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Things I learned.

My sister posted a really excellent summation from her point of view:

"My Dad taught me to fly fish, to understand the importance of organized labor and the value of work, and that it was possible for people to change for the better even well into adulthood. I think that was good parenting."
And my other sister summed it up thus:
"Take pride in your work. Take all of your vacation days. What you can't handle, surrender to God. Help people when they need it. Let people help themselves when they can. Be faithful."  
And so I've been thinking about the things I learned from my father. And I learned a crapton of really useful, everyday stuff from my mom: compassion never hurts; charity isn't a contract, it's a gift; when in doubt, try to give rather than take. My mom taught me a lot of those things by example.

The stuff I learned from my dad was different. It was more technical and experiential, and I often learned it in conflict with him, because nearly our entire relationship was defined by conflict. I imagine it was different for my sisters because they were girls and my dad had some very narrow and very heteronormative ideas about gender roles, but I can't say; that wasn't my experience. But I did learn a lot from him.

I learned that you can love someone even when you're furious with them, even when you stay angry for a long time. I learned that there are many ways to say 'I love you,' including 'Take care of yourself.' I learned that when not everyone agrees with you is the best time to really examine your beliefs out loud and on purpose. I learned that everyone is susceptible to anti-patterns. 

He taught me that history is a great place to look for solutions, or more often for the things that were tried as solutions and failed. He taught me that your coworkers are where the power is, and to never trust management. He taught me that patience and silence often work better than anything else for getting the answers you're looking for (although not always the answers you want). And he taught me that being loud and unyielding in the pursuit of Righteousness is never a vice. 

The lessons I learned from dad weren't necessarily as prosaic or pithy as the lessons that others were given, but my relationship with dad was at best complicated. We shared many, many traits, and consequently we were more often in conflict than in harmony. To quote Marian Keyes,
The things we dislike most in others are the characteristics we like least in ourselves. 

 But I think the last lesson he taught me was that when you love someone with your whole heart and spirit, it can sometimes be a better choice to be with them than to stay where you are. And he taught me that long before he died; he taught me that when he got sober, when he stopped smoking, when he did any of the ten thousand things that helped him change and grow and be the man that my mother saw was possible in him. He made me want to be better than who I was.

My father had a fierce and tamper-proof faith in two things: God as he knew him, and my mother. Everything else he did and everything else he believed, as far as I could tell, flowed from those two things.

My relationship with my father was never a close or warm one, however you might want to define those words. But I knew that he loved me. And I knew he wanted the best for me. And in those two things, he was the best father I could ever have asked for.

I don't believe in the afterlife, so it would be false for me to say anything about that. He was not perfect, and in many ways he was not good, but he was often fair, and often kind. I am glad for his life. And for his lessons. For all of us, and especially for me.

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