Friday, April 11, 2008

The philosophy of Dad

As I’ve gotten older, I realize more and more exactly how much my father has influenced me. While that may seem to be a statement deserving of a hearty, “Duh”, I find a little more there to investigate. My Dad doesn’t think he was around to do much parenting; for most of my home life his work schedule had him out of the house long before I woke up, and back home with only a few hours before one or both of us fell asleep. While he attended the sports and academic competitions, he didn’t make practices or often directly participate in the study. Weekends were often spent separate or just quietly at home with books. Because of all that, he thinks all the raising was done by my mother. While she may have done a lot of the day-to-day work, both my brother and myself derived a lot of our personality from Dad.

For one thing, my attitude toward work was greatly shaped by his example. Work was what you did, where you found it. While it is possible to enjoy it, providing for your family is the important part. Ultimately, you just do it; you don’t laze about and complain that you can’t find something. There’s always work, if you’re willing to do it. His job, by the time I reached my teens involved a one-way commute of up to two and a half hours, because he wasn’t willing to pull his family out of a good school district. It was inconvenient for him, but that job paid decently and provided full health and retirement benefits. Since then, I’ve discovered that potential employers are amazed at my willingness to travel to get to a job (Admittedly, this is also partly a West Virginia thing; when a trip to the grocery store is a half-hour drive, an hour or more to work doesn’t mean as much.).

Dad also taught me how to do good things quietly. My mother was the type that would crow an accomplishment to the hills for as long as people would listen. I learned a bit about that, too, but Dad’s example was more about when to do it. If you’re doing something to go on a college application or the like, the whole point is to sell yourself and draw attention. If you’re doing something just to accomplish it, or to do a good thing, there’s no reason to make a big deal of it. Additionally, this gets across the idea that doing good things isn’t something that needs an external motivation; if you’re not doing it for recognition or reward, then good deeds are to be done for their own sake. I’ve only just begun finding out about some of the things he did for my brother and I. Things like joining school board special councils, having constant meetings with my principals and teachers, and my most recent discovery: the volunteer fire department that he spent fifteen years serving with was joined so that my brother and I would have good references and contacts for college when we got older. I was probably less than two years old when he joined.

It wasn’t just good things that Dad taught me to be quiet about either. The man is, to be blunt, a sneaky sonofabitch. Not a mean one, mind you, but sneaky. He knows how to trick, hide, cheat, misdirect, and mislead you about most anything he chooses. I was probably seven or eight before he confessed that he used a marked deck for most of the card games we played. He also evades stories about his “wilder” days of forty years ago. He hasn’t been able to deny that they exist, because other people have let details slip, but he won’t give up anything juicy. A lot of the sneakiness has rubbed off on me; as my friends can attest, I have an unnerving habit of being right there without you realizing it. He’s also a spectacular joker, who actually once shocked me repeatedly with a hand crank telephone before teaching me the trick and sending me off to get the rest of my friends and family.

That phone also brings up my love of science. I learned so much basic stuff from Dad that I don’t know how I can possibly live up to it with my kids. Knowledge of electromagnetism, biology, fossils (I could write for ages about, at the age of eight, being forty feet up, gripping onto up a 75° rock face, chipping away at vein of shell-filled rock.), and chemistry were all imparted. Hell, aside from my own chemistry set, I got to play with his, shelf life be damned! I’m a big dork, and it’s his fault. I didn’t even find out he was salutatorian of his high school class (like me) until long after I graduated.

That’s just an overview of what he did to shape me, without much realizing it. Work hard, do good, be smart, play it close to the vest. Not a bad start, I think.

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