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What a Father Says

Mary Dell writes, thinking about Father’s Day: From the very moment we become parents, we nourish our baby with words.  We coo and sing lullabies to our newborn and delight in his every linguistic response. Soon we add expressions – sometimes those we learned from our own parents – to teach a lesson or impart a value.  At this, my father excelled, and I know I am the better for it.

father's day, dad and daughter, father and daughter

Dad was a country-boy at heart and had a folksy way of speaking.  A petroleum engineer, he traveled around the world analyzing oil and gas fields. Whether he was in a boardroom on Wall Street or sitting at our kitchen table talking to my sister and me, he remained grounded by his boyhood in Pecos, Texas. As Father’s Day nears, I remember him and his favorite fatherly sayings:

He was pragmatic – he owned his own business, managing it amidst the extreme cyclicality of the energy industry.  “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s tail all the time”was both his worldview and how he helped his daughters cope with their own periodic disappointments or moments of good fortune.

He was sympathetic – “Hard to get all your raccoons up one tree” was his way of saying that he understood the frustration of not achieving goals, whether they were mine, his corporate ones or those of a hunting dog.

He was kind – Dad was one of the least judgemental people I have ever known and approached everyone he encountered as an equal: “We are all ignorant.  We’re just ignorant about different things.”

He was optimistic –  “Even a blind sow can find an acorn from time to time.” He fully believed that acorns were there in abundance, waiting to be stumbled upon.

A family friend once described my father to my mother this way: “Jimmie would smile at the devil.”  He was good-natured, curious about people, and found striking up conversations with perfect strangers the most natural thing in the world.

dad and daughters

On Father’s Day, I feel the loss of Dad in my life but am grateful that he lived until 80, long enough to know my two children. On occasion, I pull out one of these phrases to use with them. They knew their grandfather well and recognize his words. They smile in response, sharing a memory of Dad.

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Grown and Flown

Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest reflects on the arc of parenting with an emphasis on 15-25 year olds. Lisa Endlich Heffernan is an author and wrote a NYT Business Bestseller following a Wall Street career. After working in media, Mary Dell Harrington became a school and hospital volunteer. Counting all five of their kids, they have 93 years of parenting experience. They’ve been working moms and stay-at-home moms and have shepherded their children in and out of elementary, middle and high school. With their youngest now seniors in high school, they have the empty nest in sight.

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Thursday 12th of June 2014

Thanks so much, Mary Dell for the lovely Father's Day piece on your Dad. He sounds like a wonderful man. The stories about him reminded me so much of my Dad, also a country boy, who was fond of saying "Wow-ee" and "Holy Smokes", when cars passed his slow-driving Chevy on Storrow Drive in Boston. I remember how much he would embarrass us as kids when he talked randomly to everyone from the mailman to the principal. But now I find myself doing the very same thing, and it's oddly comforting. Anyway, thanks for a great piece!

Grown and Flown

Thursday 12th of June 2014

Thanks for posting my writing about my father. As time goes by since his death, it is through the expressions he used (frequently!) that his voice is the most vivid to me. Makes me think I should use MORE expressions of my own with our kids! Mary Dell

Sharon Greenthal

Thursday 12th of June 2014

I am the same way, Mary Dell - I hear my father's voice vividly.

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