We have a bag full of dinner-time questions that we pull from every evening. We started this mealtime tradition in August 2016, after we had returned from our annual summer trip to Canada and the US. The boys really enjoy it and they are always the ones to prompt us for a question from the bag. The questions range from easy "would-you-rather" questions (Would you rather walk on your hands or roll everywhere?) to more thought-provoking ones that encourage discussion.
Recently, the question was "What's the most important thing you have learned from your dad?"
Both boys gave the same answers: computers and programming. Simple. Question answered. Moving on. Next person.
My husband mentioned his dad's sense of integrity.
But now it's my turn to answer and I can't quite pinpoint one ultimate "important" thing. As I think back, I realize there are many things I learned from my dad that are all worth mentioning. (As usual...I am always the wordier of the four of us... 😉 )
I realized that the timing of this question was quite coincidental as next week marks 10 years since my dad passed away. So it seems all too fitting for me to write about Life Lessons From Dad and celebrate some of who he was.
In no particular order...
Every Idea Is Worth Trying
I have a very early memory of being with my dad in the car port of our house. He was working on something, although I can't remember what. Pieces of cut up 2x4 lumber of different lengths and an irregular shaped piece of stiff Formica/melamine veneer were on the ground. I decided that I was going to take those scrap materials and make a table! I proceeded to stand the 2x4 pieces up on their ends, and I balanced the melamine veneer on top of them. Glue, I decided, was the best way to fasten it all together. It was how the professionals did it, right??
As you can imagine, the would-be table legs kept falling down because they weren't square on the bottom. The melamine couldn't make contact with all four legs at the same time because they were different heights. Needless to say, my ambitious table project wasn't quite coming together.
As obvious as it was to my dad that my table idea was not feasible, he told me to go for it and try. He just watched my futile attempts and didn't say anything. He even encouraged me by holding the 2x4 legs up for me while I lay the melamine on top. I applied white craft glue to the tops of the legs and attempted to press the veneer down. I had no idea why it wasn't working! My dad stood by and chuckled in good humor. But he never said I couldn't do it, or discouraged me from even attempting it. I can remember many times in different situations when he would say, "Well, just try it!" Not every idea you have will work, but sometimes you have to try it to figure that out for yourself.
Work Hard For What You Want
My parents emigrated to Canada when they were very young. They had very humble beginnings, and did not have much money. When they started their family, their goal was to give their children a good life...a better life than what they knew from having lived in China. So they worked. A lot.
My parents opened a grocery store and worked many hours a day, everyday, to support themselves and my brother and two sisters. As my mom has told us many times, they lived in the back of the grocery store. They ate there and slept there, my three siblings squished in one bed.
By the time I came along, they had saved up enough money to buy their first house. They moved on from the grocery store business and opened a restaurant. They continued working hard to keep providing for the four of us, and they succeeded in giving us a comfortable life.
...But Don't Forget To Enjoy Life
Work hard towards your goals, but don't forget to enjoy the benefits from all that hard work. "You can make lots of money, but what good is it if it's just sitting in a bank? What are you saving it for?" I can remember my dad saying those very words. Take some of the hard-earned money and spend it on yourself.
After he and my mom retired, they got the travel bug! We were old enough and responsible enough by that point that they could leave us to our own resources. They and their friends (in big Chinese tour groups!) went on cruises (their favorite mode of seeing new places), travelled to Europe, Australia, to different parts of the US and Canada. They enjoyed being able to go on trips they couldn't afford before and trips they couldn't take when they were working. My parents were out seeing the world and having fun! I don't think I realized it at the time, but I'm glad they got to spend some of their hard-earned money on themselves.
Be Grateful For What You Have
I was at the airport with my parents before a big trip they took to China. My dad mentioned he wanted to buy some chewing gum as a treat for some of the kids in one of the villages they were going to visit. I went to the store with him and watched him buy two packs of Wrigley's Spearmint chewing gum. Each pack had 7 pieces. I asked him if there were only two kids in the village, and he laughed. He said, no, each kid gets ONE STICK each...not a whole pack! He said that the kids are so poor that one stick of chewing gum was a huge treat. I couldn't imagine only getting one stick of gum and thinking it was a big deal!
But they were getting a "fancy" stick of chewing gum in a shiny foil wrapper that came all the way from Canada. It's not as if there were 7-11's in their villages, nor did the kids have any pocket money to spend even if there were. It made me realize how lucky we are and how much we have access to compared to so many others in the world who are less fortunate.
Enjoy The Ride
Getting my driver's license was a huge deal for me. I wanted to drive any chance I got. Many a night, after dinner, I would ask my dad if he wanted to go for a drive and he always said yes. It was really good driving practice for me, and he would sometimes suggest I try driving to a different area or down a different road. That being said, he was also perfectly happy if I drove to the same places repeatedly. I would drive for an hour or more, playing my music while he just sat. I think we chatted, although I'm not sure how much. Regardless, I do remember enjoying those drives together and I was always happy when he agreed to come along with me. Reflecting on all those times now makes me value those memories even more.
Just "Tap" The Car Behind You
This probably technically doesn't count as part of "Life Lessons from Dad", but it's a lesson, nonetheless. I can't help but laugh whenever I think about it. When I was learning how to drive and had to pull out from a parking spot next to the curb, I had a hard time judging how much space I had between me and the car behind me when I had to back up before pulling out. My dad said, "Just go VERY slowly and gently *tap* the car behind you. Then you know when you have run out of space."
I think I have only done this "tap gently" method twice in all the years I have driven, but I always think about it when I'm in those situations. I didn't want to make it a habit of tapping the cars behind me, in case I accidentally damaged it! This "lesson" was a fun one to remember and I just had to include it.
Always Keep In Touch With Family
This is perhaps the most meaningful of the Life Lessons from Dad, and this is quite an emotional memory for me. I had just returned home to California after visiting with my family and was talking to my dad on the phone. That family visit was the last time I saw my dad before he passed away a number of months later. Make sure you keep in touch with everyone, brother, sisters, mom, he said. He had said this same thing to me on previous occasions, but for some reason, this time, I remember becoming much more emotional hearing him say those words. He said to keep in touch with my brother and sisters...no matter how different we may be or whatever disagreements might exist. We are family so we should always keep talking.
That stays with me to this day. I am the sibling who has lived away for over 20 years. First I moved to California, and now I'm in Hong Kong. I haven't lived in the same city as my family for a long time. But I do make a point to keep in contact with everyone. I text or email my sisters often. My brother has finally joined the 21st Century and joined Whatsapp so I'm able to text with him, too. Thank goodness for advances in technology! I am fortunate enough to get along with all my siblings...perhaps that comes from being the baby in the family. But I also really enjoy keeping in touch with them. Whether it be a long ongoing "conversation" or a simple text to say hi, I like to let them know I'm thinking about them.
I apply the same lesson of keeping in touch to friends, too. Since I have lived away from my family for so many years, I have many friends who became like family where we lived.
Passing Down Life Lessons From Dad
Undoubtedly, there were surely many other lessons my dad taught me, but these stand out the most. These Life Lessons from Dad were never stated explicitly as I have labeled them. All these life lessons I learned from him were taught by his example, all through his behavior and who he was. In looking back now, I'm glad I paid some attention.
I miss him very much and I so wish he lived long enough to share of his wisdom with my boys. But luckily, the lessons he taught me are still very much alive. It will be up to me to pass along Life Lessons From Dad to them. Hopefully, I will do as good a job.