Sometimes what he taught you isn’t as important as what he didn’t
Sometimes, a man’s most valuable lessons are the ones he learns on his own
To Do DIY. It just wasn’t in his skillset. Try as he might, he would lose screws, hit his head and lose his shit. Then he would call in the pros. This taught me to understand my limitations – to this day, when I know my time is better spent on things I am good at, I’ll outsource stuff that takes me too much time, or that I’m likely to mess up. That said, I still like to take apart the odd gizmo.
To find the G-spot. Granted, discussing vaginas in depth is not something you really want to get into with your old man. Sex ed at school, the internet and overheard conversations from guys who had “done it” provided the theory. Practice, well, came with practice. With my dad, he was always there at the awkward moment in Red Shoe Diaries when the kit came off.
To dance. Learning to cut a rug was something I learnt the hard way, usually boozed, busting out the sprinkler to the Renegade Master, relying on the strobe to make me look half decent. I still can’t really dance, but I’m better at pretending when I have to and I always have some rock ‘n roll moves down pat for weddings. The Octopus? Child’s play.
To cupcake a victim with a fart. I learn that on my own, at Wizard School, Defence Against the Dark Arts class.
To gauge the difference between a friendly chirp and an outright insult. I was a defensive teen, prone to seeing offence in every comment. It took leaving my hometown and going into res at university to teach me that the vast majority of stuff is said in good humour. As for the rest? Who cares?
To tackle and be tackled. Nobody can ever really teach you how to take the full impact of someone else’s charging torso attempting to obliterate you. Similarly, I needed to learn how to do it myself through trial and error, and by just throwing myself into it.
To funnel beer through a dead barbell so that you have a spike in your hand for years to come. My dad had days of excess for sure, but systemised, organised drinking was not part of the scene.
To tweet and spend time on Facebook. He was too busy doing real-world things with real-world friends. I have a kind of nostalgia for a time I’ve never experienced; a time where a computer screen or phone did not dominate my vision on any given day.
To accumulate so much stuff. Sports gear, shoes, electric gadgets, hard drives full of music. At my stage my old man had just what he needed. Even to this day, though successful, he will only ever buy himself something when absolutely necessary, like when a shirt has too many holes. I’m working on that: needing less.
To boo opposing teams at sports games. He comes from the generation where postscoring histrionics did not exist, where pundits were measured gents like Bill McLaren, where the manufactured emotion and outrage of sport had not yet been dreamt up, and where the crowd respected both teams and the ref. Somehow, over time, booing and abusing sports stars and refs has become a thing that is funny or vaguely okay to do. I can’t stand it – though at home I might throw a Nik-Nak at the TV when the Boks implode again.
To become financially literate. He’s an accountant by trade, a numbers guy who can scan a balance sheet and notice a mistake in seconds. That’s just not me. I have always leaned towards words and images. For some reason sitting down to do maths homework with him, I could neither understand his language nor control my temper. I wish it was otherwise.
To do absolutely anything with computers, phones or any other tech. For an intelligent man, I still can’t work out why he cannot grasp the basics principles of copy, paste. Instead it’s always, “Go to X website and look at the article.”
To be flash. When it comes to money, my old man has always gone for the discreet over the loud, to favour subtlety over shouting.
To drive like a hooligan. For as long as I can remember, my old man has driven a car carefully and without ego. As I get older and closer to having kids of my own, it’s dawned on me why that is.
To expect too much from anyone. It’s not that my dad was ever overly negative about other people, but he always preferred to temper reality with optimism so when things work out, he is pleasantly surprised rather than expecting the world and being let down. His favourite saying is “throw your bread out on the waters and it might come back sandwiches,” which I’ve adopted, and to this day it has stood me in good stead in business, friendship and love.
MY OLD MAN AND THE SEA The author’s dad instilled in him a love for fishing.