DAD STORIES: memories of a man who got it right


(photo by Bethany Small)

Back when I was high school during the now-vintage era of the 70’s, computers were monstrous machines. They were housed in massive buildings, attended by men in white lab coats and thick glasses. No home computers, no laptops.

As students, we wrote our essays and term papers on typewriters— the electric kind if we were lucky.  Usually by hand first, then plucked out laboriously on the machine, slow and careful lest we hit the wrong key, leaving a permanent imprint on the perfect white paper.  Most teachers allowed no more than 3 errors per page.

My dad allowed no errors. A typo was a mistake. Why wouldn’t I aim for perfection?

Dad was not normally a tyrant, but he knew me well. Papers were my ticket to the grades he knew I could get but wouldn’t if I didn’t use my strengths. And tests were not my strength. My befuddled mind just wouldn’t grasp such unimportant details as dates— Was that signed in 1776? Or was it 1667?

But assign me to write a story about what life may have been like back whenever-it-was, and I’d bump those grades back up to where they belonged.

How many hormonal implosions did I unleash on poor dad when he red-marked my papers? And believe me, I could implode with the best of them! Drama and you-don’t-love-me and no-one-else’s-parents-torment-their-kids-like-this!

But nothing moved the man.  Instead, he calmly waited out the storm and told me, Good job, you’re getting it. Now do it again. 

And so I did. Until I got it right. Until it was good-grade worthy and I could hand it back to my dad to see his smile and that slightest nod that meant more than my name in lights.

Stretch back a few more years. We lived in Germany, in a small hamlet surrounded by fields and forests. A magical place. Dreamer that I was (and am) I remember all the wild and wonderful imaginings as I stared out my bedroom window at the castle one town away.

But on Saturdays I had to unstick my head from the clouds and do chores. Dusting, emptying garbage, wiping windows and cleaning the car— a tiny Opel sedan that carted our family of five all over Europe during the days we lived there.

Back then cars had windows that locked by pushing a small lever that looked like a golf ball tee. But when ten-year-old hands washed the inside of the Opel’s windows, that tee inevitably got in the way, leaving fingerprints unwiped. And Dad just marched me back to do it again. After all, he’d paid a whole dime for the job!

And do you know what? I still get in the corners. And I still proofread and correct over and over again, wanting to get it right, all the way right.

Because my dad taught me that details make the difference. Whether writing a paper or a book, or washing windows or making friends— details matter.

Was Dad picky? Yeah, a little.

Was Dad unreasonable? Never.

Did I respond well to his insistence on doing things well and right? Uh… hardly ever.

Am I glad he did? Absolutely! So very thankful that he instilled in me a sense of honor about work and pride in doing it well.

And do you know what? I really don’t think that Dad cared all that much about finger smudges on windows. I doubt he enjoyed reading my clunky papers about dinosaurs or the history of the printing press.

I think he just cared about me. He loved me enough to uproot my natural laziness and make me uncomfortable with less-than.

He wanted me to know the satisfaction of a job well done, of life done well.

And he was willing to do what he needed to until I got it right all on my own.

Thank-you Dad, I’m so glad you did.

From my heart,


Six Things My Dad Got Right:

  1. He had values of his own that he determined to instill in me.
  2. He was nice (mostly) about it.
  3. He didn’t let my whining and wailing cause him to slack off.
  4. He taught me to focus on my strengths.
  5. He told me what my strengths were— out loud and often.
  6. He kept at it even when his job demanded his attention.

P.S. Right now my dad is very, very ill. Would you pray with me for him? I leave in a few days to go to be with my parents at their home in the Sierras. Knowing you're praying would make all the difference to me. And if these Dad Stories have helped, will you leave a comment? It would bring me great  joy to bring him stories of how his own story is influencing yours.Thank you.

You can see previous DAD STORIES here.