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15 Life Lessons My Father Taught Me

I believe that forgiveness is an essential part of living a healthy and happy life. I am a teacher and a writer.

Almost losing my father helped me let go of the bad memories and hold onto the good ones.

Almost losing my father helped me let go of the bad memories and hold onto the good ones.

A Wake-Up Call

A few years ago, my dad had a massive stroke. Fortunately, he survived, although he is still in the process of recovering.

Almost losing my father brought back so many memories of specific words he has spoken to me throughout my life when he wanted me to learn something he thought was important.

Compiling my dad’s quotes together had a special purpose for me—it helped me forgive him from past hurts I was still holding onto and to focus on the valuable lessons he taught me.

This article is dedicated to my father.

He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.

— George Herbert

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1. "Play with confidence."

I remember a time when I was playing tennis with a family member while my dad was watching. Another family member was also watching me, but with a very scrutinizing eye. My dad knew this, and he said to me, loud and firm, “Play with confidence!”

What I got from this was that I shouldn’t let people’s criticism distract me from being my best. My dad taught me that with confidence in myself and my abilities, I can succeed—not just athletically but, more importantly, in life.

I have tried to hold onto this.

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2. “How is your social life?”

Whenever my dad and I would talk on the phone, he would, at some point in the conversation, always ask me about my social life.

I think it was hard for my father to talk to me about this for several reasons. One, he probably felt awkward talking to me about my personal life.

Two, I don’t recall him having much of a social life himself, so I think he wanted me to be more successful in this arena.

Remembering these conversations are a gentle reminder that I need to be proactive about spending time with others. It’s not going to just happen; I need to go out there and make it happen.

This is especially important to me because I'm an introvert and generally gravitate towards being alone.

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3. “If you keep saying no to people when they invite you to do something, after a while, they'll stop asking you.”

This lesson is related to the previous one, but I think it's worthy of a category of its own.

I think my dad wanted me to realize that being alone is a choice more than anything.

He was telling me that even if I always have people reaching out to me, they won’t stick around for long if I keep pushing them away.

He probably knew that, like him, I was somewhat of a loner, preferring my own company to that of others.

Without realizing it, my dad taught me the value of cultivating relationships.

I have learned that you get out of a relationship what you put into it, and that ultimately, if I end up alone, it’s my own fault.

Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.

— Marianne Williamson

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4. “Change your oil every 3 months.”

My father stressed this when he let me use one of his cars when I went away to college.

Unfortunately, I failed to follow his prudent advice and ended up on the side of the highway on my way home from school one evening. My father was furious and rightfully so.

After that experience, I have been meticulous about regular oil changes on all the vehicles I've owned. I even changed the oil myself on my first car.

My current vehicle boasts over 150,000 miles and is running strong!

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5. “You have to compartmentalize."

When I first started teaching, I would sometimes share with my dad how difficult it was to keep my school life separate from my personal life.

My dad would become somewhat upset about this and tell me, quite adamantly, that I needed to learn to compartmentalize: to keep my work separate from my home life.

I remember thinking, “How is that even possible?”

Frankly, this has probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn, but today—many years later—I can say that I have it down.

I've come to see that in detaching myself from my job when I'm not there, not only is my personal life more enjoyable, but I'm more productive and more mentally present at work.

I owe that to my father.

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6. “I have an accent, but I’m not stupid.”

I heard my dad say this several times as I was growing up. He would say it to customer service personnel when he felt insulted by them. I still remember the humiliation in his demeanor.

My father immigrated to the U.S. in his mid-twenties. Although his spoken English was fluent and virtually flawless, he had a distinct European accent.

It was not until much later in my life that I realized how difficult it must have been for him to make his way in a new country and to prove himself socially as well as in the workplace, without family or friends to turn to for guidance.

My dad was likely sometimes judged by his accent, and people may have even measured his intelligence by the way he spoke.

These experiences taught me to try to refrain from judging others by the way they look or talk, and to be mindful that everybody I cross paths with has an untold story.

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

— C.S. Lewis

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7. “Don’t read in the dark. Turn on the light.”

As a teenager, I had a habit of reading under dim lights. Whenever my dad would catch me doing this, he would scold me and turn on the light in the room.

I realized later that my dad had to be starting to lose his sight around this time, because it’s around the age I started using reading glasses.

He was probably trying to spare me from the inevitable loss of eyesight as much as possible.

Today, I value my dad’s advice and try to have good lighting whenever I read, whether it be a nightlight or a wide, open window on a sunny day. I also stay on top of my annual eye exams and make sure my eyeglasses are still right for me.

Thanks, dad!

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8. “Sit up straight.”

Just as I had a habit of reading in the dark as a teen, I also had a habit of slouching when I did my homework or ate at the dinner table.

My father would say, “Sit up straight,”, and he would mimic a straight back, as if to say, “like this.”

Because of my dad’s constant reminders, I learned to sit and walk like a queen, with an upright posture and head held high.

To this day, I am still mindful of following my dad’s advice and even encourage my students to do the same!

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9. “Always leave space between you and the car in front of you.”

Well, here is some car advice I did listen to my dad about from the very beginning, and it has likely saved me from many an accident.

I remember one time, before I was even old enough to drive, I was in the passenger seat beside my father as he drove to work. He drew my attention to the space between his vehicle and the one in front of him and explained to me that if the driver in front of him suddenly slammed on his brakes, my dad would have plenty of space to stop without hitting him.

I could tell my dad was a very conscientious driver. I don’t remember ever seeing him speed or cut somebody off in traffic.

He taught me to be a very cautious driver. I normally drive in the right lane, let the crazies on the road pass me, and try to leave ample space between my car and other vehicles.

I also try to avoid driving during peak traffic and to run errands in the early morning or later in the day when the roads are less congested.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

— Corrie Ten Boom

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10. “All you need are one or two sweaters.”

I suppose it was my dad who first taught me to be a minimalist.

When I would pack my suitcase to travel overseas to visit family, he would say, "All you need are one or two sweaters. That’s it. You just wear them again.”

Through the years, I've learned that with less stuff to carry around, not only is my load physically lighter but also mentally lighter.

I feel freer with less material possessions and I’ve learned I don’t need much to be happy!

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11. “The secret to success is getting up early.”

My dad hated it when I slept in on weekends when I was in high school.

He would come to my room and wake me up when it was like, I don’t know what time, but always too early! It would drive me crazy when he did that.

He would often say to me, “The secret to success is getting up early.”

During the week, he would always leave for work at the crack of dawn. I would hear the front door close ever so gently before I even got up to get ready for school.

As an adult, I have indeed found the early morning hours to be the most productive time of the day. Moreover, I've noticed that when I rise early, the rest of my day also seems more fruitful, and I feel so much better overall.

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12. “You don’t care about making a lot of money now. You will when you’re older.”

My dad was right.

I was quite the idealist as a teenager. Really, I had very much of a hippy mentality. You know, peace and love make the world go ‘round.

But eventually, as predicted by my father, I realized that peace and love won’t finance a trip to Florida, cover the cost of new furniture, or take care of the mortgage.

I’ve learned to work hard and budget well so that I can enjoy life, as well as give more to others and to causes I believe in.

I also continue to learn ways to expand my skills and use my talents and passions to earn more income.

Although I don't believe money is the key to happiness, it sure does make life easier for myself and others.

My father taught me that when you work hard, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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13. “You keep repeating yourself.”

I have this habit of repeating what I say when I’m talking to somebody. It’s as if I didn’t think they heard me the first time.

It was my dad who first brought this to my attention when I was a young adult.

I sometimes do this in the classroom, which is very annoying to my students.

Through the years, I’ve learned to choose my words carefully and to speak with conviction so that I don’t feel like I have to repeat myself for emphasis.

It puts a new spin on being a minimalist!

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14. “You should wear bright colors.”

When I was a younger, I often wore dark shades such as navy blue and bleak tones of gray.

My dad would sometimes tell me that I always wore dark colors. It was as if he was trying to tell me to lighten up.

He encouraged me to brighten my wardrobe which I started doing later in life, but hey, better late than never!

Red, pink and purple tones tend to be my favorites now.

I've noticed that I actually feel more vibrant when I wear colorful clothing. I probably look much better, too.

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15. “You are very talented.”

My dad would say this to me frequently when I was a child, and it instilled in me a deep sense of self-confidence.

I have always believed I had a lot to offer the world and I don’t say that in an arrogant way.

What I mean is that I have always known I was on this earth for a reason. Even before I came to personally believe in God, I had a sense I was here for a purpose.

I'm convinced the confidence my dad instilled in me through these words played a key role in that.

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

— Nelson Mandela

Final Thoughts

I am so glad that I have these treasured memories of my father to hold onto as I continue my life journey.

Although my dad won't always be around, his words will remain alive in me.

I love you, Dad, and thank you for all you've taught me!

© 2019 Madeleine Clays