For Father’s Day: 12 lessons dads give children that serve them for a lifetime

Nicole Villalpando’s dad David De Stephen must be telling some funny story to his sons Dan and Darren at the bat mitzvah of Nicole’s daughter Ava earlier this month. Carol Calvery/For American-Statesman

“Being a Dad is Weird.” That’s the the title of Ben Falcone’s new book. You know Falcone as Melissa McCarthy’s husband and the air marshal in “Bridesmaids.”

In the book ($25.99, Dey Street), Falcone looks back at his own childhood and reflects on how it’s made him the father he is today. It’s a hilarious, heartwarming book.

It got me thinking about our own childhood dad stories and about the stories my husband and children are busy creating right now. They are stories that often can be created with Mom, too, but sometimes there’s just something very “Dad” about them.

In honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, here are 12 things my father taught me and my husband continues to teach my children.

  1. How to laugh. There is just dad humor and dad-isms. My favorite from my Dad: Busier than a one-armed paper hanger. (Really, Dad? So not P.C.) I shot a moose. (For passing gas.) Either (expletive) or get off the toilet. (Used especially in traffic when someone is going to slow.) Even today, my dad trades jokes (often inappropriate) with my brothers. My husband and children have their own jokes, too.
  2. How to be flustered hilariously with great gusto and a string of curse words. Think about the father in “A Christmas Story” as the neighbors’ dogs steal the turkey or as the furnace smokes again. That’s my dad watching a football game or trying to fix something. That’s also been my husband, from time to time. While my dad sticks to conventional curse words, my husband goes rogue and creates his own. It’s hard to take them seriously sometimes, even though you know how upset they are.
  3. How to never grow up. Even as grown men, my dad and my husband have toy collections, hidden in their closets, not for kids to touch. For my dad, it’s trains, model planes and cars. For my husband, it’s everything “Star Wars” and superheroes. They take them out and play with them, then put them back in their not-so-secret locations. It’s all the things they wanted to have as children but could never afford.
  4. How to work hard every day. I saw it with my father who worked long hours. My kids see it with my husband. The value of work is strong with these men. My children and my brothers also learned that work should be enjoyable, but sometimes you just have to do it even when you’d rather be at home playing video games. It’s called work.
  5. How to unwind, especially with video games. My father played a mean game of “Night Mission Pinball” on the Apple IIe we had — even after we’d moved to Macintoshes and PCs. My children love playing “Mario Cart” with my husband or for a time, “Wii Sports.” They know that Dad’s not allowed to play “Grand Theft Auto” anymore, though, unless we want him to drive us like an outlaw.
  6. How to enjoy sports and outdoors. While I will play basketball with the kids, my mom never did, and my husband is much better at getting out there with the kids and riding bikes or shooting hoops. My dad taught me the rules of every sports game on TV (even the blessedly boring golf). He also taught me that referees are not perfect. Not at all. And he wants you to know that.
  7. How to let loose on the dance floor. The women in our family have fun, but they’re much more controlled. The men might act out the spinning brushes and squirting sprays of a car wash for the Rose Royce “Car Wash” song. They’re also really great at embarrassing their teenage daughters with their moves.
  8. A love of music. Every camping trip was an exercise in learning all the words to every Bee Gees, Doobie Brothers, ABBA and ELO song. It was the ’70s after all. For my kids, their dad has given them an appreciation of all things Beatles and classic rock. My Taylor Swift-loving daughter is resisting, but we’ve caught her singing a classic rock song a time or two. My son can’t get enough Queen, David Bowie or Duran Duran.
  9. How to be safe with a car and how to buy a car. My dad loves to tell the story of the first time he took me driving and I managed to wedge the car between two concrete barriers, completely unscratched. Sometime soon, my husband (and I, too) will be teaching our 16-year-old, who’s trying to delay the process. He’ll be the wise cool-headed adult to my panicked adult. I will have to confess, every time I go to buy a car, I always call my dad first or text him to make sure it’s a good deal. I’m a grown woman. I’ve now bought seven cars, but I still need Dad’s seal of approval.

    Rob Villalpando gets ready to enter the petting zoo at Austin Zoo with young Ben and Ava. Ben’s love of the Hulk, that’s all Rob. Nicole Villapando/American-Statesman 2004

  10. How to share the workload at home with Mom. Even though my Mom didn’t work for the first six years of my life, Dad still helped around the house, more than just take out the trash. He also taught me how to make an apple pie. My husband is the king of the laundry at our house and he’s taught us how to not turn everything into one big giant, towering pile. Apparently, you sometimes have to go through the piles and get rid of stuff. He calls us all hoarders. Without him, we would be.
  11. How to love an animal completely. The time I saw my dad utterly break down and cry in loud, painful sobs was the day he put our dog Catherine to sleep. The worst I’ve ever seen my husband cry or be depressed was when we put down our first dog, Jet. Even now, my dad thinks his dog Molly hangs the moon. He can’t admit that she’s a terrible dog. My husband spends every weekend morning at the dog park with Chewie. There’s just a special bond between man and dog. Sleep in the doghouse? These men would gladly do it.
  12. How to love their children unconditionally. Sure sometimes it’s still a very sexist “wait until your father gets home” mantra. Dad is still “the hammer” when he’s not “the fun dad.” And sometimes Dad loses his cool — a lot — but I grew up knowing my dad loved me no matter what. My kids are growing up knowing the exact same thing. That’s more precious than any material gift a father can give.

Roberto Villalpando holds baby Ava on the beach. Nicole Villalpando/American-Statesman 2004

What has your dad taught you?

Share your thoughts in the comments of this story.


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