Dad’s Rules

Dad had all sorts of rules for us as we grew up. And for the most part we listened and obeyed. And in an era when it’s so popular to throw out the rules, I like to remember Dad’s rules.From an early age we learned from Dad that dessert was not to be eaten until Mom or Grandma or the hostess had sat down with her dessert. “That’s just being polite,” Dad would say, “So we’ll wait.” And we did. Self-discipline is an important part of life and learning to delay gratification is part of maturing some child experts say. Dad helped us to learn that by having us put down our dessert fork until Grandma sat down with her pie and a smile.“If you borrow one of my tools, you put it back where you got it and in as good a shape or better than when you borrowed it,” Dad scolded me as I sheepishly handed him his wrenches. In my haste to put a new set of handlebars on my bike I had left a couple end wrenches out in the driveway and in the rain. The bike is long rusted away but Dad’s rule sticks with me. And when my wife borrows my tools I remind myself she didn’t grow up with Dad’s tool rule so if one of my tools goes to school where she teaches art that’s just life. Dad didn’t tell me what kind of rule applies here.Sometimes, Dad’s rules were off the cuff, like the time the sump pump motor was about to burn out. I was about 10 years old and we had a shower rigged up in the basement that drained into a sump hole and the sump pump pumped the water out of the basement. “Get in, wash your arm pits and your private parts and get out.” Dad said sternly. “Otherwise that pump will burn out.” And that’s how I learned to take a fast shower and to be aware of what was going on around me. The longer that sump pump ran the more smoke poured out of it and I was afraid of what it would do if while I was in the shower it did burn out.Another off the cuff rule was to be considerate of your hosts. A young couple from church invited Mom and Dad to lunch after Sunday services at a fancy restaurant and also ended up with their four teenaged kids. And we could eat a lot. “They don’t have much money,” Dad said as he drove us to the restaurant. “And I know sometimes we like to eat steak but today just order the two piece chicken special.” As the waiter took our orders around the table my brothers and I were somehow in the mood for chicken. But there was an uncomfortable moment when our little sister was ready to order. The waiter watched her as she read the menu over once again and then raised her head with a pondering look in her eye. “I guess I’ll have…” she said as we all leaned forward, wondering what she would say, “…The two piece chicken special!” And the young couple looked a little relieved.

After much deliberation little sister Anna decides on the chicken!
After much deliberation little sister Anna decides on the chicken!
Dad taught us a lot about rules usually by noticing what we were doing wrong. When I was a small boy I was not having any luck removing a nut on my bike because I was trying to turn it the wrong way. He showed me that to loosen a nut I needed to go counter-clockwise and to tighten it, to turn it clockwise. “…Unless it’s threaded backwards.” He said. Up until then I wasn’t familiar with the terms clockwise and counter-clockwise but it all came together as I turned the wrench to loosen the nut. And for years I searched for that backward threaded bolt, wondering what it would look like. It seemed like a mysterious concept to me, a backwards threaded bolt. I was excited to share with Dad years later. I finally came across a backwards threaded bolt! Dad had countless rules: Change into your old clothes first, and then you can play. Don’t hit girls. Wait your turn.Brush your teeth before you go to school. Drive like you’d expect somebody else to drive. Wear your shirt at the supper table. Clean up after yourself; don’t expect others to do your chores. Be respectful of older people, or the police, or the pastor or your teachers. Don’t scratch in embarrassing places in front of others. Say please and thank you and offer your seat to a lady, or to an older man. Don’t spill sugar in the house, it attracts ants!Things like those and many others. The rules became ingrained and eventually became second nature. When we kids were teenagers and learning to drive Dad said to leave the parking spaces by the door at church ‘for the old people’ and park in the back. Even today my wife shakes her head when I park in the back of the grocery store or church parking lot because I’m saving the closer spaces for the old people. “You are the old people!” She says as she rolls her eyes.Doing a project with Dad like changing a tire, or changing the oil or putting on a new muffler or mounting a new antenna on the roof always involved learning a new rule. His most famous rule, ‘don’t stir up the dirt’, was often repeated as I sat beside him. I would get bored and draw pictures in the driveway and Dad’s allergies would make his nose itch and he would repeat it to me. “Don’t stir up the dirt!” Then he’d sneeze. And there were times when I didn’t bring Dad the exact tool he needed. My job was to wait until Dad decided what he needed and then go get it. “I need a 7/16ths end wrench,” he would say and I would run to the basement to get it out of his tool box. If I brought him the wrong tool Dad would tell me, “I need the proper tool. To do a proper job you need the proper tool. Always use the proper tools for the job!” And then I’d go look for what I thought he meant and hoped that this time I guessed right.Years later when I was helping a co-worker on the midnight shift in a factory to open up a barrel of ammonia we didn’t have a bung wrench. He started to use a pair of pliers in an awkward fashion and I cautioned him. “You know my Dad always taught me to do a proper job you need to use the proper tools.” My co-worker rolled his eyes and said, “Well your Dad’s not here!” But after scraping his knuckles a couple times he said, “Fine! Go get the bung wrench!”When my brothers and I would start to enjoy ourselves on a fishing trip Dad would caution us. “Don’t scare the fish!” And I would wonder why my brothers laughing at me on the bank of the river would scare fish way out in the river. But we would settle down and watch Dad lazily cast his line into the river. We didn’t mind all of Dad’s rules. We were happy just to spend time with him.
 Dad's best rule; spend time together.
Dad’s best rule; spend time together.