My father was an extraordinary man. He was an attorney who won 99% of his cases. He played piano like a virtuoso even though he couldn’t read a note of music. He was extremely well-read. That is, I assume he was since we had a room the size of an apartment devoted to his book collection.
He also was a perfectionist with a serious case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I remember the time he admonished me for placing the tape dispenser in the drawer on its side rather than upright. I believe that was the moment my father realized that my education was sorely lacking. I was 15 at the time. For, in the years that followed, my father took it upon himself to teach me the “proper” way to handle many different challenges that life presented.
Let me explain with an example. Say you’re alone in the house and you hear a scary noise that sounds like it might be coming from inside the house. You’re in total darkness. Should you:
- Grab a crowbar for protection against a possible home invader.
- Yell loudly to scare away any wild animals that may have strayed into your house. Or…
- Use the back of your hand to switch on the light.
The correct answer, according to my father, was, of course, C. One should always flip on a light switch with the back of one’s hand. The reason is obvious – to a crazy person: To avoid leaving messy, oily finger prints on the light switch plate. Evidently, that should be your primary concern when you suspect burglars may be breaking into your house in the middle of the night.
My dad died in 1979. In the 24 years that I shared this planet with him, he taught me scores of similar life lessons. Most of these were things I thought I had mastered by the third grade. Apparently, I was wrong. I might be performing a mundane task, such as brushing my teeth, when I’d notice in the mirror that objects were closer than they appeared. Specifically, my father, who would be standing in the doorway, quietly studying my technique, shaking his head in dismay. He would then deliver a lengthy dissertation on the correct procedure for a routine that I was evidently still mangling after all these years.
If it weren’t for my dad, I never would have realized the cutlery hazards that awaited me at the dinner table. Do you know the proper way to put a spoon in your mouth? Is it:
- Open your mouth BEFORE inserting the spoon. Then close said mouth and suck in the food.
- Fill the spoon only halfway; gently insert the spoon into your mouth, avoiding a slurping sound. Or…
- A gentleman NEVER puts a spoon into his mouth. He brings it to his lips and gently tips the soup onto his palate without the spoon ever crossing the threshold of his lips. Where ARE your manners!?!
According to my father the correct answer is C. But technically there was no correct answer – because whatever I did, it would have been wrong. Because, my dear father was (how can I put it gently?) flippin’ crazy.
I have so many fond memories of those bonding moments with my dad. I even (surreptitiously) kept a list of every life skill he dadsplained to me: How to use a bottle opener; How to make toast; How to bite my tongue when he routinely insulted my intelligence. I gave my private list a snarky title: “Things My Father Taught Me.”
I feel morally obligated to pass this wisdom onto you, my readers, so that you too may prepare your children for the harsh world that awaits them.
Thank you, dad, for teaching me:
How to water a plant
How to toss something into a trash can
How to lift a suitcase
How to unpack a suitcase efficiently (I didn’t know that was a thing)
How to adjust the angle of a table lamp for optimal reading lighting
How to dry dishes
How to walk properly
How to chew food properly
How to hang a shirt on a hanger (don’t forget to button the collar button and the third button down)
How to open a shower curtain
How to fold a towel and put it on a towel rack (make sure the width at the top is the same as the bottom)
How to hold a sharp knife (this would have come in handy, had I opted to pursue a career as a mugger)
How to close a door behind me
How to buy low and sell high (I really should have paid closer attention to that lesson)
How to pour soda into a glass
How to hide the body and not leave prints (Okay, I made that one up. Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention)
How to hold the steering wheel (always at 11 and 1, never 10 & 2. My Driver’s Ed instructor was apparently a charlatan)
How to sit at a table (your back should NEVER touch the back of the chair)
How to say hello properly when answering the phone
How to dial a rotary phone (Always use your middle finger. To this day, I still use my middle finger for all sorts of situations.)
And yes, the proper position of a scotch tape dispenser when placed back in a drawer: upright.
One day, my father discovered my incriminating list hidden in my bottom dresser drawer, underneath my pajamas. Surprisingly, he did not take it as a tribute. Go figure. On that very memorable occasion, he taught me another valuable life lesson: Never hide in your pajama drawer something you don’t want your crazed father to find.
As misguided as his lessons were, I know my dad meant well. I think about that list every now and then. Occasionally, it makes me cringe slightly – usually at the moment I catch myself telling my 21-year-old daughter the proper way to hold the steering wheel.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
©Tim Jones Betsy Jones, View from the Bleachers 2017 (Betsy Jones is my sister and my editor. In fairness, she actually re-wrote most of this piece).
I had a similar experience, Tim, although my mentor was my brother. Now, knowing my brother as you do, you may think that a trifle odd, in that Steve is 11 years and 11 months younger than I am. No matter. It was Steve who taught me once and for all to not take myself so damn seriously, and to not be afraid of, well, everything. There are a very, very few things in life that deserve to be taken seriously, and the rest, as you and he know better than almost anyone, are comedy material. We leave the serious stuff to our other brother, who says almost nothing, ever, but when he does speak, it is always something truly insightful and brilliant, as if our parents hit their stride when they were raising him. Seriously!
Sounds so much like my own father that it’s scary – we could have almost been brothers!
My dad also taught me how to eat peas with a parakeet sitting on his glasses…..