LESSONS FROM DAD

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It’s the Thursday before father’s day weekend, 1968. My school assignment is to write an essay about why my dad should be named “Father Of The Year “.

I begin working on it with great fervor until I lose interest, midweek. It’s due tomorrow.

“Juuuuulieeeee… Bedtime!!” Mom calls out as she herds all six kids into the corral…myself being the straggler.

“Mom! I can’t go to bed now! I’m doing homework.” I cry out emphatically.

“Too bad. You should have thought of that sooner. Time for bed.”

“But MOM! If I don’t finish this, then dad won’t WIN!!” (Ya. No drama here.)

“Win what?” She replies.

Dad’s ears perk up as he is within earshot.

“Father Of The Year! I have to write a paper on why I think dad should be father of the year. The winner will be announced in church on Sunday. Don’t you want dad to win?”

A little guilt from a 10 year old never hurts.

“Why on earth did you wait until now to finish this paper? ” Dad asks.

Hmmm… I don’t know. Could it have anything to do with my nicknames being “Wait-for-me” or “Slowbones”?

“I didn’t! I started it. But I just got stuck. I need HELP!”

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In truth, it’s the “The Three Stooges'” fault. They shouldn’t put that show on right after school if they want kids to do their homework.

“It’s okay Barbara. I’ll help her.” Dad to the rescue.

Staying up later than our strict 9 pm bedtime is unprecedented in the Butler household. I can’t help but secretly thumb my nose at my many siblings, like a prisoner who’s just been granted special privileges from the warden. Little do I know what I’ve gotten myself into.

We descend the stairs to the basement spare room which serves as a playroom, office and sometimes guest room. I take a seat at the built in wall length table as I pull out my three ring binder and lined paper containing two short paragraphs.

“I think my dad should be Father Of The year because…”

Have you ever had an occasion to sit down with a child to help him/her with their homework only to find yourself astonished at how limited their understanding is of the subject? By the peculiar smile on his face, it isn’t long before I realize that I am in for the long haul.

While stimulated at first by his input, I soon grow tired, having surmised that dad is unusually zealous in his willingness to help on this particular assignment.

Having me start by creating a list of reasons why he should be named FOTY, it isn’t long before my little paper goes from a “Dick And Jane” reader to (what by comparison feels like) “War And Peace”.

“I want you to circle every time you use the word “I” and then count them for me.” He tells me.

“Why?”

What a dumb idea and waste of time. What for?

“Because I asked you to.” He replies. Seems like a no-brainer to him.

I reluctantly begin to circle all the “I'”s. I’m not sure if this a good thing or a bad thing, but my paper is beginning to resemble (what is currently) a mega millions scratch off lottery card, with circles instead of blackouts.

There’s a zillion “I”‘s. Do I get a prize? In fact, “I” appears at least once in every sentence. At least there’s no question of point of view.

“How can you say the same thing without using the word “I”?”

It’s now about 10:15 and my little engine is running out of gas.

“I don’t KNOW!”

“Sure you do.” He assures me.

He puts me through my paces as he teaches me various, more sophisticated methods to get my points across. It’s exhausting. Occasionally he can’t resist the urge to suggest a word or two which is not in my current vocabulary.

“But dad! I’m gonna get in trouble.The teacher is gonna KNOW you helped because she’ll know I don’t know what that word means!!” I reply, as I plea my case.

“Do you know what it means now?”

“Yep.” Albeit, good point dad.

“There you go! See? You’re learning new words and new ways of expressing yourself. That’s FANTASTIC!”

Thank you Dale Carnegie. (Dad was a big fan of Dale.)

Admittedly there is more of the salesmen than grammarian coming out in him now. He’s quite pleased with our progress.

By now I’ve had to sharpen my pencil at least three times…it’s a little nub. There are so many erasure marks there are little tears where numerous words have been tried. It looks like it’s been attacked by some rare paper eating insects from the rain forest, but at least it’s done.

Feeling a bit like Bob Crachit burning the midnight oil, I stay up to copy it with a fresh pencil on a fresh, clean sheet of notebook paper before retiring my weary body and brain at 11:30. This has been a surefire lesson in “be careful what you wish for.”

The next day dad gets home from work and before settling in with his evening cocktail, he slowly leads into the question I dread most.

“How was school today?”

“It was ok I guess. I was tired.”

“Did Mrs. Haley like your paper?”

“I don’t know. I guess. But I/we didn’t win.”

There’s a sadness in my voice. How can she NOT see just how great my dad really is? He may be a man on a mission, but aren’t Superman and Flash Gordon also men on a mission?

“That’s a shame honey. Who won?”

“Julie Gorman. So I guess her dad is FOTY.”

Julie Gorman was forever one upping me, which I probably wouldn’t even notice if we didn’t share the same name.

“It doesnt matter honey. You did a GREAT job! And you learned alot about writing. Do you think you learned something?”

“Yep. But I think you should be FATHER OF THE YEAR! Mrs. Haley is a jerk. Thanks for helping me.”

“Thank you Juje. I enjoyed helping you! I should help you more often. But you need to get an earlier start.”

I don’t recall if I ever actually sat down to write with him again. I do recall reading out paragraphs to him only to find myself back at square one. But that wasn’t the end of our lessons.

Being a huge history buff, dad often said, “History must be judged according to it’s time.”

To which I’d reply, “That’s just dumb dad!”

“Why is that?” He’d reply.

“Cuz that’s impossible! You’d have to go back in time and you can’t!” I’d explain.

“Precisely!” He responded smiling, in hopes that I was now able to grasp the concept and it’s importance.

His other two favorite “mantras” were, “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked in their shoes” and “To thine ownself be true!”

I never really understood the latter until one Sunday night when we were all seated at the dining room table (as opposed to the kitchen table) for a special occasion. Everyone was there except my younger brother, Brian.

This was decades before cell phones and nothing short of an emergency was cause for being late for dinner. Particularly for special occasions, as they often enlisted our help setting the table, straightening up the family room, peeling potatoes etc. as mom prepared an amazing dinner for the eight of us and whoever our guest happened to be.

Things are tense as Brian strolls in 15 or 20 minutes late.

“Where have you been?” Dad inquires.

Brian was lucky Aunt Elsie was there, as Dad’s decibel level was considerably muted in honor of her presence.

Brian is notably animated and is known for being a master at bullshit, coated in sugar.

“Dad! Dad! You won’t believe it! I was driving past the Butterfield, when a golf ball came flying through the trees, hit the windshield and like 5 minutes later, it shattered into a million pieces.”

“I see. Are you ok?” Dad inquires, very calmly.

“Ya! It was so cool! The windshield stayed intact. Wait til you see it!”

“I’ll look at it later.”

“Tell me Brian. Would you have been late anyway?”

Great question.

“But DAD!! The windshield shattered!”

(We live less than a mile away from the Butterfield country club.)

“Brian… to thine ownself be true.”

“Ya. Okay. I was screwing around and lost track of time.”

“I see… You owe your mother an apology. She’s prepared a beautiful dinner for us and you are late.”

“Sorry mom.” He says contritely.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned this quote comes from the obnoxious, pompous character, Polonius (Ophelia’s dad) in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.

WHAT?? My dad is NOT Polonius! Then I realized that although Polonius was a jerk, his words still rang true.

Dad never lost an opportunity to teach us something. Perhaps it was his love of history, but I’m inclined to believe he simply wanted to arm us with tools to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

His chosen profession was real estate where he worked together with his dad in the family business until grandpa was forced to retire due to illness.

While on occasion, other young kids’ parents were bundling them up in pajamas to go to the drive in, mom and dad took us on real estate “drive-bys”.

I recall more than once, being in my pj’s, piled into our station wagon with my siblings. Sometimes we’d find ourselves in a really poor part of town. (Whether or not it was intentional, I’ll never know.)

A hush fell over our backseat bickering as mom and dad pointed out the importance of appreciating all the blessings we have and to never judge those who were less fortunate, because more often than not, our lot in life was the result of “the luck of the draw”.

I had never witnessed poverty before except maybe, on tv. It was stunning to a young middle class kid. Lesson learned and learned well.

One thing that stands out when I was a teen, was the time dad taught me how to use the phone.

Mom had gotten her real estate license and they went into business together to become Butler Partners. One day I had to meet her at the office for something, but she was delayed.

“Juje. I’d like you come in my office to wait for your mom.”

“Ok.”

“I have some calls to make and I want you to sit and listen.”

“Why???”

“Because I want you to learn how to use the phone. ”

“DAD!!! I know how to use the phone!” I say laughing incredulously.

In truth, up until now my use of the phone consisted of little more than making prank calls to unsuspecting boys, gossiping with girlfriends and ordering the occasional pizza.

To illustrate his point he gives me an “assignment”, telling me to call and make an inquiry about something. (I don’t recall what.) I smugly hang up the phone, quite pleased with myself.

“The guy said tomorrow at 3.”

“I see. Did you get his name? Did you give him your name? What time do they close? What is it going to cost? Do they take checks?”

“Why do I care what the guy’s name is? You didn’t tell me to all ask that stuff!”

“I wouldn’t have to if you knew how to use the phone correctly. What if he gave you bad information? Who do I hold accountable? What if he went out of his way to be helpful? Who do I thank? Most importantly, how many calls does it take to get all that information? One! Here’s a note pad. I’d like you to listen and make note of the questions I ask.”

As I reluctantly listen to him, I am astonished to see how much information he accrues in one call,usually beginning with, ” Hi_ It’s Jack Butler!”

What I wouldn’t give to hear hum.utter that phrase again…

Dad was a master at forging relationships over the phone, probably because he genuinely liked people and they could feel it. In addition to curiousity, this is probably the greatest gift you can give to a child…liking people.

He wasn’t a pushover and god forbid you should cross him in some way. But more often than not he gave others the benefit of the doubt.

I sometimes wonder if fathers have any idea of the impact they have on their children. While we have evolved considerably in terms of equality of the sexes, we have a long way to go.

That being said, one of the great benefits of feminism is the evolution of a father’s role from that of simply being the “breadwinner” to being an actively engaged parent in the raising of his children. Hopefully the days of the father’s role as Ward Cleaver coming home to dinner and disciplining the children is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
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What comes to mind at the moment is the age old adage, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It’s absolutely true in my case. I am content to have fallen so close to dad’s “tree”.

It’s also a blessing to see my wonderful son benefitting from the many things my father taught me. I only wish he was alive to see what a great guy my son is. Perhaps he’s hanging around somewhere with a front row seat.

Was he a perfect man? Nope. But find me one that is, and I’ll give you a million bucks!

I will always remember that night with great affection, warmth and gratitude when we sat up together in the spare room of our basement, hashing out ideas and ways of expressing why my dad should be named Father Of The Year.

He was right. I had learned many things that night as we burned the proverbial midnight oil.

I learned there are a myriad of ways to see things and I have more than one voice at my disposal. His help that evening encouraged me…
*to invoke my innate curiosity
*to look for a better way
*to persevere even when you’re exhausted.

As I find myself writing today, I wonder what dad would think of my blog.

Were he alive, I imagine the conversation would go something like this.

“Honey, you’re a great writer, but it isn’t nice to tell people all these personal things about yourself. Why on earth would you do that?”

To which I’d likely respond saying, “Good question! Let me get back to you on that Dad.”

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love and miss you heaps!

This post goes out to all the DADS, STEP DADS, SURROGATE DADS and SINGLE MOMS WEARING BOTH HATS! Wishing you ALL A HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!

5 thoughts on “LESSONS FROM DAD”

  1. Such a nice post 🙂 Your dad sounded lovely – and I loved the ‘leading the witness’ part 🙂 My mam says something similar about my blog and usually adds, ‘don’t let anyone kill you’ 😉

      1. She’s a funny lady – unintentionally sometimes but there you go 😉 I sent her a text saying I was out with a couple of Latvian girls a couple of weeks ago, then didn’t text for a couple of days. She was worried maybe they’d murdered me and buried me in the forest somewhere 😉

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