As parents, the things we say and the way we behave towards others, sets an example for our children. Since fathers play an integral role in helping to shape our worldview, I asked a few parents to share memories of what their fathers had taught them, by word or by deed. Here’s what they had to say.
“When I’d ask my dad a question, he rarely gave me the answer. Instead, I received an assignment,” writes Autumn Chastain. Her father, David Carmill, believed answers were found in knowing the whole story, not just a piece of it. “And he used that same method to discipline me. His response would challenge me to understand the story, the why. From the why I would find understanding and, ultimately, the answer. Learning the story meant I could not only answer my own question, but I could apply reasoning learned to a future question.
I used this advice to make good decisions throughout my youth and learned even more when I made mistakes. He would have me write an essay, short story, or poem based on research and reflection — that was his way of teaching me the whole story, the answer. Today, I use it with my own children. I also find it guides me in my legal career and perhaps most impactful, my appreciation for an individual’s full being instead of judging one action.” — Autumn Blaise Cartmill Chastain • Attorney and mother of two
"My father is a man of very few words," writes Teresa Jenkins of her dad, Reverend Dr. James E. Leary. “He speaks best through his actions. As a pastor, when he was dissatisfied with the unfair financing options for housing, instead of complaining, he took action. He contacted the governor in his state and the top banks in his city and started a movement for equitable housing. I learned from him that change starts with me. As I tell my own children: ‘Be part of the solution, not the problem.’” — Teresa Leary Jenkins • Educator and mother of two
“When I was 4, my father and I were in the backyard making wind chimes with wood and bits of salvaged pipes. Our family didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so we were making wind chimes as Christmas presents,” writes Marvin Stockwell, Jr.
“I was grappling with what it meant to be rich or poor, so I asked my dad, Marvin Sr., 'Dad, are we rich or poor?' 'Son,' he replied, 'we don’t have a lot of money, but I like to think that we are rich — in love.'”
I was too young to be jaded, so I accepted his answer. We needed money to live, but love for each other was far more valuable, and we had that in abundance. How fortunate we were, I thought.
“The small seed planted that day was reinforced by my parent’s patient acts of self-sacrificial love. That lesson helped shape my adult understanding that people matter more than things, and that how we treat each other — with love — is what fills our blessing cup to overflowing." • Marvin Stockwell, Communicator and father of three
Margie Sims remembers her dad’s gentle touch. “When I failed Concepts of Algebra (not algebra, you see, but the concepts of algebra) in high school, my dad, Bill Simpson, briefly took me to task. I could tell he was surprised that I had failed it but when he saw how upset I was, he was nothing but compassionate, saying, 'If it weren’t for failure, success would mean nothing.'” — Margie Sims • Freelance writer and mother of ten
Mark McClellan remembers his dad, John McClellan, often coming up with folksy sayings that provided guidance. He writes, “As a kid, I was cutting the grass one day and ran over the garden hose, slicing it into pieces. When I told my dad, he asked why I hadn’t bothered to look out for the hose as I was cutting.
My typical teenage response was, “I don’t know.” To which he replied, “It would take a big book to put everything you don’t know in it. Might want to go learn something.” I’ve used that one on my own kids a time or two.
He also told me to be mindful of the company I kept. I once mentioned some trouble kids at school had gotten into, and he came back with this bit of truth: ‘You can’t wallow with pigs without getting dirty.’” — Mark McClellan, History professor and father of one
Edited by Jane Schneider