Alicia Cook and her father celebrating Saint Patrick's Day in the late 1980's and again in 2012
I was fortunate enough to grow up and be raised by two parents who love me. Both parents imparted on me very different lessons that have since helped mold me into the person I am today. Their teachings have aided in my navigation of this crazy obstacle course we have come to call "life." With Father's Day approaching, I have tried to pinpoint the ten most important things my father ever taught me.
How to drive stick. My dad taught me how to drive in general, but he taught me how to "drive stick" as well. Have I had to use this skill since? No. Though I use his parallel parking tricks daily, I feel his teaching me how to drive both manual and automatic cars has made me a more confident, versatile driver. On the off-chance I ever am handed the keys to a manual car, I will still be able to reach my destination. And, I am not going to lie, it does sound pretty cool when "I can drive stick" comes up in conversation.
How to crab. Growing up in a shore town, you participate in activities you might not otherwise if you were landlocked. For as long as I could remember, my father took me "crabbing." My father is not the type of crabber who simply drops a cage with bate in the water and pulls it up once with a bushel of crabs. No, he made me earn whatever I caught by making me use "drop-lines." This pastime taught me patience and did away with instant gratification without me even being aware. You couldn't drop the line and run around with your friends on the dock or boat. You had to sit there, and if you felt the line tug, you couldn't just rip it out of the water because you would startle the crab and lose it. No, you had to -- inch-by-inch -- slowly pull the line back up to you, before it scurried away. I learned how to really feel and listen to what was happening around me. I learned to appreciate the catch, since it rarely came easily.
How to Shoot a Gun. My father took me to the range from an early age. He taught me to respect a weapon. I learned right away that it was not a toy. Not only that, he taught me the mechanics behind the gun. It wasn't as simple as "point and shoot." I learned about every piece of the gun, what made it work and what could make it malfunction. Then, when we got home, he would guide me in the correct cleaning of the gun. I never once bragged to friends or thought of taking it out without his supervision and it is all because he educated me.
How to eat shellfish. Sounds like a silly thing to bestow upon your child but I will never forget it. I don't think I was even in kindergarten yet the first time I realized how important it was to know how to properly open up your own clam, crab, lobster, you name it. I was sitting outside, around the newspaper covered table, surrounded by adults diving into a pot of Steamers. One of the adults looked around, befuddled, not quite sure how to eat the food that was in front of him. At maybe five years old, I showed a grown man how to eat a steamer correctly. As years passed, I would go on to confidently show others how to do so. This small skill I learned from my father led to me never having to ask a waiter or date to assist me with my meal.
There is something better than an A+. I was a procrastinator all the way through graduate school. I'll admit it. However, I graduated high school as well as undergraduate and graduate school with an "A" average. Though my laziness "never caught up to me," like my parents had constantly warned, I learned A grades aren't everything because of something my father said to me during my undergraduate studies. I had just pulled an all-nighter, earned an A+ on the presentation, and brought it home to show my parents. They were pleased and proud, of course, but my father said, "imagine how well you could've done if you didn't wait until the night before." I responded with, "I did as well as I possibly could. What's higher than an A+?" and he said, "your potential." That was something that always stuck with me. The idea that I possibly could have reached more heights intellectually and maybe could have gotten a bit more sleep if I didn't push things until the very last minute.
I don't need to be good at sports. Or watch sports. Or care about sports at all. My father is the only guy I know who doesn't completely lose his mind to sports, and I honestly wish more men would invest less time, energy, and money in professional sports. The big picture is, my father didn't push me to fake attentiveness in anything I didn't have a genuine interest in. So, when some would pretend to care about touchdowns to impress others, I liked to read or go to the beach, and he was completely fine with that which led me to be more comfortable in my own skin as well.
Reputation is everything. My father is a well-respected retired Battalion Chief in the Newark Fire Department. He may not have always been liked, but he was always respected. Everywhere I would go with him, people would approach him to shake his hand or buy him a drink. From an early age I admired this about my father and I have tried to follow in his footsteps in regards to being a valued person in society. I know that it doesn't always matter if people like you personally, but if they can dislike you and simultaneously admire you, well, that to me is more important at times, especially as I move up in my professional career. Through watching my father, I learned the benefits that come with being strong yet fair.
You can always call home. "Never be afraid to call home" was something I heard almost every time I left the house. My father was stern growing up, and at times my siblings and I would be a bit afraid of how he would react to certain situations we found ourselves in. He knew this, so he made it a point to always tell me that no matter how late, or how mad I thought he was, he would leave the house in the middle of the night and come to my rescue. My father is the most dependable person I know. From him I learned the importance of being a dependable person. I learned saying you'll be there and actually showing up should always go hand-in-hand.
Rock bottom isn't the end. My father, more than anyone, taught me there is always light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Even if the tunnel is long and dark, you can always reach the other side as long as you believe you can and surround yourself with people who believe in you. There was one instance when I thought all was lost and he said to me, "you're Alicia-F***ing-Cook and you are going to be fine" and guess what? He was right. I am fine.
The classics are classic for a reason. Clothing, music, and movies specifically. He taught me that fedoras and overcoats are timeless staples and you will never be embarrassed of an old picture of yourself. While my classmates were out grabbing the latest Madonna or Debbie Gibson CD, the first CD I ever bought myself was "Tony Bennett: Perfectly Frank." I learned early that some music will always sound better on vinyl, even if it skips a bit. I know how to buy, play, and care for records. My favorite movie is White Christmas starring Bing Crosby. It came out the year my father was born. Long before IMDB, I would watch his favorite movies with him, all the while he would provide commentary so I would learn more about the actors. This not only helped me be better-rounded and more cultured, but it has worked to my benefit on Trivia Nights too!
Spoiler Alert: Dad really did know best. All the petty arguments. All the slammed doors. All the dinners I would give him the silent treatment because he said "no" to my request. It all seems so futile now, though I guess it is a rite of passage. At the end of the day, he was right. I shouldn't have gone to that party. I shouldn't have dated that guy. I shouldn't have cursed at the dinner table. I shouldn't have drank that much. I should've called when I knew I was going to be late. I shouldn't have spoken to my mother like that. He was right. About everything. And though a very small part of me wishes he was wrong about something while he was raising me and surrounding me with boundaries, I can't think of one single thing. He really did have my best interests at heart while I was growing up, and even now that I am grown, I know he still has those very same intentions.
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