“My Daddy said,” anyone who knows me has heard me start that sentence around 82 billion times. I usually say something about the man he was during this celebration of fathers. He was neither perfect, nor “afterschool special bad”. He was just a man trying to parent in the best way he knew — making mistakes and triumphs along the way.
In the vein of “everything I know — I learned from Dr. Seuss, or cats, or the bottom of a tequila shot”, I thought I would share a few of Daddy’s life lessons that still shape me today.
#1: Always strive for better & education can solve almost everything → if you can get a 90 on a test, what’s stopping you from a 95? If you see a “character flaw”, find a way to short-circuit it. When I was a kid, I could get angry really fast — in one memorable moment, I truly accidentally broke the faucet handle. Daddy didn’t spank me — he asked me how I let my anger get out of control. Then he walked to his bookcase (our house was full of mismatched, randomly crafted shelves), and handed me a slim, red book, George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, telling me that the 1st president had to fight for equanimity as well. Whether it was learning, behavior, or spirituality, becoming better was a goal. To this day, I have a list of things I want to learn, things to improve, and peace to find.
#2: There is always an adventure → one of my best memories is coming downstairs from Sunday school, and Daddy smiling his mischief smile, asking if we wanted to skip the sermon. We usually beat the grownups to the car. Daddy would roll the windows down, put on music — stop for fried chicken, and then drive the Blue Ridge Parkway until we saw something gorgeous. We’d find a picnic table, open the trunk — and have Sunday afternoon lunch, surrounded by trees, birds and endless sky. I’ve tried to share that with my girls — that the world holds infinite joy, and endless beauty waiting to be discovered.
#3: History is alive and being made each day → Daddy believed the world told stories from the beginning of time — and it behooved you to know what going on everyday in the world. It made you a more well-rounded person, and allowed you to talk to everyone. For example, he was not what one would call an avid sports fan (he felt it sucked money from academics & the arts) — but he could tell you the scores, and commiserate with me when Duke lost to UNC. When I was going to be a thoracic surgeon, he took me to me a female medical professional that he’d known for years — Elizabeth Dole. She talked about breaking into a career, and enjoying the journey.
#4: Everyone matters and everyone is fascinating → Referencing back, I have no idea how he knew Liddy Dole, but she was comfortable enough to have us visit her for tea and talk to a little girl who saw her opening the world. Going with Daddy to work, I would hear the stories of CEOs, professors, secretaries, and custodians. Daddy knew them all. He would get letters from students he’d had 15 years before I was even born. When he died, his crowded bookcases were full — we found The Book of Mormon, materials from the Seventh Day Adventists, the Torah, the Koran, anyone he met — he would engage. When he was a POW guard in GA during WWII, the German prisoners saved their chocolate rations to make him a cake — because he treated them like humans and listened to stories of Germany before the war. In his later years, when he got to travel — it’s like every trip was Oz to him, magical and immersive. Isn’t that the neatest way to be with people?
And, of course
#5: Music is everywhere → If you visited my Dad, you would have a new musical experience in every single room. There would be the radio in one room, albums in another, a CD player back in the bedroom and the shop had surround sound. Once, he and I constructed a 7th chord using the Pythagorean theorem — with wire and a tuning screw. He could see music in the flutters of the summer fireflies. Watching my girls discover music, I’m reminded of times in the car with the radio, 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, and oh my goodness how he would have enjoyed streaming.
Happy Father’s Day!
My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me → Jim Valvano