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Seven Things I Learned from Dad

Paul's dad was a farmer and handyman. He was also a carpenter, welder, and mechanic. There wasn't anything he could not build or fix.

Seven Things I Learned from Dad

Dad in his early 30s.  Picture taken in the late 40s.

Dad in his early 30s. Picture taken in the late 40s.

May 27, 2022, is the eighteenth anniversary of my father's death. While he was alive, dad taught me many things as a boy, youth, and man. Most were in the form of practical knowledge that I have used in my lifetime. In this article, I detail seven things I learned from dad.

1. How to Play Baseball

As early as the first or second grade, I had a great interest in baseball. At school. I used to watch the older boys play softball during our lunch break. One of the priests at Saint Mary's always pitched and I marveled at the boys who were able to hit a home run over the playground fence.

I had to learn how to play baseball. When my dad found out, he immediately taught me how to catch, throw, and hit a pitched ball.

Once, my father told me that he had had a tryout with the Boston Red Sox when he was 15. Dad played shortstop, but he wanted me to become a catcher. That is why I saw a catcher's mitt, mask, and shinguards under the Christmas tree in 1952.

Although dad was very busy working and farming, he always found time to play catch or pitch to me when I was batting.

My love of baseball continues until today.

2. How to Defend Myself

As a six and seven-year-old boy, I was short and fat. At that time, mom and dad rented an apartment on 63rd Street in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Knowing that I was timid, a few boys on the block liked to bully me. The twins living across the street, Stevie and Joey, were the worst. I would usually run away from them, but one day they caught me on the sidewalk in front of my house.

"What's your name?" one of the twins asked. Trembling with fear, I replied, "I don't know. I used to know."

Jackie was another older boy who bullied me until dad taught me how to box. My father bought boxing gloves for me and showed me how to defend myself. After I stood up to Jackie and hit him with a good punch, we were the best of friends.

3. How to Drive a Tractor and Car

In March 1954 when I was nine and one-half years old, dad and mom started farming 25 miles from West Allis. It was an exciting new life. I was always outside with dad in the barn and the fields.

Before I was ten, I think my father showed me how to drive his International Harvester H model tractor. After putting the tractor in gear, the hardest part was slowly letting my foot off of the clutch so that the tractor would not kill or jump. Dad was a patient teacher and after a few months, I could drive the tractor very well.

The next year, my father let me drive his standard-shift car for the first time. I would practice on the driveway that led up to our farmhouse on a small hill.

Our Rented Farm: 1954-1956

Our rented farm on the hill.  Picture taken about 1955

Our rented farm on the hill. Picture taken about 1955

4. How to Cultivate Corn

As an older boy, I helped dad more in the fields by planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops.

After learning how to use tools, my father taught me how to put the cultivator on the "H" and cultivate corn. This was a slow and tedious process, especially when the corn was only a few inches high.

Dad's two-row cultivator had both front and back parts attached to the tractor. It was operated by a hydraulic lift.

When the corn was very short, shields were placed between the two diggers on both sides of the front cultivator. Cultivating, I had to drive very slowly and make sure no corn was covered up with soil.

By the age of 13, I was able to put the cultivator on the "H' by myself and start cultivating corn when my dad was working.

Dad in 1959

Dad with his cows in 1959

Dad with his cows in 1959

5. How to Do Math Problems

Dad taught me how to do math problems more than once in grade school and high school.

In the fourth or fifth grade, I was having a problem with decimals and fractions. After I went to my father for help, he showed me very clearly how to convert fractions to decimals. He also explained how to round decimals to the nearest hundredth and tenth.

My dad was also great at solving algebra word problems. After showing me how to represent words with symbols and put them into an equation, I finally started to apply my knowledge of algebra.

My father was also sharp with math even into his 80s. Whenever I visited him, he challenged me to solve practical math problems.

Dad with Mom in the Early 1960s

Dad with mom in our front yard

Dad with mom in our front yard

6. How to Do Car Maintenance

While in high school, my father taught me basic car maintenance. This included the importance of checking an engine oil level and the level of antifreeze in the radiator. He also stressed maintaining proper tire air pressures and observing the general wear of tread on tires.

Learning how to change engine oil and replace a flat tire were also essential things that dad stressed.

Since dad never had a lift or ramps for a car, he showed me where to find the nut for the oil pan under the engine. This entailed first jacking up the front of the car and then sliding on my back under the car. After draining the oil from the car into a pan, my father showed me how to remove the oil filter with a filter wrench. Dad advised putting in a good appropriate grade of oil for the driving climate and showed me where to add it into the engine. Finally, my father always had me run the car for three to five minutes and then check for any possible oil leaking from the oil pan.

Learning how to change a flat tire was much easier. The first step was blocking the opposite side wheel so that the car would not move when jacked up. After jacking up the bumper, I learned how to remove the lug nuts securing the tire on the rim. They were first loosened before jacking up the car. Following the removal of a tire from the rim, it was only necessary to slide on a new tire and then tighten the lug nuts after the car was jacked down.

7. How to Be Handy and Do Things by Myself

Finally, my dad tried to teach me how to be handy and do things by myself. My father was a handyman and could do most farm and household repairs. I remember dad teaching me how to paint, put in a broken window pane, and hang a door. He also showed me how to use tools such as a hammer, wrenches, and screwdrivers.

After I bought my first home in Maryland, I applied my dad's lessons by painting my house, hanging a door, putting aluminum siding back up on my house, and replacing broken window panes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Paul Richard Kuehn

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