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What I’ve Learned: Lessons from Dad

By Jessica Allen | Family

May 30
Lessons I Learned from my Dad | Dad on beach with daughters

Revised June 2019

We’re coming up on Fathers Day, which is my favorite time of year to reflect on the amazing men in my life.  Men whose heart for their people and hard work behind the scenes keep our little family driving and thriving.  

They’re wired to provide for us, and to protect us.  They don’t ask for much for themselves (ever) and they’re hard to buy for.  I think much of their joy comes from seeing their families enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Ever watch your family’s patriarch during the happy chaos of a gathering?  If he’s anything like ours are, you’ll find him quietly watching from a comfy chair with a small, sweet smile on his face.  Watching his children and his grandchildren laughing and playing together.  Speaking up every once in a while to tell the same stories we’ve heard a million times and hope to hear a million more.  

Whoever those patriarchs are, whether they’re a father or a grandfather, lean into them this weekend.  Let them tell that story again.  Ask them to tell that story again.  Treat them to an amazing meal and time spent together.  And then let them be.  They’ve earned it.  

Here’s to the “Dad” in your life.  I hope yours is the very best.  And if he’s not, or if you’re missing yours with a heavy heart, you can always borrow mine.  

HP, J <3

The title graphic is an actual picture of my dad, me (fishing), and my sister Lisa on a family trip to Corpus Christi.  The only thing I remember about that trip are my yellow polka-dot swimsuit, and that our blue Chevy Blazer leaked antifreeze onto the highway in what must have been a very frustrating road trip curveball for my parents.  There is no crisis that ruffles Jerry’s feathers, and I’m sure it all worked out just fine.  

Original post: June 2018

My dad’s birthday is this week. Our “thing” is to meet for breakfast, usually about once a month or so, to catch up, laugh, solve problems, and just be together. It’s never fancy, and I’m always late, and he never says a word about it, and I love him so much.  I always learn some lessons from Dad, even in my grown-up life.  Maybe especially in my grown-up life.

I’m beyond grateful that he’s here, not just still walking the planet, but right here where I live. He’s part of my life, my children’s lives, and he’s still building (quite literally, on the lake) a future for us that only he could.

We spent a day this weekend at our family retreat, Egret Acres, and I was so touched to see that Dad had hand-made signs for the property. They match the signs he made for my grandparents’ home, Homestead, ages ago.

I did know he’s been cutting trails at EA for us to explore. What I didn’t know is that his plan was to post signs on trailheads named for each grandchild (Grace, Jackson, Noah, Kate, and now Elisha) and that he had created a special sign for the LJ Butterfly Boathouse too.

Grace trail sign egret acres

Aren’t we all on the Grace Trail?

He carved them by hand and they’ll be treasures in my life forever. They are gifts I could never repay.

Dad is impossible to shop for. He’s happily worn the same t-shirts and Sperrys for decades, taken impeccable care of his things so nothing ever breaks or needs replacing, generally doesn’t want or need “stuff,” and someday Tom Clancy is going to stop writing books for me to buy.

So I’ve come to realize that no gift means more to him than time together and stuff that matters.

I like that, because that’s what I love most too, and besides, there’s no new Clancy out right now.

So in lieu of a bad tie he’ll never wear, here is my birthday gift – my most valuable lessons from Dad.

Lessons from Dad: The Little Things Matter

The job’s not done until you put your things away

When you put your things away, you never have to find them.  And back to that job – don’t cut corners.  Take the time to do it right.  The magic is in the details.

Fix it when you can, and make it yourself

Don’t throw it out.  Spend the time to save the money.  Our generation has it the other way around – we spend money to save time.  I watched Dad spend days tracing, cutting, and crafting a new handle for his old-as-he-is hand saw.  I promise you I would have just tossed it in the garbage, gone to Home Depot, and bought a new one.  But his is beautiful now, and works perfectly, and has a great story behind it too.

Keep it simple

Eat your oatmeal right out of the pot you made it in, with the spoon you used to stir it.  There’s no need to stand on ceremony if it makes an extra dirty dish.

Make change – pennies count

When you use them, you see them, and you keep them, and you save them.  Work in cash whenever you can.  Pennies add up to dollars and to a lifetime of abundance and security.

Choose your words carefully

I remember distinctly the first time I told him I thought something was “dumb.”  I was about 9 years old and a truck commercial came on during a golf tournament on TV.  I will never toss out a careless comment like that again.  He wasn’t unkind.  Just firm and certainly made an impression in that moment.  There are always better, smarter, more helpful words to use – whether it’s a car commercial, or a meeting, or a conflict, or a simple conversation between friends.

Lessons from Dad that were caught, not taught

Tithe

I watched my dad write a check to the church every month, without fail.  He never said a word about it, and never sought recognition or affirmation for it.  Give.  Without excuses.  It’s important.

Build a routine

He’s like clockwork.  I’m more like the pocket watch from the Mad Tea Party with the jam in it.  But I thrive on a routine because I like knowing what to expect.  There’s security and peace in that for me.  We always knew what to expect in our home and it always felt safe. Consistency matters.

Sacrifice for the people you love, but make time for yourself

Dad set so many of his own interests aside when we were children, but now that he’s retired, he’s not once apologized for doing what he loves to do.  Which is play a lot of golf.

Practicality is important

Be prepared for the future, cover your bases, allow for changes in the plan.  There’s no need for panic or mayhem if you’ve approached things with logic.  (I’m still learning this.  He insisted I take a few business/finance/accounting classes as an education undergrad – just in case.  I remember yelling at him over the phone that I WILL NEVER EVER NEED THOSE.  Turns out they would have come in pretty handy these last 12 years in business.  Related lesson: his patient support through that ironic career shift taught me to never say “I told you so.”)

Laugh

I decided one Halloween I wanted to scare myself silly and watch The Shining.  I don’t do scary so of course I came home terrified.  I turned on the light in my bathroom and taped there on the mirror was a life-size picture of “Here’s Johnny.” I ran out of the room screaming and all I could hear was him guffawing from the other room.

His laugh is contagious and I will always hear it in my mind mixed with the slapstick of The Three Stooges.  We watched Celebrity Jeopardy on vacation once and he laughed so hard I thought he was going to fall off the balcony.

No matter what is happening in your life, find humor where you can.  If it won’t matter in a year, check it off the worry list.  Take the right stuff seriously and there will always be room to laugh at the rest.

Strong and soft is okay

He scared the you-know-what out of our boyfriends on the phone but cried every time at the end of The Little Mermaid.  There’s room for both these things in your life.

Lessons from Dad: the big stuff

You never need a reason to say no.

“But Dad, I DON’T have other plans.”  “Yes, you do.  Your plans are to NOT go do that thing.”  It’s that simple.

Remember what your name is

I am Jessica… and I am a Toenjes… and now I am an Allen… I am a member of each community I’ve wrapped myself into… and I am loved.  My choices are all trading on my family name.  I want to honor where I come from and honor the people who poured their lives into making mine extraordinary.  I want to remember what they taught me.  I want to hold firmly to the convictions they helped me create for myself.

No matter what, remember that mom, dad, and [all these people] love you

This was the closing of our prayer every night.  By the time we got big, the list of “all the people” had grown very long.  It was the last thing we had running through our ears before we went to sleep, and I’ve clung to those words in my adult life – particularly in some of the lowest points.

The good guys always win

The Marines, the Astros (okay, he’d say the Cardinals), Luke Skywalker, that guy who blew up Jaws… the good guys ALWAYS win.  No matter how bad it gets, it’s not over until it’s over.  Even if it feels like the bad guys are winning, be the good guy no matter what.

Be the best parent you can when your children are little – and one day, your adult children will love being your friend

Yes, Dad – I love you, and I still want to hang out with you.  There’s no better company.

HP,

J

Lessons I Learned from my Dad | Dad on beach with daughters

About the Author

Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.

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