Lessons I Learned from My Pa

I’ve called my dad Pa for years. I don’t remember when or why it started, but it fits. My brothers or mom might remember. He is either Pa or Dad. I have learned so much from him. He has been such a constant in my life. When I was 5 he was in a horrible accident which nearly took him from us. He spent years recovering and that single event had a profound impact on our family. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without him.

Pa grew up on a farm and he and Mom farmed when they were first married. But that was before my time. I only remember my dad as a truck driver. He drove semi for 20 some years cross-country. He tried to get home about every other weekend so he missed a lot of events. Mom had her hands full with four kids and a full-time job, but they made it work. I moved away from home to go to college and other than a summer or two, haven’t lived in the same town as my parents for 27 years. But Pa continues to teach me. I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned from my dad.

I’ve always had an aversion to the “best {fill in the blank} in the world”, the idea that anyone is perfect. I think it is in the imperfect that we learn some of life’s richest lessons. So here they are in the raw; the good and the not so good, but always a lesson!

  1. Not everyone in a position of authority is there because they are an expert. I remember many stories of the DOT officers and the ridiculous things they would say to my dad while he was on the road. He would get frustrated by their lack of knowledge and understanding of the rules and expectations placed on truck drivers. (That is totally my “cleaned up” description of the situation! Dad had a much more colorful version, but the moral is the same.) He taught me not to follow blindly; not to trust without verifying. He taught me to think for myself and if there is a better way to do things, don’t be afraid to speak up.
  2. Duct tape, angle iron and green treated lumber can fix nearly anything. The man really can do wonders with these three tools! It doesn’t always turn out exactly as he would like, but he finds a solution. Dad taught me that there is always a way. You can always come up with a work around, fix or creative solution. You just have to open your mind to the possibilities and not be afraid to fail. Learn from your failures and don’t make the same mistake twice.
  3. Be generous. My dad is not afraid to loan anything he has to someone who needs it. I remember him loaning out cars, tools and especially his expertise. He has worked countless hours helping others with building projects, remodeling the church, and giving advice on how to tackle something. He built a trailer to pull behind his motorcycle, then modified it and loaned it to the church youth to take supplies to the Appalachian project they were working on. He is generous with all that he has and taught me it feels good to help someone out. And more importantly, it’s what we are supposed to do.
  4. Work hard. It has only been in the last few years that I have seen my dad take a nap. He just didn’t do it. It was unheard of…maybe to a fault. This I’m sure comes from his parents and what they valued. Work. People’s worth was dependent upon their ability to work. It was a different time and I know they faced challenges that in my comfy little world I can’t even fathom. Their lives depended on their ability to work. But what I gained from Dad’s inability to rest is an appreciation for a hard days work. The feeling of knowing you did your best, gave it your all and can be proud of your effort.
  5. How to string together and incredibly long chain of cuss words. I remember working on the truck with him in our driveway. I was really there just to hand him the tools he needed as he did his own repairs. I learned an entirely new language while helping with this. My Pa can string together the most colorful chorus of cuss words to reflect the real degree of his frustration, pain or anger. He’s toned it down quite a bit, especially when the grand kids started helping him. Maybe that’s where I get some of my creative writing ability:).
  6. How to fix anything. I didn’t realize what a unique gift this is until I started buying cars, a house, appliances. He really knows how to fix it all. Or at least where to begin. I have always called him to describe the noise the car is making before I take it to the shop. He can give me enough direction that I know if the mechanic is trying to pull one over on me. He gets credit for my kids saying to me, “How do you know that?” with shock and surprise. I listened to my Pa, that’s how.
  7. Acceptance. Not because my dad is incredibly accepting – he’s not. He’s pretty judgmental {I got that part too:)}. But because of that, I have learned to meet people where they are. To accept that I don’t always know where someone has been or what has brought them to this point in their life. I don’t know why they are the way they are or what they have survived. I can spend all my time and energy trying to make them be someone they are not, trying to change them to fit my mold. But it will never work. I have learned to meet them where they are and love them for who they are, not who I want them to be.
  8. The art of story telling. My pa is a great storyteller. One of my favorite memories as a child is sitting on the hump on the floor in the back seat with my chin resting on my arms on the front seat listening to him tell stories of his travels while we drive the country roads to visit family. He kept me in suspense, he made me laugh. I felt like I had journeyed all over this country through the stories my dad told.
  9. We all have different parents – even siblings. I am the youngest of four, and the only girl. I know my childhood was very different from my brothers’. I can see that even with my three boys who are only 4 1/2 years apart. The experiences we each had were seen through different lenses. I often had the luxury of seeing them through a rosier filter than my brothers. A little more protected, sheltered, forgiven. Some of the lessons I learned are probably pretty different from my brothers.
  10. College is a gift to be valued and appreciated. Not because Pa told me this. Dad did not go to college, but I have often said, if he did he would have been an engineer. I remember as a child, he could do ANY math in his head…faster than I could do it with a calculator. He can design things in his mind and they work. He always understands how things go together. He didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. I did and I’m grateful. I’m grateful his grandson is going to get the engineering degree he would have gotten – cause he’s a lot like his grandpa.
  11. Geography. I heard stories from Timbuktu, Michigan to Olathe, Kansas; Winnipeg Manitoba to Brownsville Texas. There were many random towns and highways discussed on those car rides and I was expected to know where they were. When Pa would call home from the road he would say the name of the city he was in and we were supposed to know what state that was. If I didn’t know he would say, “You better study your map.” or “Sounds like it’s time for some map study.” He had the ability to remember places and roads like no one I know. For years after he quit driving truck I could call him and say I’m on such and such road and not sure how to get to X. He would tell me not only the roads I needed to take, but what landmarks were at each intersection! He has a crazy ability to remember that kind of thing. He even knew where Blue Grass, Iowa is – a fact I will never live down!
  12. Stick to your word. Your word is a precious resource and one of the few you have total control over. You can choose whether it has value or not. Choose to stick to your word, follow through on commitments, do what you say you will do and you will be rich in respect.

Happy Father’s Day Pa! Thank you for all the lessons you’ve taught me so far – I look forward to many more! I feel blessed to be your daughter and honored to call you my Dad.


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