Wisdom from my Dad

16 June 2017

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I think my parents were and are really good at parenting. I haven’t figured out all of their secrets (yet), but one key seems to be consistency.

My Dad, in particular, had a number of phrases that were on repeat throughout my first 18 years — if I’ve heard them once, truly, I’ve heard them a thousand times. They have shaped the kind of person I am, and will undoubtedly be issuing from my lips a thousand times in the next 18 years as John and I do our best to raise our children. I wanted to share a few of them with you today, in honor of Father’s Day.

Kate and Kim, repeat along with me…

Meredith Perdue

If you’re going to give, give graciously. Let’s start with a particularly hard one to learn :) This meant that it wasn’t enough to simply shove a coloring book across the table at my sister if I begrudgingly agreed to relinquish it; no, I was supposed to politely place it in her hands, ideally with a smile. No bare minimum shortcuts at the Ayer household, much to our dismay while growing up. My Dad taught (and still teaches) me so much about going the extra mile AND doing it with your heart in the right place.

You might not have meant to, but you didn’t try hard enough not to. Again with the heart focus. This phrase would be employed when I’d, perhaps, knock my sister over as I ran past her, then whine, “but I didn’t meeeeeean to” when told to apologize. Again, we weren’t allowed to take the easy out.

Life isn’t fair and You can’t always get what you want. (The latter, usually sung to the tune of the Rolling Stones.) I was under no illusions growing up that everything was always going to go my way. Somehow, my parents were able to balance this blunt reality with a sense of possibility and hope, but I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to be crushed by the realization that the world wasn’t going to bend to my will, because I was reminded of it early and often.

Photo by Tanja Lippert

Steps are our friends. Way before FitBits and Apple Watches became commonplace, my Dad cheerfully expounded on the benefits of getting our bodies moving. He can often be found standing instead of sitting while reading, he’ll never miss a chance to accompany someone on a walk, and it was no surprise to any of us when he rigged himself a standing desk at work. With the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle becoming more and more clear, my Dad was definitely ahead of his time on this one.

Pleases and thank yous aren’t rationed. Simple enough. This was an extremely common catchall reminder that it’s hard to overdo it on politeness and kindness.

Don’t be overly fastidious. As the father of three girls, this was my Dad’s main offensive against raising a gaggle of “girly girls.” We were taught to be unafraid of mud, comfortable with sweat, capable of taking out the trash, and unlikely to leap to the top of a chair when a bug was spotted in the room.

Photo by Nancy Ray

Two wrongs don’t make a right. I bet this is a familiar one to many of you! My Dad always encouraged us to take the high road, to hold to our standards even when others weren’t holding to theirs. This was the basis of integrity in our family.

That’s the price you pay for an active childhood. This was my Dad’s favorite phrase when we came in sniffling from skinned knees. While we crawled up in his lap to be comforted, he was gently reminding us that a few bumps and bruises were a small price to pay for the glory of a childhood spent wild and free in the great outdoors.

Everything in moderation. Longtime readers will know that this is a life maxim of my Dad’s that I have latched onto hook, line, and sinker (mentioned here and here, for starters). In eating habits, in paying off debt, in establishing traditions — pretty much in everything besides my faith — I think it’s healthier, more sustainable, and more enjoyable to stick to a middle road than lurch to an extreme.

There’s nothing like a good Dad, and I’m so glad I have mine. I love you, Dad!!

Friends, I would LOVE to hear: what common phrases did your parents repeat throughout your childhood that have stuck with you?

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June 16, 2017 7:19 am

Oh, so many gems!! Unsurprisingly, my dad has a few as well :) My favorites are:
– “Be smart, be athletic!” (Every day as we left for school, with “be brilliant” added when I started working)
– “Still in the fight!” (To encourage us to pick ourselves back up when we were down, or have a good attitude about something that was hard)

June 19, 2017 8:18 am
Reply to  Em

I certainly am, though I do recall a certain cockroach incident that neither of us was very proactive about, ha!

June 16, 2017 9:49 am

This post is right up there with the most recent Marvelous Mama post – so many wonderful pieces of wisdom! Your parents are exceptional people, Emily. Thank you for sharing bits and pieces of them on this blog!

June 16, 2017 10:30 am

“Life isn’t fair” was a frequent one from my dad as well! What sticks out to me the most though was how he really instilled financial savvy into his each of his three daughters. From an early age, we were taught to save, to invest, and to live below our means. If we commented that “so and so has a big house/ new car/ fancy vacation, they must be wealthy”, my Dad would ALWAYS say “Having a big house doesn’t mean you’re wealthy- it means you spent a lot of money on a house.” I rolled my eyes back then, but OMG if this isn’t the truest thing ever! Both my mom and dad also emphasized that while we should pursue satisfying and interesting careers, we should be sure that we could independently provide for the lifestyle we wanted, without any help from a man. I’m so grateful for these early lessons!!

June 16, 2017 12:34 pm

love this! my dad has so many, but my favorite for sure is: “how do you eat an elephant? one bite at a time.” i think of this SO often. my dad has always been so reassuring when things feel overwhelming or we’ve got something big on the horizon. it’s very much a one-day-at-a-time mentality which i fully take to heart. :)

June 16, 2017 1:03 pm

One of my Dad’s most common used phrases is “You’ve got more time than money.” He would say it most when we were driving to remind us not to be impatient and be reckless drivers. It’s better to wait than to suffer the consequences of making bad decisions. I think of it often, but apparently I also mutter it under my breath whenever I’m trying to turn left out of our neighborhood onto the busy main road, haha!

June 16, 2017 9:03 pm

Love this! I remember when your dad used to call me “EJ” to differentiate us, hehehe.

One of my dad’s saying was “it’s a sinch by the inch – but it’s hard by the yard.” He always said this with a sort of German-ish accent… haha! But I love it because it’s all about avoiding the hardships of procrastination. I think it helped teach me time management ?

June 16, 2017 9:22 pm

I knew I loved your parents, but this post really seals the deal!! So much great wisdom here that I want to steal. :) Thanks for sharing.

June 17, 2017 12:31 pm

Great words of wisdom! I especially love “That’s the price you pay for an active childhood,” especially after my son received stitches twice this month. ? Great post!

June 17, 2017 3:58 pm

As a total Daddy’s girl, this post really resonates with me. My Dad’s greatest pearls of wisdom, handed out on a regular basis are ‘your best is always good enough’ (before every exam, interview or now, important meeting or court appearance) and ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

June 17, 2017 10:26 pm

My Dad always said “Can’t never did a thing”.

He was always pushing and encouraging us to do our very best in everything we did or tried to do.

June 19, 2017 7:19 pm

Many of the same things my parents instilled in myself and my siblings. Your Mom and I grew up in the same town, (the same church!) so we learned many of the same values and lessons, as did many of our friends. So happy to see that you are passing them along!

June 19, 2017 9:50 pm

Your father, my cousin (like you are too), is a wise man.

June 28, 2017 12:59 pm

One of my favorite memories is shopping with Ethan when that Rolling Stones song came on. He was about three. When the chorus played, he said, “Mom, you say that all the time!”