Things My Father Taught Me (by accident)

My dad taught me a lot of things on purpose–of all the roles fathers play, I think the role of teacher was the one he was most comfortable in. But he also taught me a lot of lessons that I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize he was giving at the time. Here is a partial list:

Intellectual, financial, and spiritual privileges are unearned, unfairly distributed, and they don’t tell you anything about a person’s moral worth. My father speaks to children, students, restaurant servers, flight attendants, university presidents, cashiers, mechanics, fast food employees and everyone else in exactly the same register. This often results in baffled stares (because he is a physics professor and polymath and even very smart people do a lot of nodding and smiling and pretending they understand around him), but it taught me something profound about the inherent dignity and worthiness of all human beings.

Beauty and excellence are not merely matters of taste. One may enjoy inferior art and literature, and that is fine, but there are deeper pleasures to be found on the far side of serious effort to understand demanding and difficult works.

“I don’t know” is the best answer to most questions. “I don’t know. I wonder if we can find out” is an invitation to adventure and friendship of the highest order. Certainty closes doors; don’t miss lovely things for fear of a little draft.

Edit. Say and do everything as simply as possible.

Being the smartest person in the room is boring. Always try to be with people who know more than you do. (This is much easier for me than it is for him!) Conversation is not competition; learn something!

You don’t ever get good enough to be able to quit practicing scales or memorizing basic facts and equations.

5 am is a good time to get up.

Choosing beautiful words makes your thoughts more elegant. Using exactly the right word when only one word will do makes the universe sing.

When in doubt, trouble, or distress, play Bach.

Thanks, dad. I love you.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Cheers to your dad! Judging from the evidence of you, he clearly did something right…

  2. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing part of him with us.

  3. MDearest says:

    I learned about the inherent dignity of all people from my dad too. Over and over. Still learning that, even though my dad’s long since passed away.

    The Bach is lovely. When I miss my dad, I listen to his preferred music, but it isn’t Bach. (Statler Bros)

  4. Now I picture your dad as Glenn Gould.

  5. Beautiful.

  6. fishiefishies says:

    I’m with him in everything except the 5 a.m. wake-up time. Some of us are nocturnal, henceforth and forever amen and amen, and that’s OK. ;-)

  7. Andrea J says:

    One of my favorite parts of church is the moment I realize R. Haglund is about to speak in Sunday School.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Splendid.

  9. My only small quibble is that I think spiritual privileges can be earned by righteous obedience to God’s commandments.

  10. Excellent ideas and advice!

  11. So good. Real wisdom here.

  12. Kristine says:

    Janie–I agree, sometimes. But I know enough obedient and wonderful people who have implored the heavens and found them closed to suspect that the correlation between obedience and the granting of (discernible) spiritual rewards is murky, at best.

  13. I’m not sure of the definition of “spiritual privileges.” I do think that spiritual gifts are unearned and unevenly distributed, however. Rewards? They may not always take the form we think.

    During my mission, we had a visit from a Seventy in the Area Presidency who told us, at a zone conference, that if we didn’t give everything we had during the mission, “the Lord would never trust us again.” (That’s a direct quote.) To coin a phrase, “Never did any [statement] come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.” I was a convert; I had been a member for 13 months before departing on a mission; I was about halfway through when this happened; I was not the most diligent missionary in Italy. It took me years to recover from this simple statement.

    And it looked like it came true. I’ve always been a leader – at school, at work, at home, everywhere but church. Never been in an EQ presidency or a bishopric. Maybe He really didn’t think I could handle it. But I have been a secretary and clerk, and I’ve seen how callings are extended, and it has precious little to do with angels appearing to bishops with names carved on stone tablets. It has a lot more to do with whether your bishopric trusts you than whether the Lord does, frankly. I’m not denying the power of inspiration, but it’s not a seer-stone revelatory process.

    Finally, I’ve come to think of it like this: The Lord has trusted me with my own life, an amazing wife (and trusted me to her), and five of his choicest children to raise. Never trust me again? What responsibility, what spiritual privilege or church office or “high and holy calling” could he give me that would be more indicative of his trust than those things? And I am humbled by how well they’re all turning out. I am greatly blessed.

    It seems that you have been blessed, as well. I hope my kids are learning some of the same things from me that you learned from your father.

  14. “Choosing beautiful words makes your thoughts more elegant. Using exactly the right word when only one word will do makes the universe sing.”
    For all those times conversation stopped as I thought of just the right word to say. Not the one that is close enough, but the word that precisely conveys what’s inside my head. I hear you.

  15. “Intellectual, financial, and spiritual privileges are unearned, unfairly distributed, and they don’t tell you anything about a person’s moral worth. My father speaks to children, students, restaurant servers, flight attendants, university presidents, cashiers, mechanics, fast food employees and everyone else in exactly the same register. This often results in baffled stares (because he is a physics professor and polymath and even very smart people do a lot of nodding and smiling and pretending they understand around him), but it taught me something profound about the inherent dignity and worthiness of all human beings”

    Lovely. This is a Christlike attribute that we should all endeavor to achieve.

  16. I really like this, Kristine, especially the part Marc pulled out. Thanks for posting!

  17. That’s my favorite part too. I wish I were setting that example for my kids. Maybe it’s time to start.

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