Dad and I were involved in an event that made both of us nervous. I was in the front seat of our car having my first driving lesson. (We didn’t have driver education back then).
There’s a list of procedures, I suppose, that involves adjusting the rearview mirror, adjusting the seat for comfort and fastening the seatbelt. (We didn’t have those either). But none of those were on Dad’s list.
He said, “This is the brake. Now put your foot on it. I want you to know where it is because I’m not going to teach you how to start this machine unless you know how to stop it.”
I’ve never forgotten that lesson, and today I hope I’ve learned how to stop. Like when to stop talking, and just listen. When to stop whining. When to stop making excuses for my mistakes. I hope.
Years later, when Dad was much older, he put it another way. “Growing old is learning how to give up gracefully,” he said. And he followed through by giving up his car keys without complaint.
Dad was a minister, and while I listened to his sermons, the most important lessons I learned happened in real life. I knew the two commandments declaring “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness [lie].” But there were two times when I was a young girl that he made those commandments very real.
I was about 10 years old. Dad and I were waiting at the local bakery for our Saturday night loaf of warm bread to be wrapped. On the counter was a tempting tray of fresh-roasted peanuts. Being a child, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong as I helped myself to two of them. But my father reacted immediately with a stern and vocal rebuff.
Much later, after I’d turned 12, I learned another lesson from Dad. At that time, going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon cost a dime if you were under 12. Over that age, you paid 25 cents.
This was after the Great Depression, but Mom and Dad still went by “the depression mentality:” Save money whenever you can. I honestly thought I could stretch my allowance by continuing to get into the theater for a dime. I was so proud of what I’d saved that one day I told my father.
His reaction was much like the explosion at the bakery. How could I cheat the theater out of its rightful money and, in effect, lie about my age?
I’d been properly chastised once again, having believed I was innocent of any wrongdoing. And today I cannot lie (unless it’s a kind white one).
But it wasn’t always rebuke from my Dad. He taught me to “love people, not things.” He taught me to listen thoughtfully to others. He showed me how to love learning by his own example. He devoured books, and we shared some of them.
He never stopped asking important questions and searching for answers. He always stood up for what he believed, sometimes when it wasn’t popular.