7 Lessons I Learned From My Dad

Happy Father's Day, Dads! You are so important, as this story illustrates. One day a young inner city boy seemed unusually sad to a youth center worker. “What’s wrong?” the youth worker asked. “Nuthin’,” he said. “Come on, you look so sad. You can tell me.” “Wellll . . . okay.” He hesitated, then finally blurted out, “It’s my dad.” “What about your dad?” the youth worker asked. “I don’t have one. Can’t do nuthin’ without a dad,” said the little boy.

While that little boy was not my dad, he could've been. My dad and his mom were deserted by his father when he was only two years of age. Here are seven special lessons that I learned from my dad, which are made all the more remarkable since he did not have a dad of his own.

Lesson 1: What it Means to be a Man

I remember the masculinity of my father. My father was a man’s man. I learned how to be a man by watching him, by imitating what he would model, by mimicking him, by pretending I was him. My dad was my hero. My dad couldn’t do anything wrong. Later, of course, I learned my dad had weaknesses just like everyone else, but my dad was special. Proverbs 17:6 puts it this way: “The glory of children is their father” (nkjv). As I entered the seventh grade, we moved to five acres in the country. We spent the next several years fixing the place up. I say “we” because Dad put us to work. He showed me what it meant to be a “Morley man.” He modeled a positive approach to life. He exhorted me to never give up my dream. He disciplined me to keep my promises. He tutored me to always tell the truth. He trained me how to handle money.

Lesson 2: How to Treat a Woman

My parent's had a wonderful relationship with each other. I learned how to treat a lady by watching the way my dad was with my mom even though I was too young to know it at the time! Many, perhaps most, of the expectations I have of my wife--at least before my wife let me know what my expectations ought to be!--were formed as I watched the way my father moved around, looked at, talked to, and responded to his wife. Initially with my wife, I merely copied what I saw my dad do.

Lesson 3: A Strong Work Ethic

My dad taught me how to provide for my own family. Dad worked for and later owned an air-conditioning sales and service company. One summer he asked me if I would like to be his “helper.” “Sure, Dad!” I said. I was so excited to be with my dad. He further astonished me by offering to pay me for something I would happily have done for free just to be with him! For the next several summers I was my dad’s “attic rat.” He had me wriggle around in hot, steamy crawl spaces to help rig duct work for the air-conditioning systems he installed. By his example he showed me the importance of diligence, industry, and sticking with it. I appreciate that so much.

Lesson 4: Common Sense

I remember all the little practical things my father imparted to me about the routine of daily living. My dad was not a big talker, but he would regularly splice in choice tidbits about how to live in a practical way. He never offered long-winded sermons, but his one-sentence homilies packed a punch. My dad has unusual common sense. He saw the world from a practical point of view. He mentored me in the art of putting things in their proper perspective. Ever wonder where that level-headed, big-picture, common-sense, practical wisdom that from time to time amazes you about yourself came from? It's Fathers Day, so thank your Dad!

Lesson 5: Value System

Then there are the larger lessons of right from wrong. I recall so well the value system we learned around the dinner table as my father and mother would talk through the issues that would influence our lives. The value of education. The value of doing the right thing by other people. The importance of faith. The role of hopes and dreams. The dignity of people. I never had a clue about the prejudice of some small-minded people against minorities until long after I had left home. It never occurred to us to make a racial slur in our family. I was shocked the first time I heard racial hatred, because it just wasn’t the value I picked up in my house. If one of us had used a racial slur in our home we would still be black and blue! You can trace the roots of a child's value system back to his father’s take on the world.

Lesson 6: Integrity

During those summers when I worked with my dad he would occasionally have a dispute with someone. Yet, I can never remember my dad speaking an ill word about anyone. My dad never cheated anybody. He never lied. He always took the hard road but the high road. He always told the truth. He was scrupulous in the details. He gave me that moral mooring, that foundation, of integrity. Good parenting provides no guarantee our children will turn out right, but bad parenting often means they will turn out wrong. If you have integrity, you most likely caught it from your dad.

Lesson 7: Spiritual Heritage

Though I did not come to faith until I was in my mid-twenties, I must thank my dad for the lessons of a spiritual heritage. My parents made sure I was involved every time our church offered youth activities. They put me in youth group, Sunday school, church, confirmation classes—you name it. I didn’t understand much at the time, but later I realized a foundation had been formed. When my wife was a high school student, she was walking down the hall to her bedroom. The door to the master bedroom was open, though the lights were out. Her father was kneeling next to his bed in prayer. Ten minutes later when she went back up the hallway to the family room her father was still praying. She recalls, “The visual image of my father praying for so long is forever etched on my mind. It has strongly influenced the way I handle my own spiritual life.” Some fathers mentor their children spiritually through informal homilies. Others read bedtime Bible stories. Perhaps only a few actually plan their children’s spiritual education with intentionality, like family devotions. Yet, whatever fathers do seems to get through.

So today I say, "Thank you, Dad. Each passing year I have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices you made and the effort you put into being a good father. Thank you for being a cycle breaker. I love you and I'm so proud to be your son."

Happy Father's Day, men!