My Dad’s Straight-Talking Wisdom Has Made Me a Better Parent

dad and daughter

On my dad’s 40th birthday, he sat at the head of the table, an aluminum foil crown perched on his head, cake ablaze, and I thought, How sad for him, his life is over. Forty years later, with my perception changed, I now think, He’s still young. So, with his 80th birthday and Father’s Day looming, are a cake and crown no longer appropriate? I am perplexed.


At the store, I picked up and replaced every card because none fit. I searched the gift card rack, but nothing. I thought, What do I want my boys to give me when I’m 80? That’s when I knew, the best gift I could ever give: gratitude.

Although I am thankful for his hard work and dedication, Dad’s straight-talking wisdom is what I value most. As a child, I didn’t appreciate his words, but as a mother of two teen boys, I am eternally grateful. Dad spoke the truth as he saw it, and his brutal honesty formed the foundation of who I am as a person and a mother.

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When I turned 10, I bravely asked Dad for an allowance, because ALL my friends at school got one. One Saturday after helping with yard work, I went up to him and presented my argument.

He immediately gestured toward the house. “You live here, don’t you?”

I nodded my head yes.

“You eat here, don’t you?”

Again, I nodded yes.

“Good, then there’s no need for an allowance.”

A few years ago, when my youngest asked for an allowance, I answered, “No.” Of course, he wouldn’t let it go. So, I joked, “You live here, don’t you?”

One Sunday morning, while Dad sat reading the Sunday paper, I crashed his cherished ritual. Beyond stressed, I blurted out that I received a poor grade on a geometry test. With my stress boiling inside, I let out all my fears: I would never graduate or get into college, no one would hire me, and my life was over. Dad bent his paper down, half-glasses resting on the end nose as he watched and waited for my deluge to end.

I asked, “Well, aren’t you going to yell at me for the grade?”

“What would my getting mad at you prove? Failure is a part of life, my dear girl, time to learn from it!” And with a snap of his paper, he went back to his Sunday and I went to my room fuming. But I passed geometry, went to college, and got a good job.

It must be hereditary, because last year my eldest son struggled with geometry -- his angst, palpable. I thought back to that Sunday morning, and instead of a harsh lecture, I gave him a hug, shared my experience, and found a tutor.

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When I turned 17, I asked Dad if I could get a car; he smiled and sat back in his chair. “My dear girl, if I give you everything now, you’ll have nothing to work for later.”

I hated those words then, but now, I see the brilliance behind them. So, when my boys ask for outlandish things, like ski goggles that cost more than my first car, or watches that do everything but cook you dinner, I simply begin, “If I buy it for you now...”

“We know, Mom,” they reply, exasperated.

When I declared my college major as accounting, my father, convinced I should be a writer, shot me a look of bewilderment. “Why would you do that?”

“Because, I’m taking it in school and my teacher says you can make a good living at it.”

“You’ll hate it,” he answered, then dropped the argument. When he left me at college, he said, “Do what you love to do, and the money will follow. It's not the other way around.” It took me many years to see the wisdom in that statement, as I now pursue a writing career.

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This year my eldest declared he would major in criminal justice because he wants to be a state police officer. He said, “Mom, you said to do what you love, and that’s what I’m doing.” I smiled with pride and said, “Well, let’s find a school with a good criminal justice program.”

I thank you, Dad, for your wisdom to teach me to always be grateful, to earn my own rewards, to not allow failure to paralyze but rather to inspire, and for letting me go when the time came. Your truths instilled generosity, strength, and resilience, but more importantly, they made me a better mom -- a legacy to be proud of.


Celeste Chin left the corporate world to raise her children and eventually pursue a career in writing. Also a substitute teacher, she lives in New Jersey with her two teenage boys. Celeste recently completed writing her first children’s novel, for children 9 to 12 years old. Her favorite hobbies surround spending time with her sons, either on the golf course, skiing, hiking, or kayaking, just to name a few.

Image via Graugaard

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