The Best Advice My Dad Gave Me

My father was unconventional.

To say the least.

Seven years ago he died suddenly right before Father’s Day, and as those years tick by, as I finally start growing up a bit, I think of some of the pearls of wisdom he gave me as a kid and into my late 20's that are starting to make sense now.

A nomadic musician, Dad wasn’t there for the day to day, but we were always deeply connected. It seems weird to say that you were soulmates with your father, but we really were. We could go weeks without talking on the phone and months without seeing each other, but there was always an unspoken security between us that made regular communication unnecessary. It was almost a sort of telepathy between us.

So when we did have those father/daughter talks, they had to have been important, right? Maybe not so much then, because no one listens to their father when they should, but now through the lens of grief and time, there’s some good stuff in there. Allow me to share some with you.

Don’t chase boys; be their friend and learn about them

I was one of those girls that hit an unfortunate awkward stage that lasted from age 11 until about age 21. Ten full years of being ridiculously tall, having bad skin, out of control curly hair and braces. Let’s just say no one ever beat down my door to go out with me. Which in an adolescent’s mind, just makes you want to try harder. I remember taking this lament to my father on one of our long trips to his home in Iowa, and this is when he gave me this advice. He told me that he went through the same thing…

Lies! My handsome rockstar father was a dork? The man who has people follow him around and flock to him wherever he goes was a nerd? I refused to believe it. Hell, I refused to believe my father was ever in Jr. High. How could he even possibly know my struggle.

Well, he did. I came upon some old photos of him from those years, and the struggle was just as real with him as it was with me. So he knew what he was talking about.

I stayed in that ‘friend zone’ with boys for a solid ten years. I got many a boy through Spanish and Algebra, and in turn they taught me about sports and what they like and don’t like. I can read the male of the species like a book, and where my peers struggle with communicating with men, I don’t. So while no 12-year-old wants to hear, “Wait this one out, kid, it’ll work out for the best,” he was absolutely right.

Never defend yourself with something that can be used against you

My father was incredibly street smart. When you leave home at the age of 17 to open for The Doors in 1968, I guess you have to be. My first year of college, I became a certified nursing assistant and worked the night shift at a children’s hospital to help put myself through school. My father wasn’t thrilled about this, but I reassured him that I had a baseball bat in the trunk of my car, and I would Babe Ruth any perpetrator that came my way.

“Never, ever carry a weapon that can be used against you.”

He then demonstrated how easy it is to get a baseball bat out of an 18-year-old girl’s hands no matter how tough she thought she was. I’ve been carrying pepper spray on my keychain ever since.

He’s not Rock n’ Roll enough for you

This was the one that took the longest to sink in. I got this advice shortly before getting married when I was 21, and took it very literally at the time. My Dad wanted me to marry someone more like him, I thought. What father doesn’t think that? It’s a normal response when your little girl grows up.

But looking back on that, I missed that one completely. He didn’t mean a musician, he meant someone who could keep up with my tempo. A sparring partner. Someone who could go mile for mile with me on all levels. I needed to meet my true match, and in his eyes, I had not done that yet.

Drumroll please…he was right. Now a chief requirement I have for any man is the ability to be Rock n’ Roll enough for me.

You are an artist

Another one I struggled with, because while my father could live the feast and famine of an artist's life, I was raised by my upper middle class conservative mother and step-father who abhorred that lifestyle and drilled, “Get a good, secure job!” into our skulls.

I also possessed a very sharp technical mind as well as artistic talent. I excelled in both equally, so it was hard to figure out who I was for myself. When I would visit him, we’d have jam sessions in his home studio, and I would show him some of the stuff I was working on, share what I was secretly interested in and reading.

“You are an artist,” he would say over and over again.

“You’re going to nursing school!” my mother admonished me my junior year in High School when I announced that I wanted to be a writer, “You’re not spending years in college to wait tables when you get out.”

I didn’t finish nursing school, I burned out and switched majors, and went out into the world of steady, secure employment for a decade. It never felt right, and it never clicked for me. I never had a passion for what I did and never saw a future in any of it.

When I lost my father, I started writing again, and there is something magical about finding your purpose. Should’ve had the courage to listen to him and do it then.

Show up when it matters

Throughout my life, my father was criticized for not being present enough in my life because he was always on the road. It never bothered me though, because he always showed up when it mattered. When I was being abused as a kid, he refused to bring me home from visitation and was arrested. He hated figure skating with the heat of a thousand suns, but when it mattered he would sit for hours at a skating competition waiting for me to go out there for just 3 minutes. He was at every graduation no matter what stage of war he and my mother were in at the time. When I lost my mind for a few minutes in my mid-20's he showed up to do the heavy lifting and screwed my head back on straight. He was there after I had my second baby and everyone left, and I started to have complications. And a dozen other dark times in my life.

He never, ever missed a Christmas.

It taught me that life isn’t about being present just to be there, it’s about showing up when it matters.

As a member of the human race, I do have a lot of regrets about not getting this stuff when I was supposed to get it, and all of the things I should have said. My own children will never remember my father, because they were babies when he died, but at least I can preserve these nuggets of wisdom for them and keep the legacy of weird, yet valuable advice alive.

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