8 things my dad taught me about parenting

Girl and father
Girl and father Photo: Getty Images

In honour of Father’s Day, I’m reflecting on what my father taught me about parenting.

1. Sarcasm doesn’t work on babies.

I’m incurably sarcastic which I blame on my lineage. A long line of “sarcasmics” raised each generation to perfect the skill of a harmless barb.

Unfortunately I learnt the hard way that trying it on a baby or young child doesn’t achieve results (or laughs for that matter).

“Don’t even think about going to sleep now. It’s two in the morning which is a perfectly reasonable time to party.”

Baby compliantly smiles up at haggard mother who is not amused but finishes with, “You’re hilarious.”

2. Trust your kids until they give you reason not to.

I grew up in a very liberal house but one that also had high expectations of behaviour. We were taught to be accountable and the worst thing I could have heard from my dad was “I’m disappointed in you.”

In a secure home where love and trust go hand in hand, we were given the freedom to experiment and explore the world without über strict boundaries. My father was far from a hippy but he believed that by trusting his children, and arming them with the tools to deal with the array of challenging situations life throws, we’d grow into mature and responsible adults.

I’d like to think he was right. Others may disagree.

3. Point your middle finger with caution.

My dad loved a family meeting or three. Round up the kids and impart wisdom and knowledge, usually in the form of a stern lecture. I learnt a valuable skill during these talks: tune out. Why?

Apart from the glaringly obvious fact that he was not referring to his favourite, second-born, mostly perfect child but needed me there to make the lecture seem fair to all, tuning out was an important skill thanks to my dad’s middle finger. He had a habit of waving it around recklessly pointing at each of us as he spoke. There’s no possible way to contain laughter in a moment of firm telling-off when your dad is using his “rude” finger ignorant of its meaning.

Laughing at Dad’s lecture would’ve had us eating out of the dog’s bowl for a week. If we’d had a dog.

4. Dream big, follow your passion, work hard … the rest will come.

Seems rather vague and elusive but it turned out to be the most valuable advice. When I was sprouting a gut of stress ulcers trying to choose my Year 11 & 12 subjects, Dad asked one simple question: “What do you like?”

I chose English and Literature and filled the rest with subjects that generally interested me. At a time when most parents were studying university prerequisite guides ensuring their children had chosen the correct subjects to deem them eligible for their chosen course, it may have seemed like careless advice. As it turns out, being confident in my passion for the written word and working hard to achieve my goals led me places I couldn’t have mapped out. Guide or no guide.

5. The “Full Nelson” is not a move for the faint heartened. Or infants.

Love comes in many shades. My dad shows affection in a less-than-traditional manner. A fake headlock, a friendly slap on the back, a bear hug that leaves you breathless.  

When my first-born was six months old, Dad tried a wrestling move on him called The Full Nelson*.  Naturally, it was a watered-down faux version of the true move, even so my son was unimpressed and responded with tears.

Dad drew the conclusion that he wasn’t quite ready for the Full Nelson. It didn’t stop him trying it on subsequent grandchild until he found one who appreciated the move.

*Full Nelson
The act of reaching underneath another's armpits and interlocking one's hands behind the victims head...it is said that the name was given because Nelson Mandela himself gave many young juvenile delinquents ‘Full Nelsons’ during his Boot Camp. 

6. Be enraged by social injustice, then act on it

My dad loves a good chinwag about politics and social injustice. He’s intelligent, informed and suitably outraged by political decisions that disempower people. He’s also someone who acts on them wherever possible, whether that be at grassroots level, lobbying local politicians, or writing letters.

He taught me to question, to see the world beyond my own bubble and to stand up for those who are unable to defend themselves. A big supporter of the underdog was evident in his football team: Collingwood.

7. Farting is for the toilet.

Farts are funny. Kids think so and most adults think so if they are not trying to polite. My dad was an anomaly in our household. He didn’t find anything stink-bomb-related amusing. Farting was for the toilet.

I can’t say I’ve adopted this policy in my house, and with three rather stinky sons, and a daughter who could rival them in the stench department I’d be pushing the proverbial uphill to enforce it.

It wasn’t an issue for me as I wasn’t as windy as some of my siblings. Not pointing at anyone, Sister Bugle Bum. Long car trips holding in gas were torturous for her and perhaps the other two. Stomach-aches at final destinations were a common ailment, closely followed by a queue at the toilet.

8. Be generous with your time, your money and your heart.

My parents struggled financially at times during our childhood. Four children, born in quick succession, Dad trying to establish a career, working long hours and sometimes two jobs while mum coped on a shoestring budget at home.  They still managed to be generous.

I have a real thing against tightarses. I’m not sure if I can blame this aversion on my father and his philosophies but I know that being generous is very important to me.

We don’t all have the means to give generously through finances, this doesn't exclude us from generosity though. It comes in many forms – time, love, spirit, knowledge, a listening ear, a thoughtful note on someone’s doorstep (ok, that’s probably more my mum’s thing).

We start it with our kids when we talk about sharing but what we are teaching them is the bigger picture of life. Being generous with what you have brings infinitely more happiness than boxing it up for a rainy day.

To all the fathers: those no longer with us, those still around, those new to the job and those soon-to-be or one-day-hope-to-be – I wish you the happiest Father's Day!

What has your father taught you about parenting and life?  Join the conversation in the EB forums