Wise Words for Father’s Day

Jared and I were talking about fireworks the other day.  Apparently you can get them in Korea.

“Only little ones, though,” he said.  “Nothing too crazy.”

“Any firework can be dangerous in the wrong hands,” I said.

“That sounds like something your dad would say,” he said.

He was right.  I had channeled my dad without realizing it.   Every year on the 4th of July, we lit off fireworks on the driveway as soon as the sky was dark enough.  Or, I should say, my dad lit the fireworks while shouting, “Back, get back!”  at his three girls.  Later he allowed us to play with sparklers, but not before a brief lecture about eye safety.

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought about what else I learned from my dad that I still carry with me today.  There was all the normal stuff:  Wear a seat bealt, family comes first, and follow your dreams –  but here are a few other nuggets of advice that stuck with me.

1.  Know how to change a tire.

When I got my first car, a 1993 Geo Prizm, my dad wouldn’t let me drive it right away.  I had to follow him to the driveway, where I was given a detailed tutorial on how to remove and re-attach a tire.  When I had finished, I stood up proudly.

“Can I have the keys?”  I asked.

“No,” he said.  “Do it again.”

And again.  I was not going anywhere until I could stand in for a member of the pit crew at the Indy 500.  I rolled my eyes and completed his tire-changing drills until he was satisfied.

Within a month, I had my first flat tire, climbing up the 79th street hill just past Fall Creek.  Two men stopped to help me, and each time I waved them away.

“I got it,” I said.  “My dad taught me how.”

2.  Things are just things. 

In the first year of driving, I got into a minor car accident with this same Geo Prizm.  Twice.  No one was hurt but the car.  I took the dents very seriously, as if it were a brand-new Dodge Viper (my dream car at the time).

A dead ringer for my prizm.

“Your car is just a thing,” my dad told me.  “Never value a thing so much that you are afraid to lose it.  People are always more important than things.”

I tried to remind him of this when he was showing me the features of his new iPhone on Skype.

“Really?”  he frowned.  “I said that?  I don’t remember.”

3. You have nothing if you don’t have your health.

Like many teenagers, I was invincible when I was young.  My particular superpower was the ability to lay out in the sun for hours on end without being at risk of skin cancer.  Or so I thought.

Several years ago, my dad was diagnosed with adult diabetes.  It was a reality check for him, and he was forced to take a closer look at his diet and exercise habits.

“Your health is the most important thing,” he said.  “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.”

He was referring specifically to preventable health problems – the ones we have control over, but choose to ignore.  The lifestyle decisions we make when we are young that don’t manifest themselves until we are older.

I realized that the consequences of a tan vastly trumped the fleeting benefits.  I stopped laying out.  I retreated to the shade.  And, following the immortal words of Mary Schmich and Baz Luhrmann, I do wear sunscreen.

4.  Do you have insurance?

My dad’s obsession with health insurance is a running joke in my family.  His biggest fear is that something will happen while I am on a visit to the US, because I have no health care there.

“Be careful,” he’ll say, as I go out to get the mail.  “Remember, you don’t have insurance.”

In 2007, I was in Indiana for 3 weeks between living in New Zealand and England.  My parents had put some things in storage, and I wanted to see if there was anything I wanted to salvage before it was thrown away.

“What about this?”  My dad said, reaching for a large, square speaker from my old stereo system.

Suddenly, the speaker slid off the top shelf and plummeted to the ground, landing point-first on my head.  I staggered.  My dad went white.  My mom looked at the wound.

“Let’s go to the emergency room,” she said.

My dad drove, gripping the steering wheel.  I could imagine the thoughts racing through his head:  Noinsurancenoinsurancenoinsurance.

The receptionist held out a clipboard.  “Do you have insurance?”  she asked.

“No,” I said.

Her hand wavered.  The clipboard withdrew slightly.  “No?  How will you pay?”

“Credit card,” I said.

The friendly doctor cleaned my wound and administered a tetanus shot.

“That’s a pretty nasty cut,” he said.  “So you don’t have insurance, is that right?”

“Right,” I said.

“I’d really like to put you through a CAT scan,” he said.  “Just to make sure there are no fractures on the skull.”

Something about the image of fractures on his daughter’s skull spurred my dad into action.

“Yes,” he said.  “Do the CAT scan.”

It wasn’t cheap.  My dad insisted on paying for the cost of the emergency room visit because he felt responsible for the incident.

“I’m just glad you’re ok,” he said.  “But please, get insurance.”

5.  Stay away from heights.

There is a home movie that sums up my dad’s feelings about heights.  It is shot from the observation deck of the St. Augustine lighthouse.  My dad pressed his back up against the center wall and inched his way around the balcony.  The footage is shaky, comprised of streaky trees, ragged breathing, and shouts anytime my sisters and I got too careless near the railing.  Simply put, he doesn’t do heights and he doesn’t want us to, either.

When I went overseas by myself for the first time, my dad gave me a card with 10 pieces of fatherly advice.  The only one I can remember now is #10:  Stay away from tall cliffs.  We had seen a documentary about steep cliffs in Ireland and the sheep that regularly tumbled off of them.

I e-mailed him this photo:

Kids. They never listen.

He was unimpressed.  As he was a few years later when I went skydiving in Australia.  And bungy jumping in New Zealand.

Today is Father’s Day in the US, and once again I am absent.  So, Dad, I wanted to give you some peace of mind:  I don’t have a car, but if I did, I could still change the tire in record speed.  I wear sunscreen and eat my vegetables, and  Korea gives me health insurance.  Most importantly, I stayed on solid ground all day and have no plans to do anything dangerous.  At least not in the near future.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad – If you have any advice, I’m always ready for it.


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