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.
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.