Lessons I Learned From My Father

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Dad Short Order Cook

My father, the late John Wallace Brown, began working as a short-order cook during his High School years and continued working in that profession up until the time of his death on 20 November 2006, at 71 years of age.  He would be promoted during his career to Kitchen Manager.

Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon” Church by the media and others), taught,

A father’s duty is to make his home a place of happiness and joy. He cannot do this when there is bickering, quarreling, contention, or unrighteous behavior. The powerful effect of righteous fathers in setting an example, disciplining and training, nurturing and loving is vital to the spiritual welfare of his children. . .Remember your sacred calling as a father in Israel—your most important calling in time and eternity—a calling from which you will never be released (Ezra Taft Benson; “To the Fathers in Israel,” Ensign, November 1987, pp. 50-51).

I have often found it easier to write about and speak of my beloved mother than my father. It is not because I did not love and respect my father, for I did, but for several years ours was an estranged relationship. It is partly because of that relationship that in March 1981, at the young age of 23 years, I made the decision to leave home and join the military. It would not be until the twilight years of my father’s life that I would finally begin to have a more complete understanding of the man he really was.

The last time that I visited with my father was the weekend of my 48th birthday in October 2006. He looked aged, tired, worn out, and troubled about many things. What I saw before me was not the same person that I once knew. Seemingly gone from him was the vibrancy of living. The things that he had once found pleasure in doing had suddenly become passé to him. What I saw was a man who had run his course in life, and was now ready to just sit down and rest awhile.

The rest that he so desired came on Monday, 20 November 2006, at the age of 71 years. Though saddened that he was physically gone, there was also an air of relief that he was finally at peace and no longer had to deal with the mundane things of this world.

I shall forever be grateful for the life lessons that he taught me. It has been those valuable life lessons that have helped to mode and shape me into the man and the person that I am today.

One of those valuable lessons that my father taught me was how to be resourceful. As a boy growing up my family did not have a lot of money and so we often had to rely on the resources that we had available to sustain life. Instead of spending a lot of money at the grocery store for example, my father, for many years, planted his own garden and grew fresh vegetables and other things such as strawberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe to be used as sustenance for his family and himself. He also enjoyed planting beautiful flower gardens for my mother.

We did not have elaborate banquets to feast from, or gourmet meals to eat, but there was always enough to satisfy each hungry appetite with some left over for meals the next day. Very early in life I became acquainted with our good friend Quaker Oats, as oatmeal for breakfast was a staple. Meat such as venison and rabbit were often given to my father by friends who hunted and wanted to share their bounty. The chicken that we ate often came from those who raised and bred chickens. My mother was usually the one who had the honors of killing the “bird”, cleaning it, and preparing it for the family meal in addition to her delicious homemade dumplings.

My father was also resourceful in making fun things for his children to play with such as bows and arrows, and kites made from sticks and newspaper with a piece of cloth tied on the end for a tail. He even used scrap materials from old toy wagons and such to build us go-karts that my siblings and I spent hours of enjoyment playing with.

In addition to teaching me about how to be resourceful, my father also taught me how to be thrifty. He taught me that it doesn’t take a lot of money to be able to survive in this world; a person just needs to know how to manage the money that he has, and realize that he cannot put out more than he takes in. He also taught me that “robbing Peter to pay Paul” is not a sound way of managing finances. Sooner or later you still have to pay Peter what he is owed.

When my siblings and I were in school we never owned name brand sneakers, expensive sports jackets, or designer jeans. The only name brand that we were remotely familiar with was the wonderful brand called Fruit of the Loom. Most of the shopping for our school shoes and clothes was done at stores such as Sears, JC Penny, or McCroy’s. In our earlier school years, a lot of our clothing was purchased at Mr. Curley’s, a local discount clothing store. Our school supplies were purchased at Woolworth, the local dime store, or some similar place where supplies could be bought at reasonable prices. We did not have fancy, expensive, designer backpacks to carry our books in; we carried them in our arms. We did have lunch boxes with a thermos inside, but very often we took our lunch in a brown paper lunch bag. We were required to cover our textbooks to help protect and keep them for future use, and instead of buying fancy book covers, we used the brown shopping bags that were gotten from the grocery store and cut them to fit our textbooks.

My father was a frugal man who believed that spending money unnecessarily was utter foolishness. “A penny saved is a penny earned” was his philosophy. That is not to say that he was a penny-pinching miser or anything of the sort for he spent money on the necessities of life, but he also strongly believed and taught his four children well that there is a vast difference between what we think we want and what we really need. He would also spend extra money to take us to fun places like Ocean City in the summer or to the fair in Harrington Delaware. He also made sure that we got a gift on our birthday, and at Christmas there were lots of presents under the tree for everyone.

Dad Early Years

Perhaps one of the reasons that my father was so careful with his spending was because he came from a humble upbringing and always worked hard all of his life to have the things that he needed and to provide for his family. And so, another important life lesson that my father taught me was the value of hard work. “A little hard work never killed anyone” he would say. Throughout his life he often worked at least two jobs to make ends meet. In the latter years of his life he worked as a Preparatory Cook in a local restaurant during the day, and then would come home and go to work, often until dark, in the lawn care business which he established and became very successful in. He was definitely not a stranger to hard work. When he laid his head on his pillow at night to rest, he could do so knowing that he had put in an honest day of work.

Another life lesson that my father taught me was that we can all learn new things if we have an open mind and are willing to be taught. We often defeat ourselves in life because we refuse to be teachable and to venture out and try new things.

For example, my father was very good with his hands and loved to build things. One of the things that he built was a work shed where he could work on his projects. It started out as a small one room work shed, but as time went on, he decided to add an addition to house all of his tools such as shovels, rakes, hoses, lawn mowers, etc. Once his lawn care business started to grow, he decided that he needed to expand even more and built another addition to house his lawn equipment and supplies. I might add that all of this was done by building from the ground up – nothing was prefabricated. He also ran all the electric himself and installed all the lighting, light switches, and electrical outlets that were necessary. I might further add that the lawn care business that he maintained was completely established by him, and he worked diligently to get his customers and faithfully served them until the time of his death. He did not take any expensive courses in carpentry or electrical installation. He did not major in Business Administration at a major university. He simply used the knowledge that he had obtained by watching others and put that knowledge to practical use. He was able to carry out many of the things that he did because he was teachable and willing to venture out and used what he had learned to have the things that he needed.

The acronym that I use to help me remember the life lessons that my father taught me is “Remember The Home Team” (R.T.H.T.) That is, (1) Be resourceful – learn to use the things that you already have at your disposal, (2) Be thrifty – learn to separate your wants from your needs and be a wise steward over the funds that you have, (3) Be a hard worker – be able to lay your head on your pillow at night and rest knowing that you did not waste the day that the Lord had given you, but that you were a wise steward of time, and you seized the day and did an honest day of work, and (4) Be teachable – have an open mind and be willing to learn and try new things.

The valuable life lessons that my father taught me are not only lessons that I remember, but lessons that I will not soon forget. My father was a great teacher and mentor. I only pray that I was as good a student as I should have been to learn and apply the valuable lessons that he taught me.