4 Lessons My Dad Taught Me for a Richer Life

Father’s Day is on Sunday and, this year, Americans will spend $15.3 billion dollars on dad, second only to the $15.5 billion that we spent in 2017. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here empty-handed and feeling guilty.

The truth is, it’s hard to figure out what to get for a guy who’s already got a gas grill, a fully-loaded tie rack and zero interest in golf. In fact, in my entire life, there was only one time that I felt sure my gift would be a home run (which means he’s already got a monogrammed, silver pen).

As I was thinking about what would make my dad happy, truly happy, something struck me—I’ve never seen him smile more than when he sees that I’m happy and doing well. Reflecting back on the many life lessons that he’s taught me over the years, it’s easy to see that his mission, all along, was to help me achieve both.

I’m still not sure what I’ll get him for Sunday, but I’d like to share my gratitude (thanks, dad!), plus four of the nuggets that have helped me most over the years.

Lesson 1: You Can Figure It Out

Google wasn’t around when I was little, which meant that, if I asked my dad a question, he didn’t waste a millisecond before sending me off to fetch the correct volume of our encyclopedia. It was in that millisecond that I often regretted asking. I mean, which of these red and gold books was the right one? Alphabetization, bleh. And there was no escape, he’d demand the answer.

That’s just one example of how my dad insisted that I learn to be self-sufficient. (Don’t even get me started about the lessons in paper maps that I received as a newly minted, licensed driver.)

But, even though encyclopedias and paper maps are obsolete, the lesson is as timely as ever. On my most stressed-out days, I still find great comfort in the realization that it’s OK to not have all the answers. All I have to do is dig in, ask the questions and look for solutions. I can do it.

… pretty sure it’s this lesson that lead me to YNAB when I was wondering how on earth I’d ever pay off all of my student loans.

Lesson 2: Don’t Be a Quitter

One of my dad’s favorite truisms is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

His mom said it to him, and I can’t tell you how many times he repeated it to my brother and I. Got it. Don’t give up. When life’s tough, be tougher.

And I have to admit it: Doing hard things has paid off in numerous ways, from building deeper connections with friends to earning my degrees, I’ve tackled things that I definitely wanted to quit and managed to come out on top.

So, thanks, Dad. All of those challenges have made me so much more likely to keep going when things aren’t easy, and I’m more resilient for it. (This one’s why, one day, I’ll actually finish paying off those student loans.)

Lesson 3: “If You Take Care of Your Equipment, Your Equipment Will Take Care of You.”

You don’t have to actually hear my dad say this, to see that it’s how he lives life—although, if you spend time with him, you certainly would hear him say it. From his polished wing tips to his freshly waxed car, my dad has an eye for details. And all in the name of being prepared and using resources wisely.

Cars, houses, clothing, furniture? They all last longer when you treat them with care. And that means more money in your pocket. Plus, you’re less likely to end up with three hammers when your tools are properly organized and inventoried, right? Right?

… and this attention to detail extends to money management. My dad’s had me balancing a checkbook register, to the penny, every month since I was twelve. I have to admit it, that kind of awareness has really saved my bacon on several occasions.

Lesson 4: Remember to Smile

Finally, I remember standing on stage with my classmates, in front of a sea of parents in the audience, with an astronomical case of stage fright. Then I spotted my folks, and there was my dad. He had a pointer finger aimed at each corner of his mouth, eyes raised wide, as he mouthed the word, “Smile!”

Of course, I did, and it eased my fears (even if I was a little embarrassed at how big my smile had grown). And, yes, this happened more than once. But what a lesson, right? Life can be scary—facing it with a smile really helps.

Happy Father’s Day!

Dad, if you’re reading this—see? You probably didn’t think anything you ever told me stuck, right? Well, that’s four things, and they mean the world to me. I bet Matt could only remember a couple, three tops. So, just remember that, if he sends you a present this weekend. Deal?