beds and then spray their room with a foul-smelling aerosol that used to be sold at gag-gift shops. One Christmas in the 70s, Mom had made clear her desire for a trash compactor. Dad sprang into action. He boxed and beautifully gift-wrapped one of my baseball bats and affixed a note to it: “Here is your trash compactor!” it read. (The real one was in the garage.) When she longed for a mink coat, Dad bought a pleasure boat instead. Stenciled in black across the vessel’s stern were two words: “Mama’s Mink.” She loved it!

Pursue Your Passion:
Dad made time for his passions, even those that did not entail monetary compensation. (Some rewards are more important than mere financial gain.) He went through several phases, including boating and RV traveling, but his true love was motorcycle riding–specifically, touring on his Honda Gold Wing. He joined an organization dedicated to the cause, and rapidly climbed the ranks to become a director. Dad’s gang of Gold Wingers were kind of like the “Sons of Anarchy,” except law-abiding, a lot older, and (usually) far more sedate. He rode across the country several times, often accompanied by Mom, and made dozens of life-long friends. He did not get paid for his work for the Gold Wingers, but he was handsomely compensated in other ways. We only live once, and by his example, Dad taught me to enjoy the ride.

I think about my dad on a daily basis, so, in a sense, every day is Father’s Day. On the official observation this month, I will feel his absence more keenly than usual. But I will smile, too, eternally grateful for the decades I shared with my dad.

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