Lessons from my father

When I visited my parents last year, they offered me the red photo album that chronicles my first two years. I was reluctant to take it because it’s a piece of our family history. But my mom insisted: “These are your photos,” she said. “You should have them.”

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I’ve been thumbing through the album for decades, so I thought I knew its contents. (Yes, it’s full of embarrassing baby pictures. And no, I don’t blame my parents for the epic sunburns, because sunblock only came in SPF 2 back then.)

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But today I saw the album in a new light, and noticed that it’s also full of shared everyday moments — like this photo of my father, on the right, chatting with my grandfather.

Dad and Charles 1330069

Admiration overtook me as I gazed at this utterly unguarded young man. I thought about how much he must have grown up between that carefree moment on the beach with his father, and the moment he brought me home. But he embraced his new role — and soon he was sharing those everyday moments with his daughter.

Even some of the seemingly disparate photos reminded me of shared experiences with my dad. My father was seldom without a pipe in those early years, you see …

Dad with pipe 1320922 BLOG

… and I was seldom far from the water.

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One day our two worlds collided when I fell into the deep end of the pool — and sank. My father jumped in after me, plucked me from the bottom, and plopped me back onto the deck. But in all the excitement he forgot to spit out his pipe and swallowed a bunch of tobacco.

I think it was soon after that my father taught me to swim.

He taught me a lot of other things, too: How to tell time, ride a bike, how to use a drill, mud drywall, and how to kill wasps (“Steady the ladder until I yell ‘run.’ Then run!”). I learned so much from watching my father and working by his side.

And the best part is that I’m still learning from him — and that there are many more shared moments yet to come. So today I say thank you to my beloved father, with all my heart.

Happy Father’s Day.


  1. What a lovely tribute to your father and precious shared memories–and to all fathers and all treasured memories. Thanks. Steady the ladder and run when I say run–sounds like good advice for lots of situations.

    • Thanks for your sweet comment, Patti. It’s so kind of you to stop by.
      And now that you mention it, much of my father’s advice contained the word “run.” (He and I were just reminiscing the other day about the time our family watched the Fourth of July fireworks in Washington DC. Just as they ended, he yelled “RUN!!” — and we did. As the doors of our subway car closed, we could see a sea of humanity surging down the stairs behind us. Good memories, all. 🙂

  2. Your dad’s cheeks must be burning with pride to read the love and appreciation overflowing from your post. What a perfect Father’s Day gift.

    I’ve started taking photos and getting them printed again rather than storing them digitally – there’s something about the unedited snapshot that captures everyday details that grow in importance as time passes and as they live on in memory but not real life – the print of a curtain in the corner, the one-eared toy on the floor, the favourite plate, the colour of the painted fence. In all the photos that we have in our albums from 10 or 20 years ago, it’s the set of the expression or the things that seemed so commonplace at the time but now speak of a specific moment that jump out of the frame. Real life is nestled in between the things we’d choose to record in a photo, I think.

    I have a question – in the photo of your father before you were born, sitting by a lake with your grandfather, where are they? It looks lovely and, to my European eyes, it looks somehow softer and less spectacular than I remember American scenery.

    All best wishes

    • You’re so right, Elaine: It’s those commonplace daily moments that become really important, when we look at our lives in hindsight. I’m just glad my mum thought to record those moments so I’d be able to savor them more than four decades later!

      As for your question: I’ll have to confirm with my father, but I think the photo of my father and grandfather was shot in Costa Rica. It was nestled among some photos my grandmother shot — many of which I’d never seen until yesterday, because they were “doubled up” inside the album’s plastic sleeves. But that discovery deserves its own blog post …

  3. Loved the post- what a great dad you have! Had a good laugh at your forgiveness about the sunburn..(I have to forgive a whole list of people- myself included- each time I’m at the dermatologist getting another spot zapped off) It’s amazing we all survived those days..no suntan lotion, no car seats for babies.. hard to even imagine it!

    • Isn’t it amazing we survived our youths, Cindy? Some of the stuff my parents let us do would probably be considered quite irresponsible today! But I’d like to think my sisters and I are better for it, because we learned our limits — and because we learned important lessons for ourselves. (In my case: Don’t wander too near the edge of an embankment, LOL.)

      • Totally agreed. And my parents never even knew the half of it.. I remember the neighborhood kids and I building a fort in the woods and hearing hunters shooting at deer nearby! 😯 We abandoned the fort for a few weeks after that and spent late afternoons climbing all over construction sites instead.. 😬 yeah- I’m very glad I’m around today to NOT tell my kids those stories.( let’s face it, they don’t make me or grandma look good!)

    • And PS: I really do have a great dad … and because of him I consider myself truly blessed every single day.

  4. This is so awesome! Family photo albums are the best. I just love that you have all of these fantastic pictures to go with your memories. Can’t wait to see more!

  5. I got lost on the Internet today while searching for the name of a castle featured in a watercolor I bought in Heidelberg about 30 years ago. I stumbled onto your post and from there I bounced around your blog a bit until I was hooked and clicked on the follow button 😉
    I don’t know about you, but I always wonder how people ever find my blog or Twitter. So in case you were curious—which your childhood photos suggest, I thought I’d fill in the backstory for you.
    And thanks for the pics of Heidelberg Castle or Schloß, what a relief!!!
    See— curiosity really is one of my faults, thank God I’m not a cat.

    • Thank you SO MUCH for following my blog, Kelly — I’m truly honored. And I do hope you found your way back “home” after getting lost on the Internet? It can be such a maze, but it’s always gratifying when you find a nice person in one of the corridors. 🙂 Oh! And thank you also for the back story on how you found me in the first place. (Because, yes, I am always curious about these things.) Cheers to you, and thank you again!

  6. Great tribute! My own father also saved my life and taught me how to ride a bike. He also taught me how to use differential equasions and how absolutely wonderful the engineering profession is, particular for cars.

    • My goodness — differential equations? Wow. That’s truly impressive. I’ll have to ask my own pop to explain those next time I see him. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by! (And PS: I’m really glad your dad saved you.)

  7. Another ‘pop up post from the past’ – can’t ope it on WP but try to comment in the reader….
    Wonderful – wonderful memories – I have the same of my dad but only a couple of photos which is sad but having cameras at the time of my youth was unusual!

    • I’m sorry you have only a couple of photos of your dad, Kiki — but wonderful memories are even better, aren’t they? More than anything, I’m grateful for all of the little moments I’ve shared with my dad over the years. Thank you for stopping by!

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