Lessons from Dad

By Caitlin Kelly

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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.

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A scene from Dr. Zhivago, a film we saw together

 

Some of the lessons I learned:

 

Kick ass!

 

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.

Here’s his Wikipedia entry.

 

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.

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The view from our cottage rental in Donegal, June 2015 — visited my great-grandfather’s one-room schoolhouse in Rathmullan

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.

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Paris

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.

 

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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.

 

Insatiable curiosity

 

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?

 

What lessons are you sharing with your children?

For Father's Day — My Dad's 13 Gifts

My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad
Image via Wikipedia

He turned 81 this month, an age he never thought he’d see — his Dad died at 59, so he spent his life until then fearful he might not outlive him.

He’s healthy as a horse, his arthritic hip much less painful than mine, bicycles every day, takes long walks with the dog.

He’s not big on giving gifts, but here are some of them:

Badges from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He went there to make a documentary and I became aware of the Olympics and Japan, at an early age. He gave the gift of curiosity about the world.

A pair of elbow-length sealksin mitts, again from a filming trip to the Arctic. And a caribou rug, sadly untanned so it shed like mad all over my teenage bedroom. The gift of wondering about entire swaths of my enormous country.

An Afghan rifle case, from another overseas trip. How many girls had that? It sparked my love of textiles, something I’ve been collecting for years.

A drive from Toronto to Vancouver, dipping into North and South Dakota along the way to visit Indian pow-wows; he filmed, I drew and painted. We set up our tent wherever he chose, sometimes in the middle of a farmer’s field. Those are some long drives. I think we played 20 Questions about 1,000,000 times. I love road trips!

Teaching me to ski, skate, play squash and badminton and remaining active his whole life. I’ve been athletic since childhood, and hope to remain so as long as possible.

When he had a house in Ireland, we went out for long walks, picking wild watercress from the creeks and mussels from Galway Bay, which we went home and ate for dinner. Bounty is all around us if we look for it.

He has always galloped off into the world, and still does, with unquenched eagerness to explore. A passport and the means to use it is a lifelong ticket to adventures and friends we have yet to meet. Get out there!

Teaching me – inadvertently — to stand up for myself, after I flew to France on his dime when I was 20 and we had a huge fight and I walked out and went home early. We have fought bitterly over the years, but he was no tougher than some of my bosses along the way. Man up, darlin’!

The end of the day means a single-malt Scotch or a great glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn. Pleasures come in a wide price range.

He’s always driven fun, used cars, today a black Jag. Enjoy life, affordably.

We love to prowl antiques fairs, flea markets and auctions in search of treasures. We once stood, ravenous, outside a Wilmington, NC diner — with an antiques store next to it. We had to force ourselves to eat first. Have a passion. Appreciate the beauty and utility of objects designed and made 100, 200 or 2,000 years ago but use and enjoy them. (I use the sterling silver soup ladle he gave me for measuring pancake batter.)

Growing up, watching him — as he still does today — create art in a wide array of media: silver, oil, etching, engraving, lithograph, his studio forever littered with canvases in various states of completion. Creativity comes from within, not just something you have to go out and buy. It can also bring you into community; at his 80th. , I met the much younger man who taught Dad how to work with silver.

I left home at 19, to live alone and put myself through university. He’s never given me a penny and it was always very clear I would never have the option of moving back home. No matter how much I resented it, and have struggled with debt or low income, it taught me self-reliance.


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A Woman's Toughest Relationship? The One With Her Dad

Dad and daughter
Image by Peter Werkman via Flickr

Interesting piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how adult women stumble when trying to communicate with their fathers:

When Jennifer Wallace realized her marriage was over, the very first person she called was her mother. During that initial conversation—and each morning for weeks afterward as she drove to work—she poured her heart out about her anger, embarrassment and despair.

But it wasn’t until four years later (long after she had divorced, changed jobs and remarried) that she talked about the experience with her father.

In a lifetime of difficult male-female conversations, some of the toughest, surprisingly, can be the ones between fathers and adult daughters—especially when there is a problem in the daughter’s life.

Ms. Wallace, 29, an executive and personal assistant in Los Angeles, says she always knew her father loved her dearly. When she was growing up, he praised her often, ate dinner with her each night and attended every track meet, play and debate team event she participated in. These days, he is her go-to person for career advice.

Yet at the time of her divorce, she and her dad had never discussed personal problems—hers or his—and she found it impossible to bring up such a sensitive topic with him. “I felt that he would have been deeply, deeply sad,” says Ms. Wallace. “And I felt that he wouldn’t know what to do with me.”

Her dad says she is right: “I needed to protect my princess, but I failed,” says Bruce Wray, 58, a marketing manager for a bar-code company in St. Paul, Minn. “I wasn’t there being Prince Valiant, preventing her mistake.”

Why is it so hard for a grown woman to bare herself emotionally to a man she’s loved all her life? And why would a man have trouble discussing something sensitive with a woman he helped raise?

I often post on stories, and issues, that hit a chord for me personally — and this one did. It was too funny, the phone ringing with an unfamiliar number as I was reading that article.

It was my Dad calling from London, where he’s on vacation, to and from Spain. No big deal for many people, but my Dad and I went many years not talking at all, angry and bitter and frustrated. We’re both stubborn, determined and have a complicated enough family as it is, with 3 step-siblings and my late step-mother, with whom my dealings were often very strained.

So it was great to hear from him and to get the emailed photo of him with a candle-lit cupcake — he celebrated his 81st. birthday in London with his new partner.

I was hit hard by the lede of the Journal story, as I went to Ireland to visit my Dad about two months after my husband walked out of our very brief marriage, and Dad said some things I won’t ever forget and had to work hard to forgive, but I think it’s also because he has always had high hopes, if not expectations, for me and what I will accomplish and achieve. I like that he sets the bar high, for himself and others, but am also really glad it’s come down a few notches over the years. It had to!

I also know that my Dad’s Dad (who I never met) was pretty tough and frosty, and he comes from a generation of men (maybe all generations?) that wasn’t big on expressing feelings, let alone tender, private or emotional ones. So I’ve grown up in this style as well. We rarely, if ever, say “I love you” — but our actions show it, and that’s how I prefer it. At his 80th. birthday celebration last year I made a short speech and thanked him publicly for what he’d taught me: to embrace the world as a place full of adventure and possibility, to be confident, and to want to tell stories, as he did through his films.

Better to say it aloud now than at a funeral or memorial service.

How is your relationship with your adult daughter? Or with your Dad?