#1 Lesson From Dad

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My father spent a lot of time in silence. As a farmer he worked many long days alone in his International tractor cab, plowing, sowing, and reaping in the fields.

Before I was old enough to start school, I spent many hours with him there. Our family couldn’t afford childcare and so my dad was in charge of babysitting while mom went to work as a receptionist at a local factory. 

I sat for hours each day sandwiched between the tractor seat and the window of the cab. Dad and I would go up and down the field, in silence, tilling the rich Canadian soil. He drove. I sat and watched – and complained. We’d go for hours until inevitably a plow blade would strike a rock and break, bringing forth a blue stream of curse words from his mouth.

Out he’d get, and I would follow, slowly but surely stepping down the rickety old steps that separated little old me from the ground eight feet below. I’d stand there, relatively useless, as my father would hammer, ratchet, and wrench his way to a fixed plow, and then we’d be off again, in silence.

Some days we’d drive the old yellow tractor and loader. I forget the exact model, but it had no cab. We’d ride out into the hay field and collect a big round bale to be brought back for the cattle’s bedding in the barn.

This is where I learned to hang on for dear life, literally. The only thing that separated me from slipping between the tractor’s seat and falling off the back of the tractor, and thus under the 600-pound wheels, was the strength of my wee little four-year old arms. Not a summer would go by that you didn’t hear a radio report of some similar child getting crushed under a tractor tire. There but for the grace of God, go I, you might say.

I certainly didn’t learn a lot about safety from my old man.

In his world, “Keep Out” signs meant, “Come on in and explore”. Speed limits and seatbelt rules did not apply to him and his old trucks. Keep a loaded rifle in the living room for shooting groundhogs out the patio doors? Sounded good to him. Worked, too.

My father, like all fathers, taught a lot of skills. I eventually learned how to drive the same tractors, shoot the same guns, and drive too fast.

But those are tactics, not strategies for life.

No doubt your father taught you a laundry list of skills over the years, and most of them would be much different than mine. Perhaps your father taught you how to tie a tie, shine your shoes, dance a waltz, or play the piano. While I was learning how to assist a difficult calf’s birth by attaching chains to its hooves and pulling it out, slowly, inch-by-agonizing-inch with the old tractor and loader, maybe your dad was teaching you how to play chess or cook a quiche.

It doesn’t matter, for those are skills, not principles.

The skills our father’s taught us required the spoken word.

The principles our father’s instilled in us were born in silence.

My father taught me to buck convention, to work hard, and to realize that the most important lessons in life are not learned in a classroom. Each year he’d take me out of school and show me “some real learnin’, Craiggy”. We’d visit the stockyards, the slaughterhouse, other family farms, countless cornfields, and equipment companies full of the latest tractors he could never afford.

We rode in silence, just as we did in his tractors all those years ago. His big lessons didn’t require words. That’s a father’s gift – the ability to teach what really matters simply by showing his son – or daughter – the way.

Sure my Dad taught me some essential self-defense skills on Saturday afternoons, like Baron Von Rashcke’s “Claw” move, or my father’s own patented “Whisker Rub”. However, the biggest lesson he would teach me in those golden weekend hours was delivered in silence, as I simply appreciated his presence while he took a well-earned nap on the couch.

In her research, Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker has studied what a father needs to do. The big lessons he needs to teach are showing a son how to embrace responsibility, the importance of consistently being there for his family, teaching you how to treat women (and others), and how to set limits.

“Once you are a father, you are a father for life,” Dr. Hartwell-Walker writes. Her findings show:

  • Kids need predictability. They need care. They need a loving relationship with their father and whatever financial support you can provide. None of these things should depend on whether you’ve had a disagreement or fight with their mom. None of these things should ever be withheld as a way to get even with her.
  • Kids need their father to be in a respectful and appreciative relationship with their mother. Being a good dad is certainly possible both inside and outside of marriage. Kids grow best when their parents treat each other with respect and appreciation. The kids then don’t feel torn between the two people they love.
  • Kids need to have fathers who know both how to set reasonable, firm limits and how to relax and have a good time. Fathers must give the kids the stability that comes with clear limits and the good memories that come with play.
  • Kids need their father to be a role model of adult manhood. Boys and girls need their father to show them what it means to be adult and male. Kids are observing their parents every minute. They notice how you treat others, how you manage stress and frustrations, how you fulfill your obligations, and whether you carry yourself with dignity. Consciously or not, the boys will become like their father. The girls will look for a man very much like him. Give them an idea of manhood (and relationships) you can be proud of.

These are the lifelong strategies on which a father must focus. It’s fine and dandy to teach your son how to do karate, but what matters more is teaching him how and when to stand up for himself on principle. It’s not the skills, it’s the strategies. It’s not the tactics, it’s the principles.

You could be a terrible shot, a horrible basketball player, a dance floor clutz, or a shoe-tying failure, but what matters is not what the skills you speak of, but the life lessons you leave in silence. It’s the principles of parenthood that you pass along without speaking through every action that you take every day.

Understand that the lessons you teach your son – or daughter – often cannot be put in words nor written down in a tidy little instruction booklet with steps one through five.

Life doesn’t work that way. Parenting isn’t about creating a written owner’s manual for being a good person with exact rules for what to do in any given circumstance.

Instead, it’s a big ugly mess that can only be mastered by having upstanding, strong principles that cannot be broken.

Those lessons, delivered strongly in the silence of your actions, without the sound of instructions, are what will stick with your child forever.

Most importantly, you can only teach these principles by being there.

“In study after study,” Dr. Hartwell-Walker writes, “kids consistently say they would like to have more time with their dads. Regardless of whether a dad shares a home with the children and their mother, the kids need dad time. Research has shown that even infants know and respond to their fathers differently than they do to their mothers. The bond a father makes with a baby sets the foundation for a lifetime. Working together on a chore or simply hanging out can be as meaningful as attending events or having adventures. Kids want to know their fathers. Just as important, they want their fathers to know them.”

Forget the new-age baloney that men no longer have value in society or that we have entered a period known as the “end of men”.

That’s ridiculous. Our society, our communities, our children need good men today more than ever before.

“Kids whose parents let them know that they are worth their parents’ time and attention are kids who grow up healthy and strong. Boys and girls who grow up with attention and approval from their dads as well as their moms tend to be more successful in life,” says Dr. Hartwell-Walker.

“It doesn’t matter what job a dad has or how much money a dad makes, as long as he is doing his best. It doesn’t seem to matter what his interests and skills are, as long as he shares them with his children. It doesn’t seem to matter whether a father is very physically affectionate or loves more quietly as long as the kids know that he most certainly cares about them. What matters is for fathers to be committed to their children and involved with them over time. When fathers take that responsibility seriously, their children are more likely to do well and the fathers have few regrets.”

Ol’ Howie Ballantyne was never the perfect husband, he was not the perfect father, but he got one thing right.

He was there.

Do the same for your kids.

That’s the most important lesson my dad taught me.

And he didn’t have to say a word to do it.

We’d love to hear what you learned from your old man.

Please share with us here.

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with research of proven methods in your career, in your business and in your personal life. He has created a unique system to show gratitude and appreciation to stay on track for these goals each and every day. Click here to follow the exact 5-minute system you can use to improve your life.]

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  • Great stuff Craig. I had some similar experiences growing up. My father taught me that hard physical work eases a lot of mental ailments.

    • ttcert

      Thank you William!

  • Mark

    The first thing I learned is I would never dream of calling my father, my Dad, “old man” – what an insult. I didn’t get a lot of time with my Dad as he worked 2-3 jobs; but I did learn respect, manners, dedication, hard work, never quiting, how much he loved my Mom, and I knew 100% how much he loved us. No one is perfect, but he was perfect for his family.

  • Denise

    I look forward to your emails and stories each day. Thank you for sharing your most personal thoughts about life, family, work ethics, goal setting and physical fitness. You are a treasure.

    • ttcert

      Thank you, happy to help!

  • Amy Rolniak

    I constantly watched my father treat people like real human beings. Everyone was a little better having had an encounter with him. From the post man to the stranger on the street. It has shaped how I am a mom, a teacher, and as a plain old human being.

    Great article. Thank you.

    • ttcert

      Thank you Amy, and thank you for sharing about your father.

  • Siegfried Pedde

    My father was 94 years old when he died in 1998.

    My father had no formal education to speak of. He spent one winter in a Mennonite school in Siberia when he was 7 or 8 years old and that was it. He taught himself how to read German using the family bible. I don’t think a day passed in his life where he didn’t read at least five chapters in a German bible. He was fluent in German, Russian and Polish. He taught himself basic arithmetic and was proud to be elected treasurer of the ‘Sterbekasse’ in the German church we attended in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada in the 1950s. A Sterbekasse is a system where members pay into a fund every time another member dies, a sort of informal insurance system to help defray burial expenses and help surviving family members.

    I think of my father often. He was a man of great patience. I’m not. He was content to live his life without having any far-reaching goals and objectives. I’m not. What I hope I got from my father was his sense of
    fairness and his understanding of what was important and what was
    trivial. He taught his children, by example, that having ‘class’ was
    independent of wealth and education. He measured people by how they
    behaved, not by their social status, title, or bank account. Although he
    might choose not to willingly associate with people that didn’t measure
    up to his standards, he didn’t otherwise pass judgment on or denigrate
    them. Judging others, in his opinion, was God’s responsibility.

    I don’t know if there is a God. I just know that if He exists, my father
    will be close by somewhere, accorded the peace and tranquility he so
    richly deserved in life, but often did without so he could properly care
    for his family.

    My father was truly one in a million.

    • ttcert

      Wow! Incredible man. Thank you for sharing.

  • Sasquatch

    This should be the beginning of a book, sir. Excellent. My children are now in college, they are all Christians and I am very proud of them.

    • ttcert

      Thank you!

  • Shelley

    I thought your article was well thought out and constructed, and I loved the stories you told about your father. However, towards the middle of the article, when you were quoting Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker and her research on the importance of fathers in their children’s lives, I felt more and more sad, depressed, and yes, disappointed that the view that fathers should do more and be there more for their children was pretty much thrown at the reader sort of like a fastball that you just have to catch (as in accept). You see, I am a single mother of a beautiful adult daughter whose biological father walked away from us before she was born. She did not have a “father” in the traditional sense of the word, but my father stepped in and filled the much-needed void, even though he and my mother lived 800 miles away. I also had male cousins and church friends who were always there for her when she needed another opinion or shoulder to cry on. And I won’t forget to mention the “ex-hippy” friends I made in northern California who believed that a community should help raise kids who only have one parent. I wish your article could have included some “facts” about single parents who either have to be or choose to be both mother and father to their children, and the sacrifices made, the values bestowed upon, and the double-love we give them to ensure that they grow up to be strong, independent individuals who contribute to society. It is alarming that the number of two-parent homes seem to be shrinking, and single-parent homes have been on the rise for years — but this is reality! We single parents develop our own “lessons” and try to be the best examples we can be for our children. We don’t need “fastballs” that seem to be aimed at two-parent homes only.

    • ttcert

      Sorry, this article was about fathers and my experiences with my father. I’d love to publish a great article about single parents, but I have no expertise. Thank you!

  • Luciano

    Love the story of main lesson your pop taught you. I can see you sitting on that tractor.
    My dad taught me that 3 things were most important in this order–
    1. ‘La jobba’–your job( no job no provision) Being a provider and protector was everything to my dad.
    2. Your family
    3. Having a good time.

    • ttcert

      Luch, always great to hear from you, thanks!

  • Be Rich

    Great Article……………………………………………………………..

    • ttcert

      Thank you!

  • JC McClain

    Loved the article! Keep up the great writing.

    • ttcert

      Thanks so much!

  • Sandy

    I loved this article. It reminded me of my husband when we got our first great grandchild. She was a preemie and Gramps held her for a few minutes when we visited. They have an awesome bond! She is now 11 years old and they still share that bond!

    • ttcert

      That’s wonderful, thank you for sharing!

  • Shankar

    Names change, skills change; but, what a father teaches in silence is common to all kids. I am what I am today because of my father.