Ten Things I Learned From My Father

This is a men’s style blog, but in light of Father’s Day I thought I would expand my usual subject radius to include a few stories from my past. I know that some guys count their father as a style icon; that’s certainly not the case for me, but I have learned many important lessons from the day-to-day actions of my dad. Given blogger’s affinity for lists (and my penchant for grouping things in tens), here is a list of ten things I never would have learned without him.

1. You’re not defined by the things you own.

When I was in college and preparing to enter the “real world” my dad told me something that really stuck with me:

“There are two ways to get by in life – one is to have plenty of money, and the other is to not need a lot of things.”

My father spent a decade of his life isolated from the rest of the world and with almost no posessions – he lived in a tiny cabin (that he built), deep in the forest, while working part-time for the forest service. It’s hard to imagine living like that, but a few good books, firewood, and a 50 lb. bag of lentils was all he really needed. To him, everything else was (and is) a bonus. To this day, when I become frustrated with my inability to afford the coolest menswear toys, the absurd cost of rent in this city, or my inability to keep up with the incredible spending of the people of San Francisco, I remember this and think of how lucky I am to be here in the first place.

2. There’s no hurry to make up your mind.

My dad didn’t start his career until his mid-forties. Before that, he dabbled in many professions – forest firefighter, mailman, writer, carpenter, engineer, and more. Each of these experiences has added to his complex character and has played a role in preparing him for the next step. As a kid, I assumed this was normal; it wasn’t until later that I realized most people are more direct when it comes to careers. These days, there is a lot of pressure on kids to get into a good college, pick a major, and then get a job; I was lucky to learn early on that less linear career paths were just as viable. 

3. Read and write every day.

My dad has always been a voracious reader and writer. When I was a kid I would sit on his lap while he typed away on an ancient computer; I didn’t have a strong understanding of what exactly he was doing until many years later when I realized he had been writing a book. Although it is unlikely that I will ever become a published author like he has, I’ve still come to appreciate the importance of reading and writing on a regular basis. It’s good for your brain and for your vocabulary (and it’s one of the reasons I started this blog).

4. Don’t let the sun catch you sleeping. 

As long as I can remember, my father has woken up around 5 am. Sometimes he would work, sometimes he would exercise, sometimes he would just sit in his chair with a cup of tea. Whatever the reason, he always made a point of being awake and spending a bit of time alone before the day inevitably caught up with him. Although it has been a struggle for me to maintain this habit at times, I have long since discovered that time for yourself in the early morning will do wonders for your mood, productivity, and well-being.

5. Be Handy.

Perhaps it is due to my father’s zig-zaggy life story, or perhaps it is just a trait of all dads everywhere, but I am constantly amazed at the amount of things that he can do. Whether it’s repairing a car, roofing a house, cutting down a tree, or carving a turkey, it seems that he is full of crucial life skills. I spent a lot of time in college reading and writing about how things work in the world, but I’ve slowly come to realize that although being book smart is good, being life-smart is better.

6. Go Outside.

I was lucky enough to grow up in in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where there are endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. For a mountain man like my dad, getting out of town and exploring the wilderness was not an optional activity for our family. Because of this, I spent much of my youth running down trails, rafting rivers, and summiting mountains. Looking back, I’ve come to appreciate the huge effect it had on my childhood and on the adult I became. Nature is a beautiful thing – go experience it. Go backpacking, rafting, biking, or whatever it takes to spend some time away from the mayhem of your daily life. 

7. Eat your Vegetables.

Although it sounds like a West Coast stereotype, I actually grew up in a predominantly vegetarian household. I’ve never been a vegetarian myself, but I was lucky to have learned the importance of eating well at a young age, rather than as an unfortunate discovery later in life. Learning to cook for myself and understanding the core concepts of nutrition was one of the best things I learned as a kid. It only took a few months of greasy college dining halls to show me that a good diet and active lifestyle really are the foundation for a strong body and sharp mind.

8. Travel while you’re young.

When my dad was living in the woods and working for the forest service he would spend part of every year abroad. His trips weren’t glamorous, but they kept his horizons broad even when he was living alone in the Oregon woods. The photos of his globetrotting adventures have continually reminded me that the world is a big place, and that I need to get out there and see as much as possible.

9. Always have a hobby.

It should come as no surprise that I come from a long line of tinkerers, dabblers, and otherwise curious minds that put great value in breadth of knowledge. My dad in particular is a textbook example of a generalist; he  has always had an activity or two on the side that complemented his work, whether it was gardening while he was writing, writing while he was building cabinets, or remodeling the kitchen while working as an engineer. I have taken this type of learning to heart, and always try to balance my life with a variety of activities that keep me well-rounded.

10. Smile. 

Nobody likes a grouch. Add some happiness to the world.