My Dad, who died in 2010 was the master of gentle and undeniable advice. Words delivered with a killer combination of decisiveness and humor. He retired from the Air Force as a Senior Master Sergeant and had spent some of his best years molding the young airmen that worked in his radio shop for the B52 bomber. That time in the service defined him. Not the kind to mince words, he got to the point. I loved that about him.
When I was complaining about not being appreciated at whatever job I had (a.k.a. whining): “Take your hand out of a bucket of sand and see what kind of impression you leave.” Ok. Enough said there.
He would also give me invaluable advice about working with difficult people who outranked you. “Respect the position, not the person.” While at the same time explaining the risky but satisfying art of silent contempt.
When I was driving too fast: “When you get in a car, never forget you are driving a 2-ton machine that can kill someone. Great confidence builder for a new driver, that one. And “When driving in traffic, always give yourself an out, someplace to go.” Dad took me out in downtown Fort Worth to give me a driving lesson exactly one time and came back mumbling something about me running a red light and nearly sideswiping a car. So he gave himself an out. He made Mom take me. I would be remiss here not to point out that my Dad was the worst tailgater in the history of motorized vehicles. Which made family outings in the car some interesting white knuckle experiences. You know it’s true Dad.
When I was tempted to take the last piece of cinnamon toast: ” You are about to draw back a bloody nub.” This sounds bad but was delivered with a sly grin at the breakfast table. Followed by: “You get one shot at that, make it a good one.” Same grin. Two food rules in our house growing up. Don’t eat the last piece of cinnamon toast. Don’t eat the last pineapple fried pie that Dad took with his lunch. (Unless you drove to the store and got more before he got up the next day.) Dad loved to eat a good meal, which he defined as a meat, two vegetables and bread with iced sweet tea. His signal that his thermos glass of tea was empty was him rattling the ice cubes in the glass with a grin at my mother. She got him tea. He made her coffee. Life has its checks and balances.
When I was commenting on a news story about the harsh sentence given a young offender: “Never forget daughter, a child can kill you as dead as an adult.” Dad was in the Navy and Air Force for over 20 years and was stationed in Thailand building airstrips during the end of the Viet Nam war. While he never saw combat (that we knew about anyway) he had heard and seen some things that affected him deeply. He was a student of history and of human nature and understood the down side of both.
With pets: “Never neglect an animal’s water. They can miss a meal, but they will die without water.” All our animals were fat and well-watered. My Dad was compassionate and gentle with animals. Some of our pets as I was growing up were rescued from the base flight lines, including a black cat named Friskie that we had in England and two Doberman pups with their eyes still closed that he surprised my mom with because the mother had killed their littermates. Those Dobies never had their ears of tails cropped and he built a custom two-room dog house for them in the back yard. Many times came into the living room picking my way around two huge Dobies sleeping in front of the fireplace.
Once Dad rescued a cockatiel that simply flew down into our back yard, half-starved for water and food. We called him Boogie Bird, for the entertaining habit he had of waiting until my Dad was asleep on the couch and sidling up to his face to pluck nose hairs.
About visiting or calling after I left home: “Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, you know. Call your mother.” or “Well I was feeling like an orphan.” Subtle.
In a world where I read and hear horrible stories of neglect or abuse by parents, I am so thankful for my father and the world he helped shape for me. The best advice my father gave me he never put in words, but showed me in the way he lived his life. He showed respect to every person he could, every creature he cared for, every creed and every country he visited. He served his country in the military with honor. He worked hard, loved his family and he was always there for us. Those are words to live by.
Happy Father’s Day Dad.