Life Lessons I Learned From My Dad

Dad passed away just over six years ago. He smoked three packs a day from the time he was 12 years old until he was almost 65, when he decided he’d had enough and quit cold turkey.

He made it to 82 but the smoking eventually caught up with him. I’m not writing this as a “you shouldn’t smoke” article but now that I’ve brought it up, you shouldn’t smoke.

It will almost certainly catch up with you eventually, and when it does you’re probably going to use a lot of what breath you have left telling anyone who will listen why they should never start.

This post is about some of the life lessons my Dad taught me, and I guess that’s one of them. Even though he didn’t decide to quit until pretty late in the game, somehow I learned that I should never start along the way.


I’m not sure if Dad taught me these things intentionally or it was more a matter of passing along his own beliefs in the course of life, but there are a few things I learned from him that I’ve never forgotten.

Never Hit Girls/Kids With Glasses/Weaker Kids/etc.

One of the earliest memories I have of Dad passing along rules for life is to never hit a girl. Or a kid wearing glasses. Or a smaller/younger/weaker kid.

He never said it in so many words, but what it really comes down to is to never hurt someone over whom you have a physical advantage.

Dad was a fighter when he was a kid. His best friend for most of his life was the one other kid who he couldn’t beat in a fight. They fought a couple of times, neither of them came out ahead, and they became friends for life.

But in spite of that, he always followed a “code” that wouldn’t let him beat up someone who wasn’t physically his equal (or better).

I’ve always kept that in mind, not necessarily from a fighting perspective, but in any part of life. Don’t take advantage of people who are in a weaker position than you, whatever the situation.

Always Carry A Knife – And Keep It Sharp

This one has come in handy more times than I can count. I always have a knife of some sort in my pocket, whether it’s a small pen knife or some kind of multi-tool.

Whether it’s for opening a box, slicing open an envelope, cutting the plastic ties around a box of copier paper or innumerable other things, I use my pocket knife almost every day.

And it goes without saying that it works better when it’s sharp. Spending a few minutes to hone the blade every couple of weeks not only makes it work better, it’s kind of a meditative task as well.

Just remember to leave the knife at home or pack it in your suitcase when you’re flying. I’ve lost more pocket knives than I like to admit when going through the TSA checkpoint at airports.

Wear Two Pair Of Socks

I’m not sure exactly how useful this one is in the scheme of things, but it’s one lesson that I think about a lot.

When I was a kid, Dad and I spent a lot of time walking through the woods, along rivers and other such places. Dad always made me wear two pair of socks when we were out.

It was never really clear why until one particular outing. I didn’t see a mud hole in the field we were walking through and I stepped right into it. It was deep enough that the mud and water filled my boot, soaking my foot.

Dad sat me down on a log, had me take off the boot and wet socks and then had me take off the other boot. And put one of the two dry socks on that foot on the one that got wet.

It kept my feet warm enough that I wasn’t miserable for the rest of the day.

I don’t think I’ve ever had to use this lesson again but it taught me something on a more general note – always be prepared.

Buy Quality Tools

Dad grew up during the Great Depression, and as a result he was a bit of a pack rat. He would keep all kinds of weird stuff in case he needed it someday, because that’s what he had learned when he was a kid.

And he rarely spent a lot of money on anything. If there was a cheap version of something, that’s what he would usually buy.

But not when it came to tools. Right from the time I was old enough to swing his hammer, he always cautioned me to buy good quality tools, not to cut corners on them.

A good tool will outlast a cheap one, almost always does a better job and makes you feel better about the projects you’re working on.

Don’t get me wrong – a skilled tradesman with a cheap tool will almost always do a better job than a beginner with a high-end tool. But given the same level of skill, quality tools will typically do a better job and be more enjoyable to use.

I’m sure there are a ton of other things that Dad passed on to me over the years but these are a few that stick out in my mind. I think about them all regularly, and do my best to pass them along to my own son.

It’s my hope that these nuggets of “family wisdom” will work their way down through the generations.

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