By Caitlin Kelly
Today is Father’s Day.
Some of you are fathers. Some wish to become one. Some of you love yours deeply, while others, like me, sometimes have strained and challenging relationships with theirs.
I spent much of my childhood, after my parents split up, between boarding school and summer camp. Even though his apartment building was, literally, across the street from my school, custody arrangements made it difficult to see him — and he traveled the world as a film director.
So the time I did get to spend with him was rare. I moved in with him and his girlfriend, later wife, when I was 14.5, and lived there until I was 19.
Those were our best years:
We played sports: badminton, squash, skiing, and went for long walks in the country, giving me a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors and for being athletic and active.
We played Scrabble almost every evening, with Jack the cat usually stepping right into all our carefully placed tiles.
We drove across Canada, sleeping in a tent, with a few stopovers in North and South Dakota where we attended several native American pow-wows. At night, they placed food at the door of our tent, a welcome gesture.
We drove and drove and drove and drove — Canada is enormous and we had started in Toronto.
I left home at 19 and never moved back. He recently turned 87 and is still in very good health.
A scene from Dr. Zhivago, a film we saw together
Some of the lessons I learned:
He was always eager to rattle the cage of received wisdom, challenging every source of authority, and his films, mostly documentaries, but one film for Disney and several television news series, reflected that.
Be excellent, always
Life is short and wasting it producing mediocre bullshit is a terrible choice. It is, always, a choice.
Be frugal — but enjoy life
He’s always owned used (nice!) cars and spent his money on good food, travel, art. I’ve adopted his ways and enjoy my life as a result. I treasure my many memories and love looking at the the objects, photos and souvenirs I’ve collected over the decades.
Figure out your finances
He never gave me a dime for college or birthdays or graduation. Just not his style. So, from an early age, (and, luckily, I did inherit some money from my maternal grandmother), it was all up to me to figure out how to budget, what to buy and when and why, how to save and invest and not go broke, even in the toughest of freelance years.
A great lesson, even when difficult to manage.
You can indeed earn a living as a creative professional
This is likely the most essential of all, in a culture that both reveres the “artist” and all too often dooms him or her to penury and frustration. We had cotton years and cashmere years, some that were wealthier and some that were less so. But we never lost our home or felt terrified that was likely.
The world is filled with wonders
He returned from his work travels — long before cell phones or the Internet, so a month of silence — bearing odd bits of the world I’d never see anywhere else: Inuit sealskin gloves, a caribou-skin rug, a woven Afghan rifle case, badges from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. There was an extraordinary world out there waiting for me to get into it, explore it and tell my own stories about it.
Women can do anything
I graduated high school at the height of second-wave feminism, and thank heaven for that! It never — then or since — occurred to me that women should or could accomplish any less than their male competitors.
It’s how I earn my living, as a freelance journalist for The New York Times, author of two non-fiction books and world traveler. The world is bursting with untold stories.
His bookshelves, like mine, include art, history, biography, memoir, design.
Stay competitive, always
Pretty counter-intuitive lesson for a teenage girl, but also key to my ongoing success in the super-competitive world of publishing and journalism. If you have a great idea, keep it close to your vest, then sell it to the highest bidder.
Here’s my Reuters Money story this week about the best financial advice some well-known people got from their Dads.
I especially like this one:
Dara Richardson-Heron, MD
CEO, YWCA U.S.A.
“My Dad, father of four girls, made it clear to each of us that we should never be limited in any way by our race or gender, particularly true as it related to receiving equal pay for equal work. That’s why I’m so fortunate he was ahead of his time and also very intentional about discussing the tremendous importance of pay equity. Because of his advice and guidance, I am on a mission every day to use my skills, experience, and expertise to help all women achieve economic empowerment and equity.”
What did your father teach you?