Thursday, February 9, 2012

Father Knows Best

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: (You can see why we moved chat day this week--what wonderfulvisitors we've had!)

So remember that show--Father Knows Best?

When I was a kid, we lived in rural Indiana with kind of a big yard. My step-father had a riding mower, (which we lusted to drive but were not allowed to. Well, we were allowed, until I cut the front lawn into the pattern of the United States. Which I thought was cool, but my step-dad did not. But that's another story.)

We called him "Boo," because apparently when we met him, he said Boo. I was only told this, I don't really remember it.

Anyway, before he went out to mow the lawn, my sister and I were instructed to pick up all the sticks in the front yard, so they wouldn't get caught in the blades of the mower. (Or something.)

I thought that was ridiculous, and "picking up sticks" was the WORST possible chore. You had to bend over, pick up dirty sticks, lug them around, and when you were done, so what? Besides, more sticks would just fall.

But I, smart little kid, figured out how to handle it. Negotiation. I said to Boo: "How big does the stick have to be before we have to pick it up?"

Boo paused, thought about it. (He was a corporate lawyer). And finally he said, "Well, good question. If you have a concern that you might not need to pick up a stick, just bring it to me, and I'll look at it and tell you if it needs to be picked up."

I remember this very clearly. HAH! I thought. I WIN! SO I'd bring him sticks, and he'd say, yes yes yes no no. And I thought I was SO clever.

Many years later, and I remember this just as clearly, I was working in Washington DC, walking down the street, thinking about this. I stopped in my tracks. WAITAMINIT! I thought. Boo tricked me!

It had only taken me 18 years to figure it out.

It was so sweet, reading all the memories Rosemary elicited about our mothers. And interesting, too, to think how different the memories of what our fathers taught us would be.

Besides teaching me that it was okay to trick a kid--not really, Boo--my step-father was incredibly critical about how I looked. If he was unhappy with say, my skirt length, he'd say "What do you represent?"

If he was unhappy in general with what we were doing, he'd start counting. "One, two...." We somehow knew that we did NOT want him to get to "Three." In fact, we have no idea what would have happened, because he NEVER got to three.

He taught me: "Never order the Chef's surprise, because you aren't gonna like the surprise." And "You don't need to know everything--you just need to know where to find it."

What did you learn from your dad? One, two...

JAN BROGAN - When I was a teenager, especially my early teens, I was a parent's worst nightmare. Also a pathological liar. One New Years Eve when I was about fifteen, I was going to a party at a motel where about twenty-five of us rented two rooms and were spending the night. When I told my mother that was going to spend the night at "Patty's House," she said, "Oh yeah? Patty's house? Are you sure that's where you are going?" My father cut in and said, "If Janice said that's where she's going, that's where she is going. She wouldn't lie."

What I learned from that was that my father's believing in me was a far more effective tool than my mother's challenging me. Not that it stopped me from going to the new year's even party where I was lucky I wasn't the next Karen Anne Quinlan, but it did make me want to be the kind of person my father could believe in. Shortly after this, I cleaned up my act. Upgraded my friends and straightened out.

HALLIE EPHRON: My version of Jan's ploy was to tell my parents I was going to a "Young Democrat's Meeting" - they were old lefties so they were happy I was getting involved politically. They also didn't pay very close attention. I left the house put on makeup, rolled up my skirt, and...

What I was doing was meeting my boyfriend who was picking me up a few blocks away on his motorcycle which I was forbidden to ride. Those were the days before helmets. Definitely on the way to being Karen Anne.

My dad. He was complicated and told the same stories over and over and over again. If you were hearing them for the first time, they were great. What I learned from him? That the best gift you can give your kids is to love them unconditionally.

RHYS BOWEN: If my brother and I were fighting my father would say, "Don't make me take this belt off.' It was a big leather belt and we stopped instantly although he never once hit us during my whole childhood. I used to think he was horribly strict. Now I see how much he cared. He'd say, "What time will the party be over?" I'd say "eleven." He'd say I'll be outside at ten forty five. How embarrassing to have my father come for me! No chance for a boy to say goodnight even. He was also strict about what I wore. I'd come down, thinking I looked so grown up and he'd say, "Were you planning to actually go out in that?" and I'd go back upstairs and take off half the make-up and the fishnet stockings.

But he was also the one who sensed my hearts desires. One Christmas my present from my parents was my fare to Germany to be part of a friend's wedding. But it was also the year transistor radios made their appearance in England. I really wanted one, but didn't ask because a ticket to Europe was a big present. On Christmas morning I found a battery in my stocking. What on earth did I need a battery for? Then a warm feeling crept all over me... it couldn't be, could it? At the bottom of the stocking was my transistor radio. I still get a warm glow thinking about that.

Oh boy, my sweet dad just died last week so this comes at a time that I've been thinking of him a lot.

HANK: AH, Lucy...he must have been so proud of you! And you are a wonderful daughter..

LUCY BURDETTE: He LOVED having kids--never got the idea that we were a burden--we MADE his life. That sure sends a great message. He told us things by setting an example--work like a dog and then have as much fun with your family and friends as you can possibly cram in. And don't ever be afraid to speak or sing in public, even if you're short in the talent department. (I sang a barbershop tune at his memorial service with one of my sister's friends to illustrate this point!) Even though he was a shadow of his quirky, lively, cheerful self at the end, I will miss him dearly.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, my, just thinking about my dad makes me teary. I had all the growing up power struggles with my mom, but my dad--the worst thing I could ever imagine was to disappoint him. Isn't it funny how dads can do that to you? I only learned when I was grown up that he'd suffered from chronic and sometime debilitating depression for years. Maybe as a way of compensating, he was the most positive person I think I've ever known. He always thought the best of people, and his hero was Dale Carnegie, his favorite book How to Make Friends and Influence People. His favorite saying was, "Always have a smile in your voice." And he loved to sing.

Lucy, my heart goes out to you.

Rhys, I wish you had a picture of you in those fishnet stockings!

Yes, Rhys in fishnets. There's a great image! Another of Boo's sayings--when we went on a family trip, we'd pull out of the driveway in the station wagon, and before we'd gone half a block, he'd say "How do you like it so far?" And we'd all burst out laughing..

So how about you, Reds? What did your father always tell you?


  1. Oh, man, I'm crying, too. My dad was so sweet, so positive. I can still see his beaming smile of pride and love. He loved us unconditionally, even though the worst discipline you could imagine was getting a "talking to" by Daddy. It was so awful to feel you'd disappointed him. I think he was a frustrated writer, although he was an excellent high school teacher. He used to write twelve-page single-spaced typed letters. I have some of them, and the writing is lyrical. We lost him 26 years ago and I still miss him.

  2. "Everything in moderation, kid" That was my dad's big saying. He is not much of a talker; he's a loner, a quiet man. I, on the other hand, was born with a party in my mouth and a phone in my hand. We have never understood each other.

    But I understand everything in moderation. And the more I see of this big bad world, the more I understand just exactly what he meant.

    Oh if some of our leaders had only been told the same!

    Have a nice captcha today in honor of all our dads "carer"

  3. Edith, good writing must run in your family!

    Everything in moderation, kid. That's a good one! Ad very true..

    Were your fathers in charge of "chores"? Did you have an "allowance"?

  4. Chores! He'd line us up and we'd all pretend we were in the army. (This is reminding me of the stick picking-up, Hank.) We'd each get a wooden box about 18"x6"x6" and our mission would be to fill it with weeds. When we returned it, we'd salute and say, "Mission accomplished, sir!" getting a nickel for our labors (a nickel!). My little brother and I thought it was great fun. Can't vouch for my older sisters.

  5. OH, Edith..very tricky! SIgh..we really fell for it...

  6. The best thing my father--who was a lovely man, a great father, and probably (according to my mother) the best husband in history--ever said to me was, "I'd rather spend time with my kids than any of the grownups I know. My kids make more sense." He never treated us like we were stupid for being young and he always acted like we were individuals and worth listening to. Can't beat that.

  7. So weird. My original comments disappeared. Maybe it was my father messing with me from beyond the grave. I didn't have anything fabulous to say about him. Not a bad man - he did teach me to smoke Camels and fix lamps.

  8. Today would have been my father's 76th birthday. From my father I got the book gene. Something I have happily passed on to my children.

    There were two sage pieces of advice from my father: "You can put anything you want on your taxes. Just remember it is very pretty in Leavenworth in the springtime." Dad was a lawyer. He had just returned from a day at Leavenworth visiting a client. "The worst things to getting your work done are the case before and the case after the one you are looking for."

  9. I'm sorry to hear of your father's death, Roberta/Lucy. My condolences.

    My father has been gone for 20 years. He was a big, powerful, deep-voiced man with a gentle disposition. He was a heating contractor. Dirt and oil was so embedded in the cracks of his hands he couldn't scrub them clean. He loved to garden and cook. Every Sunday he cooked all the meals, to give my mother the day off.

    My parents eloped on Valentine's Day, 1942, shortly before my soldier father shipped off to war. Next Tuesday is their 70th anniversary. Mom, who is 90 and coping with Alzheimer's, still has keen memories of that day.

  10. Thank you Brenda! And sorry about your mom's disease--it's a horrible path isn't it? But so nice she still clings to the memories of eloping with your dad. My father had some kind of Alzheimer's-like dementia, but he always knew who his kids were--and recently they had called or visited!

    EJ, your father sounds like a peach!

  11. Dad was my first storyteller, and he believed in me and encouraged me to study hard to get a scholarship and be a teacher. The one thing I find myself quoting most often is "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Mom's variation was "no one gets the chance to hurt you twice," with the addition of the story of a distant relative who retrained her husband to never raise a hand to her, sewing him into a sheet and employing a cast iron skillet . . . not sure I advise that method.

  12. Can anyone explain why there were voices counting as I typed my post? . . . stopped as soon as I completed the post . . . very Twilight Zone
    . . . oh, I think I've figured it out. I must have clicked the little "assist" icon for the word verification

  13. Oh how funny... I'm going to try audio captcha. I'm Ina stakeout now, so that'll be fun!

  14. Brenda..that's such a poignant story...

    I remember when my mom and stepfather got married... My sister and I got pink pinafores for the occasion,
    but we never got to wear them--we both came down with chicken pox!

  15. Oh, pinafores. Now there's a memory. Free associating: Anyone remember dickies?

    My sister and I used to fight in the back seat, and my dad used to stop the car and threaten to dump us out at the curb. Then one time, he did it. Still remember standing out in front of the Brown Derby on Wilshire...

  16. "If you want to learn to bake a good cake, talk to your Aunt Peggy. But if you want to make the best pie, talk to your mother."

    (And I do okay with cakes, but I love making pie!)

  17. Hallie, dickies! Do you know they're back? As is typical of me and fashion, I only know because my mother told me, and made me help her find just the right one, a white collared shirt front.

  18. Oh I think I only had turtlenecks...
    How about stretchy headbands? Cardigan sweaters with grosgrain trim?

  19. My step father floundered with instant parenthood, and never learned to relate to my siblings and I. It wasn't until I became an adult that I thought of him as Dad. When I was in college and took my car into the shop for a brake job, they 'confiscated' my vehicle and told me that state law didn't allow it back on the road until it was fixed...with over $2,000 in repairs! I didn't know what to do and in desperation called my step father, hysterical. He drove all the way to the University, paid the $50 they charged him, stood up for my girl-knows-nothing-about-cars honor, and after that I realized that he had always had my back.

  20. Oh Cy, that's such a life-changing
    moment! What a great memory.. and a good lesson...
    And yes, the instant family thing is difficult...

  21. Yes, the instant family thing is the hardest of all!

    Hallie, dickies--ridiculous invention. because what if you became overheated and wanted to take off the sweater but had only that stupid little collar underneath? (Which reminds me of the days I was too lazy to iron both sides of a blouse so couldn't take the sweater off or the wrinkles would be revealed...)

    Leslie, tell me they aren't really coming back...

  22. I remember stumbling in from a New Year's Eve party while I was home on Christmas break (freshman year college). I had dried vomit on my skirt. My dad took one look at me and burst into laughter. "Don't worry, you'll learn your limits."

    Dickies? I'm still aghast the argyle socks and Topsiders are back!

  23. Oh, Edith, my dad was a frustrated writer, too. He wrote his own advertising slogans for his business and was so proud of them.

    I've always wondered what he might have done under different circumstances . . .

    But he was SO proud of me becoming a writer. There's nothing I could have done that would have given him more joy.

  24. Oh, Lucy. My sincerest condolences. My dad passed right after Christmas in 1995. I still miss him every single day. We were very close and he had utter faith in me and the worst thing I could ever do was disappoint him. He loved to read--Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, and science fiction by just about everyone. When I'd read all the books in the children's section of our small public library, he had the head librarian add my name to his card so that I could check out any book in the library.

    The day after he died, I took a stack of books he'd checked out back to the library. My name was STILL on that card.

    Besides the love of words, he taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: Always set aside some dreaming time. Every day.

    Now I'm all sniffly and teary-eyed.

  25. Dad and curfews:"I want you home at midnight and I don't mean quarter of!" Ah,Dad!

    My dad overcame growing up in an abusive situation to become a loving husband and father. He was determined that his kids would feel secure and loved. He especially did not want his daughters to find themselves in abusive relationships. I remember him telling my sisters and me that "any man who hits you does not deserve a second chance. Walk out and do not look back." Until recently, I did not realize just how awful the situation was for my dad and his family when he was growing up. I've been getting together with cousins from that side of the family and we have been sharing the stories that our parents told us; we are solving some family mysteries in the process.

    Dad would get sad, almost to the point of tears,on hearing of friends of mine whose fathers had died or were otherwise absent from their lives. One such friend told me that she thought of my dad as a substitite dad: "he's always interested in my opinions and he cares about what happens to me."

    Dad had complete confidence that HIS kids could do ANYTHING. I used to think he was overly critical but I finally realized that when he told us we could do better,it was his way of encouraging us and telling us that we were talented and smart! He had no experience with receiving compliments or encouragement from his own parents and so he didn't always know how to do it.

    One of my most cherished memories is of him telling me,when I was 29, that one of the unexpected pleasures of being a father was having his kids grow up to be the kind of people he would choose as friends. It makes me teary to type this! He died very suddenly a couple of months later and this memory helped me a lot in the early days of grieving. He was only 55.

    I was sick a lot in second grade,and my dad spent lunch breaks going to bookstores to buy books for me to read while I was recuperating.
    Reading was constantly emphasized in our house;both parents were avid readers.

    DebRomano (written in dribs throughout the day and so probably sounds choppy!)

  26. Deb Romano, it's an honor to know you! What an importsmt story-- and how generous of you to share it. It's a life- changing thing , too .. So fascinating and instructive.. Xx

  27. Silver-- let's all set aside some dreaming time..That is lovely..

  28. Oh, how I miss my dad. But Dad-isms come to mind frequently.

    "Get the facts."
    "Make a plan."
    "The answer is always 'No' until you ask."

    There are more, but these have helped me through recent difficult times, as though he were standing right beside me.

    His goofy one-sided grin when we or, later, the grandkids did something he was proud of was magic. So was "Was that a good idea? " after being naughty...instant good behavior! Mom called him a gentleman and a gentle man.


  29. Reading all your comments, I was getting teary about my own kind of pathetic, alcoholic dad, who died when I was 17. He did call me Sugar, which still gives me a warm feeling, but he also berated me for hours at a time, and was neither a good husband nor a good father. My mother was subsequently remarried, twice, and neither stepdad was especially wonderful to me, either, although they were both great husbands to her.

    Then I realized I actually have had three amazing fathers in my life, although none of them were related to me. My first husband's parents were divorced and remarried to other people, and both of the husbands were like fathers to me, especially his real dad. When he died we had been divorced for decades, but going to the funeral was a must. I had made it a point to stay in touch with them all those year. His best advice was when I was nervously--at age 20--preparing for my first driver's test. He said, "Stay in your own lane, and watch out for the other guy." I think of that all the time, and shared it with my own kids when they were learning.

    But the best dad of all was my dear father-in-law, dad to my husband of now 30 years. He just passed away, at 93, a few years ago, but up until then he was a solid presence in our lives. We live just a mile from their home, and at least every Sunday he was here for most of our kids' growing up years.

    Karl was my biggest fan, and my self-appointed protector. He "saved" me from the snake in the basement (eeek!), and made it a point to be at every one of the girls' basketball games. When I was overwhelmed by having two active little girls and a husband who traveled six months of the year, he said "Enjoy it now. Before you know it the years will have gone by in a blink, and you'll wish they were back." He was absolutely right. I still miss him.

  30. My father never told me anything except to make comments about life choices.
    He nixed my aspiration to be a nightclub singer and a teacher.
    He thought nightclubs would not suit me and he thought I lacked the patience to teach.
    Looking back I knew that I wanted to emulate Doris Day or Dinah Shore but I did not want to give them any competition..LOL.

  31. My Dad always told us one should not judge people based on race or religion, as good and bad exists in all groups. Being an Asian in an all white neighborhood, my siblings and I grew up hearing racial slurs all the time.

  32. I have to say, this day has turned out to feel different than I expected. Ve-ry intersting, and quite wonderful. These stories are so--heart-warming.

    And I wonder how our fathers would feel, reading them?

    NOTE to: "The viking or the celt". Could you email me again with your info? h ryan at whdh dot com)

  33. Hank, I do remember Father Knows Best. It gave me hope.

    When I was a teenager and left Boston for Los Angeles, I used to hang out at The Farmers' Market on Fairfax. One day I went to look at the puppies in the display kiosk by the pet shop. While I was standing there a man walked up to look at the puppies. He looked at me as I turned to look at him. We both smiled, and I saw that it was Robert Young. It became a fatherly memory for me that I hold onto, still.

  34. What a lovely post and comments! My birth father was a sociopath, so the young years were very bad. When I was fourteen (the oldest of 6 kids), my mother married my stepfather. Talk about "instant family"! Make it "instant wounded family." In a few years, though, I had come to call him "Dad." He was my children's grandfather, and he adored them. My mother died young, and he lived on for almost two decades. Though none of us lived in that town any longer, we kids took care of him right up to the end, and he died with my sister and I holding him and the brothers arrayed around his bed.

    I once wrote in a poem about him:
    ...the man
    who earned his “Dad” the hard way
    from suspicious kids...

  35. Reine..what a great story! So funny...

    And LInda, the poem. Sigh. Was that a long time ago? Such a lot of emotion and skill...

    Again, this day has turned out to be so unexpectedly wonderful! Thank you!

    Tomoorrow--an author you may not know..but will love! And a question you should answer--to win a free book.

  36. Hank, it's been over 15 years since Dad died. He never got to see any of my books, and they would have made him so proud and happy.

    It's been teary-eyed time reading everyone's memorials and remembering. xoxoxo