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The Best Things We Learned From Dad

Words of wisdom Next Avenue readers heard from their fathers


A lot of our fathers love to teach, whether they’re sharing wisdom on family, jobs, relationships or life in general. That’s what we gleaned when, working with our colleagues at The SCAN Foundation, we asked Next Avenue readers to fill in the blank on this phrase: “The best thing I learned from my dad is _____.”

More than 500 of you shared lessons you received from your fathers. Not everyone had a positive response — some dads, sadly, taught by being poor examples and role models.

We rounded up some common categories of dads’ lessons below and invite you to find more submissions and share your stories on our Facebook page.

Be Present and Find Happiness

“You have to find happiness in your present circumstances. If you can’t, you’ll never be happy. He also taught me to appreciate the absurdities of life… he had a great sense of humor. Miss you Dad.”

– Paula Utterback

“Always keep your sense of humor. It will take you through almost anything.”

– Beck Frazier

“‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ was something I recall my father saying to me. The fact that he escaped from a WWII Nazi prison camp and came back to the states able to work and raise a family after that… well, that did tend to put things in perspective.”

– Jean Holland

“Besides teaching me how to fish, which gave me a lifetime of enjoyment, he taught me that’s it called FISHING, not catching. Patience. Enjoy what you’re doing now.”

– Sharon Dodson

“My Dad always said that time goes by faster the older you get and he certainly spoke the truth, in my opinion. This thought helps me to remember to appreciate and make the most of each and every day.”

– Sheryl Phillips

Work Hard

“The best thing I learned from my dad was life doesn’t owe you a living.”

– Brian Cole

“I can best sum up what my dad taught in a quote: ‘The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.’ – Thomas A. Edison. These essentials were major factors in my professional and personal life, for which I am forever grateful.”

– F. Hoffman

“My dad was 40 when I was born, so he was well into middle age by the time I remember him. He was a pastry chef who was in and out of freezers and around hot ovens six days a week. He had terrible arthritis and he was in pain most of the time, but he soldiered on, did his work, found time for me and never complained. I, too, have arthritis and know how it feels to keep moving through the pain and that is a gift he has given me. And as a bonus, he loved me unconditionally. No criticisms and no judgments.”

– Melinda Granieri

“My dad taught me to ‘take pride’ in everything that I do, whether it be mowing the lawn to working day to day. Everything is important!”

– Wendy Sorrell

“‘It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.’ Said to me on the eve of my graduation from law school. Needed to hear it and have learned he was oh so right. Again.”

– Susan Connolly

Treat Others Well

“Treat everyone with respect; especially those that others may think are unimportant. Whether they are the people that clean the floor or do the lowest level job in the building. It will make a difference in their lives and yours. My dad had an appliance business in our small town and he knew the only way some people could afford to have a washer, dryer, refrigerator, etc. was to finance it himself and let them pay it out; sometimes paying only $5 a week. I worked for him a bit after high school and he made sure I treated each customer equally well. After he passed, many people came by to share how well he treated them over the years. I hope when I pass, I will be remembered by people as one who treated them kindly and with respect.”

– Brenda Beeler

“Even as a child I remember Dad saying that the most important thing I could do for others is to remember their names. He said when you call a person by name it makes them feel that he or she matters. When I became a teacher, I used the school yearbook to learn the names of my new students before the first day of school. As the students entered the classroom I called each one by name. The looks on their faces were priceless. I won them over at that moment!”

– Patricia Gable

“As a university professor, my dad taught me to love learning and how to pass that learning on. As a Dean at that university, he was an example of how to be fair, courageous, and compassionate. In retirement, he showed me how working for the less fortunate was a reward in itself. He showed me how important it is to care about people, work from your heart and, most preciously, how to love my children and encourage them to become their best selves.”

– Yvonne McCarthy

Value Independence

“I was the oldest of four and the only girl. My dad instilled in me the belief that I could do, and be, anything I wanted. He taught me that I should never let my gender be a deciding factor in how I lived my life. Not the typical male outlook in the 50’s and 60’s. I am a Navy veteran, former police officer, firefighter, manager, mom and grandma.”

– Ellen Bassett

“The best thing I learned from my dad was to think for myself and not let others do my thinking. He taught all his children to be independent thinkers and not to follow the crowd just because that might be easier. His legacy lives on even in his grandchildren. He believed in Robert Frost’s quote: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by” and that has made all the difference.”

– Sharon McDonald

“When I was 16, before I could get my driver’s license, my dad made sure I knew how to change a tire, my oil and parallel park. I left home at 17, didn’t have much and those lessons came in handy. Dad was exceptional. He taught me a love for coffee and how to fix things. Those things are with me to this day, as are all the memories of my dear father. He made me the independent, self-sufficient woman I am today.”

– Janet Sloan

Life Lessons

“My dad taught me so much! About food: Save the best bite for last. Taste it: If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. About fixing things: Measure twice and cut once. The first thing you need to know about electricity is: It can kill you. The second thing is: It can kill you. The third thing is: Cut the circuit. About relationships: Don’t ask me if mom already said no. Don’t do anything you’d be too embarrassed to tell your mom about. When you love someone, love them the ‘best.'”

– Janet Dopsovic

“That you won’t win if you try to argue with Mom.”

– Karen Campbell

“‘The best way to catch a bird is to pour salt on its tail.’ It wasn’t until many, many years later that I realized if you’re close enough to pour salt on a bird’s tail, you’re close enough to just grab it. Meanwhile, somewhere there’s a picture of me as a four-year-old stalking birds in the backyard with a salt shaker in my hand.”

– Michael Howard

“When all else fails… read the directions.”

– Mary Balantic

“A sense of wonder for all of nature. He would take me on a walk through the woods and tell me how the Native Americans revered all of nature. I learned the names of trees, the bird calls. And years later, I realized I was always creating a nature trail on my property.”

– Kathy Stewart

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