Earlier this year my best friend’s father passed away unexpectedly. Julie has been my best friend since elementary school, so her whole family played a role in my childhood, and I was grateful that even though we are all grown up her parents were still in my life.  His death was news I wasn’t ready for—one of the deaths I’ve had to live through that shook me.  The loss made me especially appreciative to have my father.  Moments after hearing about Julie’s dad, I called mine, happy to hear his voice. This father’s day, at Julie’s suggestion, I thought I write about some of the amusing fatherly advice I’ve received over the years.

From Julie’s Dad

Mr. Wernau’s advice stands out.  I’ve thought about it daily since the moment he filled my thoughts with horror.  Julie and I were in high school. Her dad was driving us somewhere so we were a trapped audience.  He must have been having a rough day because he announced, “Girls, enjoy every good BM you have because one day will be your last good one.”  I cringed at “BM” because I detest the term, but I took his words to heart.  They terrified me, really.  Since then, every day I think of her father at least once.  If things go well, I’m grateful.  If things don’t go well, I wonder if my world will be miserable forever.  Going to the bathroom may not be what someone longs to be remembered for, but when I think of him in that moment it always makes me laugh.  And once I’m thinking of him, other memories pop in.  I recall him making us protesting poodle pancakes and dressed in a wife beater and gold chains—an outfit as far from his natural attire as you could get—for a character he played at a mystery dinner.  I think of crosswords, science, curiosity, and ways to make life extra safe, because he was a stickler for safety to a comical degree.  If someone thinks of me every time they use the bathroom and smiles, I’ll be okay with that.

From Gab’s Dad

Mr. Cannamela was the eighth grade English teacher every kid in town wanted.  His daughter Gab and I were friends.   Once after school a group of us went to her house and discovered her father in the family’s above ground pool in a kayak.  Though kayaks belong in water, it didn’t seem to fit in their pool.  My perhaps erroneous memory that has lingered from long ago suggests his boat stretched over the pool edges like a hotdog extending out of a bun.  He was purposefully tipping himself over and trying to right himself to prepare for potentially tipping in more dangerous locations.  (Apparently all dads could be nicknamed Captain Safety.) On the one hand it seemed ridiculous.  On the other hand I remember being really impressed.  As we walked by the scene and into the house, he said, “You have to make time for fun in your life because you never know how much time you are going to get.”  This man, and his wise perspective, have since passed away too.  He set a good example of adults intentionally making time for fun.  As an adult, I try to remember that.

From My Grandpa Downie

One of the best pieces of advice my grandfather gave me didn’t come through words.  It came through his actions.  I caught him outside—no book, no radio, obviously no phone or tablet.  He was just sitting, transfixed, staring into the sky.  “Watcha doing?” I asked.

“I’m just enjoying the wind blowing the trees,” he responded with pleasure.  And his face was utterly calm, contented, reflecting a peaceful bliss at an almost constant occurrence in nature.

I looked up, saw the same wind and laughed.  I couldn’t at the time understand how that possibly provided him joy.  Wasn’t he bored?  Staring at wind was a weird pastime, right?  But through my disbelief, I saw the look on his face and knew he was onto something good.

Naturally, as I’ve gotten older, the wind waving the branches of a tree can calm me.  I find joy in it.  It happens every day and I never tire of the moments when I notice its tranquil effect.  There is a connectedness that can be calming or invigorating.  As an added bonus, when I catch the wind for a moment, I get to remember a man I truly adored.

From My Stepfather

I jokingly refer to my stepfather as Stepdaddy Antony in a British accent.  He is British so it makes sense.  His name is Anthony (notice the ‘h’), but in England his friends don’t pronounce the ‘h’—something my family learned years after he integrated into our American way of life.  Anthony is the life of any party, he has always been able to beat me in a foot race (even when I ran six miles a day and he smoked a pack a day), and a few years ago he built me monkey bars.  All of these reflect his avid support of playfulness at any age.  He’s a big kid.  Anthony is not one to give advice, but he laughs easily and often.  He won’t suggest you make time for laughter, you’ll just be swept up in the moment and want to laugh with him.  You can’t help chucking in his larger-than-life presence.

From My Dad

My own father has given me lots of good advice.  Some of this includes: start saving for retirement as soon as you have a job, stopping at stop signs is a key factor in safe driving, and finding a passion makes life worthwhile—advice he, like my grandfather, gives by example. Some of his passions when I was growing up were sailing, the Red Sox, and the Civil War.  He studied them in depth and knew everything there was to know about his interests, only in part to increase safety.  Most recently, and some of the most amusing advice he ever gave me was how to pee like a guy for my hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I doubt he ever expected he would be responsible for teaching his grown daughter how to pee standing up, but he did it well and was completely up to the task.  His main advice was “wide stance, pelvis forward,” which is a key factor in not urinating on your feet.  That’s one good dad.

The fathers that I have been lucky enough to know have taught me that, beyond basic necessities, all you really need is a passion; playfulness; and a regular, good BM.

Read More

The Father’s Day post from last year!

The story of the day my grandfather boxed Heavy Weight Champion Ezzard Charles

The full story on how my dad taught me how to pee like a man.

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