Things My Father Taught Me

by vernsanders on August 7, 2012

Yes…I know…mom and apple pie title…


I did a blog post last Friday on what would have been my dad’s 105th birthday, and it got me to thinking, so I’m going to talk about some things that he taught me over the course of the rest of this month.

First, though, I want to talk about the word “taught” in the title. I don’t remember my dad ever sitting down with me and saying “”Listen up…you need to learn this…” He taught by his life example, and a lot of the things on my list are things that were just clear in how he went about living.

I “learned something new every day” I spent with my dad, particularly as I got older and started paying more attention. But at the same time, I am very aware of things that I learned early, because that’s just how things were.

And perhaps the most important thing I learned from him was that the human condition should include intentional learning every day. I don’t ever remember either of my parents asking me what my grades were, or how I was doing in school. Instead, the question was always: “What did you learn in school today?”

I think there is a huge linguistic paradigm shift between those two alternatives. One emphasizes “reward” while the other develops character and personality. It became my standard mantra whenever I talked with my daughter about school, and it got to the point where it was almost a running gag by the time she got to college. “Nothing!” she’d say from time to time. My reply was almost always: “and what did you learn from that?” Then we got to talk about things like why bad teaching was ultimately a FAIL, and what you could do about it.

My dad left school in the 8th grade to support his family. There aren’t many of those stories in the US anymore. But he never stopped learning. He was always reading something, and he tended to ask open-ended questions in conversation (this was pre-internet — after he got connected he was never satisfied with how slow his dial up was…and if he was alive right now, he’d be on google all day…). When he got into his late 70s and early 80s he began an extensive genealogical research project. I think that’s common, but he researched his family, my mother’s family, my mother’s parents’ family, and back further as well. In the process he uncovered not just family trees, but stories… and those stories serve to connect me with long since passed family on two continents.

Some time along about when he started the genealogy, it led him to a research project on the First West Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War. He figured out that nobody had written a history of this outfit — which had quite a storied time of it during that war — so he started to write one. To this day I regret not making the time to finish it with him, and since his passing. One of these days…

As he grew older, the books he read got thicker, and deeper. I asked him once, when he was about 90 or so, why that was so. He told me he didn’t have time, given his age, to read anything that didn’t expand his knowledge.

And isn’t that, in its own way, a great leadership strategy?

How about you? What are you reading right now? What did you learn today?

Please leave a comment and let me know.

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