The Town Crier: Talking with Dad

“Father Knows Best” was a famous TV show with a catchy and oft times accurate title regarding the advice of dads. The trick is to listen to it. So often the child thinks they’ve grown and are smarter than the dad. And then he really grows up and realizes the dad is a font of good advice and family heritage.

Talking with Dad becomes a thing where you listen and try and get more info out of Dad, to learn the story of when he was a kid, and stories of generations past while learning the wisdom he’s gained from his life experience. Instead of “Father Knows Best” it can be “Father Knows a Lot.”

'Have you ever been bitten by a dog?'

You may never know where the story may come from. I was sitting with my dad on a Sunday afternoon during that time of the day after lunch when you would usually be nodding off while a ballgame is on TV. But with sports shut down these days we were just sitting there in silence. He looked over at me and asked, “Have you ever been bitten by a dog?” The next hour we swapped dog stories.

We started with dog bites and then moved on to the different pets we had had, from all the dogs we had together while I was growing up to many of the dogs he had when he was a kid. I had been bitten a couple of times growing up, one he knew about and one he didn’t. He then told me that his grandparents, who had a big farm in Murray County, had a lot of dogs when he was a kid. And then he told me every time he went to visit he ended up getting bit. One of the dogs would always go after him, maybe because he was the youngest and smallest of all his brothers.

We then reminisced about the dogs we had when I was a kid, and then he told me about his pets including Duke the German shepherd. Part of what we talked about included my own history but stories came from him that I hadn’t heard before.

Worth a look

If you’re familiar with the play “Hamlet” you may remember the advice that the father Polonius gives his son Laertes before he heads out. It’s a famous speech and includes such nuggets as “Beware of entrance into a quarrel” and “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and “To thine own self be true.” Pretty smart stuff, eh? That whole dad speech is worth a look, and even though it’s written in an older style of English, you can figure it out. And if you think “Hamlet” is probably a dull play, well, it’s pretty much the original “Game of Thrones,” and by the end almost everyone is either stabbed with a sword, poisoned or both. Check out one of the movie versions.

There are plenty of TV dads we’ve all seen that provide examples, although most of the straightforward good examples seem to be from older shows. Many of the dads of today’s shows are played for goofy laughs instead of as a true example of a dad working with his family, funny as that may be. Homer Simpson? I hope not.

One that I think of is the dad from “Leave It To Beaver.” He tries to always be there for the kids, and even if he makes a misstep when sometimes he misunderstands what’s going on with the kids, he owns it and works with them to make it right.

Another classic example is Andy Griffith. As a single, working parent, he perhaps has more in common with current family life than he did when the show first aired. I see in him a caring, involved parent with time to talk with his son about important issues. One good thing Andy does is talk about things on a level his kid can understand.

A learning experience

There are several ways we can learn from dads, and they don’t all involve talking with him. That’s the most direct way, but we can learn from him elsewhere as well.

Your dad may be gregarious and a big talker and is always telling you useful things, but my father is a pretty quiet man. He loves groups of people gathered around but is content to sit and listen instead of barging into the middle of the conversation. That’s something I haven’t learned from him. But it’s also a learning experience just to watch him around the house. I learned what work ethic I have from working in the yard with him. I would mow the grass while he did the trim work. Then at the end he would rake and I would take the wheelbarrow with the grass clippings to the woods behind the house. He wouldn’t quit until he was done, even working through a Georgia summer rain to finish the job. His steadfastness at his task is something I’ve tried to emulate but frequently failed at.

Seeing his morning routine was also something worth copying since he always got up with enough time for a shower, a shave and a breakfast so he never had to rush through things before leaving for work. The only time I can remember him being late was getting home from a fishing trip when the fish were biting. There’s a lesson in that, too.

And sometimes when I was little he would take me in to work on Saturday mornings when the week’s work carried over into overtime on the weekend. He would always introduce me around, making me feel welcome there, while also showing me that duty sometimes meant going the extra hours.

The best way to pass along wisdom

And whether at work, in a store making a purchase or with friends on the weekend, the way he dealt with people was also a learning example for me.

At work when an employee would have an issue with something, maybe a slow down on the carpet line, he would listen all the way through first and then ask questions. Then he would discuss with the worker ways to solve the problem, letting them be part of the answer to their own question.

In a store, maybe buying a new shirt or pair of slacks, he would deal courteously and patiently with the salesperson, treating them as an equal and not a servant of some type.

On the weekends or a vacation he would have his goals of what he wanted to do (go fishing at some point), but would then be open to participating in whatever others also wanted to do.

And at church, even as a deacon, he was the example of a servant leader, working quietly behind the scenes in many cases, and on committees taking the lead so the goals were met.

These past examples have been “talks” with my dad I had that were through his actions instead of just his words, and I often think this is the best way to pass along wisdom ... if those good things are copied by the child. I’m reminded of the not so wise talk a father and son had that went like this. Dad: “Do as I say and not as I do!” To which the son replied: “That’s easier said than done!” Not a very productive talk, was it?

Wisdom through the generations

When you talk to your dad you’re not getting just his wisdom but the wisdom passed down through the generations. You’re getting advice he got from his father and from his grandfathers. These kind of smarts and ways of approaching life rarely make it into any kind of books. They are the real family “jewels” that each family has access to if the conversation is started.

One thing I’m constantly struck by when talking to my dad and remembering hearing stories from my grandfathers is just how hard they had to work at everything. Anything they got when they were young they definitely earned. And the level of self-reliance they had, taking responsibility for their own actions and not blaming anyone else for problems. If they had issues, they worked their way through them instead of stopping to complain or make excuses. This is a lesson I hope I’ve learned from the stories I’ve heard.

Perhaps the best talk with dad is the one where you go to him and actively seek his advice. You’re going to get some type of direct answer and he’s going to feel good that you have sought him out. It can be anything from asking about sweethearts when you’re in high school and he can tell you about girlfriends he had or maybe about how he courted and won your mom. Or maybe you can take him out with you when you are shopping for a car. My father warned me about buying used cars by saying, “If you buy a used car you’re just buying someone else’s problems.” I’ve bought used cars and, believe me, I get what he was saying.

And sometimes you can just talk with your dad about life in general. He may reply directly with action you should take, or with his life experience he might share a story about a similar situation he had. At those times I think of his stories as life parables worthy of a book of wisdom. If he’s still around, anytime is a good time to have a talk with Dad.

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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