Help me be a good Dad.
November 1, 2011 5:23 PM   Subscribe

What skills did your Dad pass on to you that you appreciate, or have benefited from, the most? Or better yet, what should I learn so I can teach my boys as they grow up? I want to keep it basic, so they at least have a foundation in a number of things.

I have two boys, 3 and 1 years old. When they head out into the world I want them capable at handling various things that will come their way. My parents didn't in a lot of ways, so when they're struggling twenty somethings I want them to be able to build a bookshelf or change the oil in their car, cook for themselves, etc.
I'm considering taking community classes to learn basic woodworking, wiring, car maintenance, sewing...
posted by andywolf to Education (96 answers total) 130 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely basic car maintenance: changing/rotating tires, changing oil, replacing air filters etc. If you have skills or hobbies share them! That's what my father did with me. Or when your child expresses an interest take a skill or hobby that you both want to learn and learn it together.
posted by risaroni at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

"When using a knife always aim away from your body." I always think of this when a knife slips after getting caught and hits air instead of me.
posted by R2WeTwo at 5:29 PM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ironically, cooking.

Not only did it deprogram traditional gender roles in me, but it's also coming in very handy right now when I'm halfway across the country, fending for myself at university.
posted by Conspire at 5:32 PM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Check out Lessons for my Unborn Son.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:33 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

My dad is great at making stuff. Not in a "I could have bough this bookcase at a store" kind of way, but more in a MacGyver would be proud kind of way. It's a skill I cherish. Not just for the real physical things I sometimes find myself making, but for the way it's taught me to think about problems in nontraditional ways.

My dad also taught me to cook and that's been awesome.
posted by advicepig at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad took me on long (long, long, long) hikes all over the place and expected me (at less than 1/3rd of his height) to be try to keep up with him, to carry my share of the snacks, to hold a conversation about the stuff around us, etc. I know for sure I was doing these trips with him in kindergarten, but I don't know how young I was when I started. My brother was about four or five when my dad switched from carrying him in the bike trailer to having him bicycle along with us - by age seven they were bicycling a couple of miles each way to breakfast on Saturday mornings.

On road trips we would always sit down the night before and he'd highlight the entire route on a map, explaining where we were going and what to expect. Then as he drove he had me figure out where we were and how far it was to the next place (I'm absolutely 10,000% sure he already knew when he asked, but I had no idea at the time.)

My dad's a serious photographer (used to own a camera store) and would have me take photos of things (giving advice but letting me handle the camera on my own) and then when we got them developed we'd talk about what I did and how the shot could have turned out more like what I had been hoping for. He had me keep the "errors" so I'd be able to remember what happened when you did things like stand two feet in front of an aquarium and let the flash go off.

You might be interested in books like The Dangerous Book for Boys, by the way. But I feel compelled to point out that I was a little girl and benefited from this stuff just as much as my brother did.
posted by SMPA at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

How to properly chop vegetables and other solid cooking skills. How to clean a house well. Camping. Fishing. Sailing. Biking. Walking places instead of driving all of the time. Fixing things around the house. Gardening. Instill a love of volunteering and civic duty (voting, campaigning, think globally/akt locally) within ur seed, 2
posted by 200burritos at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

how to use a screw driver, and safely hand tools around (handle to the person you're offering it to!)

Safe wood working, how to solder.
posted by titanium_geek at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2011

posted by smoke at 5:37 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

It use to be that boys learned much of the stuff you mention in school. As if school was a place to learn how to get along in the world. It will all depend on each of your son's aptitude and interest. When they come to you and ask you to do something for them explore the idea of teaching them how to do it - age related undertakings a given here. But some boys thrive on learning to be self sufficient others don't and it is hard to teach those that don't want to learn.
posted by JXBeach at 5:38 PM on November 1, 2011

I'm a woman, but my dad taught me both the importance of tipping and how to get good customer service without being a complete pain in the ass. If he has a problem with a product or a meal or whatever, he puts a smile on his face, speaks respectfully and politely and almost always gets what he needs or wants. It has been a real lesson to see how one can be assertive, firm and yet polite.

He also loves to quote Billy Crystal's Fernando Lamas at me: "It's better to look good than to feel good.. and baby, you look mahvelous!" Kind of as a "fake it til you make it" encouragement.
posted by sutel at 5:39 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is more a meta-skill, but I think it counts: pride in a job well done. That encompasses planning, using the right tools (or at least, not using very wrong ones) and finishing what you've started.

You know the thing that Steve Jobs talked about learning from his dad, where you finish the back side of a fence or the inside of a cabinet, because if you leave it unfinished, you'll know it's there? That's my dad's ethos, and though I tend to apply it in very different circumstances to his daily work, it still applies just as much.
posted by holgate at 5:41 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Critical thinking.

My dad and all the other important teachers in my life framed every lesson in the greater scheme of, "What I'm really doing is teaching you how to teach yourself."
posted by Wossname at 5:43 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know how exactly to say it...but this boy was taught, probably by example, something about being a man during difficult times.

Also teach him that being a man does not have to include violence; that you can fight fiercely for your beliefs without a fist. Or a gun.
posted by nickjadlowe at 5:43 PM on November 1, 2011

When taking something apart, get a very good look at it before you even start. It's quite possible you don't really need to unscrew that screw right in front of you to get to the part that you're looking to fix. It also helps you get the thing back together later after that.
posted by Gilbert at 5:46 PM on November 1, 2011

Grab a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook. Even if you aren't interested in sending your boys to the BSA, they can learn a ton of valuable lessons.

I silently thank my parents for forcing me to go to my weekly meetings every time I have to tie a knot or start a fire and my friends are fucking clueless.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:48 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

drywall repair
basic plumbing and carpentry
power tool usage
proper table manners
basic auto repair
critical thinking
having a sense of humour

though to be fair, it was both my parents that taught me these things
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:59 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got a toolbox from my dad when I was somewhere in the 6-8 year old range. It had a metal nameplate with my name and address on it and a few tools with it. My dad was a guy who disappeared into his shop on weekends but I could head down there with tools and I'd get little projects to do. All the tools had to be cleaned off before they went back in the box and he would stress the importance of doing a job well being partly cleaning up after yourself as well as just doing the thing. Every year or so for Christmases or birthdays I'd get more tools [usually better tools or something more esoteric] that would go in the toolbox. Still have the thing and a really nice set of lifetime warranty Craftsman tools. It was a great ongoing gift and connection the two of us had.
posted by jessamyn at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2011 [20 favorites]

Apparently I was the faux son in our family, because my dad taught me a lot of these same things: how to build model airplanes and bird houses, how to mow a lawn, how to change a tire, how to tie a good knot, how to bake a mean cookie. All of this he taught me to do thoroughly, thoughtfully, and well.
posted by chatongriffes at 6:01 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honesty and integrity. My dad can be a real hard ass -- a quality I'm trying not to pass along to *our* kids -- but he's always honest, if not outright blunt. I'm not sure being blunt is such a great quality, but I've always appreciated his honesty, and the older I've become the more I admire it.

The importance and cheerful willingness to do the dishes right after finishing a meal. He can't cook to save his life, but he always does the dishes.

How to haggle.

How to work hard.

The importance of sincerely saying "thank you" when someone does something nice for you.

How to be a good husband, a good father, and a good son.
posted by mosk at 6:01 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

That learning for its own sake (with no immediately intended practical outcome) is a Good (virtuous?) thing.
posted by Riemann at 6:01 PM on November 1, 2011

I think one of the most important skills you can pass on to your sons is how to treat a woman (especially how to set up a date, how to behave like a gentleman, how to communicate when you're interested, etc). It's a dismally under-taught lesson in today's age.
posted by litnerd at 6:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm female, but these are the things I cherish from my dad,

- Basic tool skills, I got a toolbox when I went away to university and it's been the handiest gift ever (also, a great way to meet people when you have a hammer, and the person down the hall is attempting to assemble shelves with a shoe).
- Water safety. He'd regularly take us out into the lake and dump the canoe so we knew how to get back to safety should an emergency happen.
- Three points of contact when climbing trees (or any other structures that were around)

More generally; Problem solving. Looking at a problem, the items at hand, and figuring out a solution. It might not always be the prettiest solution, but it does the job (Efficiency and effectiveness come first, then aesthetics).
Also "Everyone's entitled to their own dumb opinion." Evaluate, then dismiss people who are being stupid (usage: bullies, teases, trolls etc.). There are certain people who are not worth getting all het up about, best to just dismiss them
posted by platypus of the universe at 6:05 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

"If you can touch it you can catch it." My dad played football in high school, and when we were growing up and playing catch with him he'd always say this. I use it to this day.

But probably not what you're looking for so . . .

My dad taught me how to ask for things, upgrades, whatnot. I learned that it never hurts to ask for an upgrade in hotels, flights, rental cars.

He also taught me that he's always there, even when he's not. To this day, whenever we travel (myself, siblings - we're all adults with families), he tracks us. He always knows when a flight is delayed and why. When we call to check-in with him in between flights, he already knows that the flight was late/canceled, that there were issues at such-and-such airport/airline, or whatever. And if we're stuck somewhere, he always has suggestions on where to grab a good bite to eat or a place to stay. I cannot express how much comfort I receive knowing that my dad knows what's going on while I'm traveling and that he's thinking ahead, waiting for my call, waiting to offer assistance even though he's far away. In that regard, I never feel alone.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:06 PM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Let your kids have responsibility early on, and tell them that you respect and appreciate them whenever they do something great with that responsibility. Let them be independent but be there with open arms. Model that kind of respect. Children need that.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:13 PM on November 1, 2011

How to make pancakes! Cooking is definitely a great skill to impart as well as a good bonding activity.

My dad also taught me how to track the gas mileage in my car. Goes along with the car maintenance stuff, but there's an interesting math learning opportunity there, too for a kid at the right age.
posted by fussbudget at 6:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just asked my brother this question and he said to teach your sons about guns; how to handle them with respect and not be afraid of them.
posted by govtdrone at 6:14 PM on November 1, 2011

My dad taught me how to use all the tools in your basic tool kit, home repair things like sanding and varnishing and painting, how to grill, and really just a lot of things that are typically considered "man stuff" that I find indispensable even as a lady. I don't know that he ever made a list of things to teach me. It was more that he'd just explain whatever he was working on at the time. I always wanted to help, and he would almost NEVER say "this is too hard/dangerous/heavy/whatever for you" but would instead find a task I could handle and teach me how to do it.
posted by katillathehun at 6:15 PM on November 1, 2011

Always carry a pen, a knife, and a comb.
posted by djb at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2011

Oh, and he also taught me how to use a blowgun. I haven't needed it yet, but if my loved ones and I ever find ourselves trapped in a jungle full of angry tigers with nothing to protect ourselves but a hollowed out rod and some tranquilizer darts, I will save us. Slowly.
posted by katillathehun at 6:19 PM on November 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm female, but:

1. Defensive driving. On narrow mountain roads, tootling along behind some big rig and thinking about passing it, I always hear his voice in my head: "there's nowhere you're going that's urgent enough to risk a head on collision." So true.

2. Parallel parking. Such a minor skill but so handy! He taught me on a car with no power steering, which probably helped me become the master I am.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:20 PM on November 1, 2011

My dad taught me how to swim. I used to take this for granted, but I've come to realize what a luxury it is to have no fear of water.
posted by millions of peaches at 6:22 PM on November 1, 2011

Fishing. Some of my fiance's best memories are from when his dad taught him to fly fish, and they still go fishing when they can find the time. It's a fantastic skill to have and a lovely, quiet, contemplative activity to share. It's also a nice source of confidence for him - catching dinner for everyone gives him a visible spring in his step and adds at least an inch to his stature.
posted by dialetheia at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2011

So, um, my apologies for saying this in the first place but I'll be honest: how to be completely calm and undisturbed when The Time comes.

The ability to be completely calm when Bad Things are happening is shockingly, if only occasionally, useful. The related ability to be completely calm until you suddenly start hurting people is equally handy.

It will almost never come up in life, but when it does it's worth it. I learned it when I was nine, when someone tried to kill him, but there are probably better ways to learn the lesson. If you make wiser choices, this may never come up. Even so, a calm and equable attitude is worth learning.

Nevertheless, I'm not kidding: the ability to remain relatively calm in the face of out-of-nowhere madness is remarkably handy. Even when it's just a matter of your flight being especially bumpy.
posted by aramaic at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

My dad didn't teach me this but my brother did: how to protect myself, how to change a tire, other basic car maintenance, how to load and shoot a gun, how to do basic maintenance around the house...
posted by govtdrone at 6:25 PM on November 1, 2011

Another female who came in specifically to say parallel parking. Most of my friends can't do it, and every time I ace it, I thank dad.

Treating people in service roles as human beings. Always take the time to ask, and be genuinely interested in the answer, after how people are doing. Not just civil, but kind.
posted by librarianamy at 6:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Show them basic housecleaning skills (vacuuming, making beds, etc.) and pride in your home by cleaning when guests are coming over.

Help them cultivate an interest in the world by reading newspapers or listening to world news and then talking about current events. And travel with them if you can! Demystify the experience of traveling so they feel confident about it when they get older.
posted by cadge at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2011

I'm a girl, but my Dad taught me:

a) a love of books. He read to me every single night before I went to bed. I'm sure that's why I am a writer and a reader today.

b) the importance of having a good sense of humor.

c) that if you get mad about every little thing, no one takes you seriously. Save your anger for situations that truly, truly deserve it. (My Dad NEVER gets mad, so when he does, EVERYONE takes him seriously.) Pick your battles.

d) if you want to do well in your math class, do the homework every night instead of just screwing around until the last minute (he's great at math; I am terrible. This is the only way I passed my college math requirement.)

e) the infield fly rule.

My Dad is awesome. So is my Mom: she's the one who taught me how to check the oil in my car.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:31 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Things I learned from my dad are more thought processes than skills, but they help:

Don't be afraid to take it apart if it isn't working. Best case scenario, you fixed it. Worst case scenario, it doesn't work, which is where you started anyway.

If it's worth doing, its worth doing right. Dont do a half-ass job.

Always have the right tool for the job. Even if it means going out and buying a new tool.

Never be afraid to ask for help from someone who knows what they are doing.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:34 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ditto for most of the above. Also: safe handling of firearms.

How to camp, fish and generally treat the outdoors respectfully. That there's plenty to like about Iowa (adjust for wherever you're from). That you should DIY if possible, but that sometimes it's worth it to Pay A Guy to do the job right. How to keep up a yard (mowing, trimming, pruning, etc). Reading is a worthwhile pastime (we're reading 2 series together, trading the books back and forth as each finishes ahead of the other).

Most importantly, the ins and outs of grilling/smoking/cooking over charcoal. Everyone, and I mean everyone, I know uses propane or gas outside. I'm the only guy in the area (based on weekend sniff tests) that does it the old-fashioned way and as God intended.
posted by jquinby at 6:34 PM on November 1, 2011

Based on the example my parents (both of them) set, I long believed the three things you have to do to be an adult are read the daily newspaper, vote in every election as an informed voter, and volunteer in your community. The only thing that's changed is that daily newspapers are a dying breed. :( (Also, one of key points about a daily newspaper is that you didn't just read what you agreed with or what already interested you, as you tend to with a web news service; you'd find yourself reading a science story about the sex lives of penguins or an op-ed from the side you could never agree with, and these things are Good For You To Do.)

What all of these things have in common is that they're about participating in the world, by informing yourself, participating in the common governance, and helping others. Missing any one of these three legs -- self-education, civic participation, and voluntarism -- renders the other two less meaningful and less useful.

They were equally well-informed on local issues, national issues, and international issues, and cultivated a broad curiosity about the world.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:37 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

My dad, as part of his quest to become The Cheapest Man Alive, acted as the contractor when he and my mother remodeled the house over the course of my senior year. I spent almost every weekend being dragged to Handy Andy, Builders Square, Sears and Home Depot to look at outlets, register covers and toilets. My parents worked alongside the drywaller and the painter to prep the walls for paint.

This taught me:

1) Money should be spent carefully.
2) Your home is very important, because that is where the people you love live.
3) Be good to your partners, be it your wife, co-workers, or employees. Cherish their work because it is your work, too.
4) Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.
5) Save. I ruined that floor a few years later, and Dad kept enough pieces that he could patch it without it being obvious. And most importantly
6) You CAN do it. At the very least, you should try. I didn't think I could do groutwork, but my bathroom has a "flaw" in a hidden corner that reminds me of the spring afternoon I helped lay the tiles.
posted by hmo at 6:41 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

From Ms. Vegetable:
- Debt is bad.
- How to drive stick.
- Call the cops when needed.

I think only one of those is a skill, but all of those are important things I learned from my dad.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:56 PM on November 1, 2011

How to fish
How to clean a fish
How to build and maintain a (camp)fire
How to use a gun
How to use a bow
How to build things with simple tools
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:59 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad is a real DIY kind of guy, sometimes a bit extremely. He always made me help when he was fixing something (I spent many a Saturday afternoon over the years standing on pieces of wood as a weight). In retrospect, he didn't need my help (he had vises) but his continual insistence that I be there gave me all kinds of handy skills that most of my peers seem to lack. I really disliked helping him at times, but I'm so glad that he insisted I learn that stuff now that I'm an adult.

I, too, have a full set of tools and I know how to use them. I can change my own tires and even replace my own radiator. I fix my friends game consoles, computers and monitors. It's kind of fun to be that person, and it's largely because of my dad. I guess he generally instilled in me both a knowledge of tools and a sense that I am smart enough to figure out how to fix things.

And yeah, I'm a girl. My brother is smart as hell but he's just not as much into tools and those sorts of things, so it was awesome of my dad to recognize that I was more interested in that stuff and not to teach me only the girly skills like cooking and sewing.

So yeah, learn to fix stuff. Make them help you.
posted by ZeroDivides at 7:04 PM on November 1, 2011

My dad taught me how to drive. Thanks to him I can parallel park and am not a wimp driving on freeways or interstates (like my mom, unfortunately.)
posted by Anima Mundi at 7:05 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

How to fix a clogged, running or generally broken toilet.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:07 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Righty tighty, lefty loosy!!!

It's so silly, but I still use it to this day :)
posted by Zoyashka at 7:07 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

(I'm female)

My Dad taught me how to hang one leg over the side of the bed and put your foot on the floor to hold the room still when you're drunk and your head is spinning. Waaay more practical than gutting a fish.

He also instilled a sense of humor in me. I was probably the only 6 year old who got woken up to watch Saturday Night Live or the Three Stooges. He also bought me my first Mad Magazine.

Just a general sense of being able to do things for yourself. (This came from both of my parents) I can cook, clean, and sew, but I can also fix a toilet or install a faucet or hang some drywall if I need to. And I'm not scared to at least try most DIY projects.

Also, I never heard "you can't do that because you're a girl". So I think the flip side of that would apply. If your son wants to be a ballet dancer, buy him some slippers and tell him to go for it.

(Other than that, my Dad's a bad driver, and worse with money, so I'd say 'budgeting' as well. --luckily I took drivers' ed at school.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:16 PM on November 1, 2011

Don't forget the things your children will learn from you by example and osmosis. Most importantly, how to treat people, how to communicate and express feelings. The quality of the relationship you have with their mother will be the most important factor in their social and emotional development.
posted by blargerz at 7:17 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad was very mechanical, and also started me out with a small toolkit that he added to as the years went on. He taught me basic carpentry, plumbing, and electrical skills. He taught me basic car maintenance, how to jumpstart a battery, how to change a flat tire (bonus: without a jack), and how to drive a stickshift.

But what stands out more in my memory are these things:

He taught me how to properly put on and properly remove a condom, and gave me a box of condoms, so I would have them and not be too embarrassed to go buy my own. (He used a banana as a teaching aid, and I still remember that even though the whole thing was terribly awkward for him, he still did it, and I still appreciate it.)

To open and hold the door for everyone, women and men alike.

Establishing yourself as a "regular" at your favorite bar or restaurant, and taking care of the bartender/waitstaff well enough that you start enjoying the little perks.

Basic golf etiquette.

The importance of a good, firm handshake while maintaining a smile and eye contact. (Again, 30 years later, I get compliments on my handshake.)

That a man should always live in such a way that his word is good enough assurance to anyone who even remotely knows him. (Even now I still regularly close five-figure deals on a handshake.)

He also taught me to stop for people on the side of the road, whether I'm comfortable doing it or not, and whether I think I have anything to offer or not. Even if you're in a hurry or running late to the airport, you still have two minutes to stop and call AAA or a tow truck for someone, and continue on your way.
posted by xedrik at 7:26 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm a girl and my dad taught me how to:
1. Drive a car on the highway.
2. Back a full-size van into a parking space.
3. change a tire.
4. Shoot a gun.
5. fix a toilet.
6. take care of my pets.
7. fish.
8. build stuff. My dad was a shop teacher for a middle school. One year, he gave my sister and I personalized hammers for Christmas (I still use mine). Because of him I know what a Phillips head screwdriver and an Allen wrench are. I've also put all of my furniture together pretty much by myself since college.
posted by Nolechick11 at 7:30 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm an older woman and the three things I learned from my dad that I appreciate the most are:

1. An appreciation of the finer points of baseball.
2. To trust my own instincts
3. How to drive a stick shift
posted by raisingsand at 7:37 PM on November 1, 2011

How to do their own laundry
To clean up bathroom messes themselves
Respect for women!
To buy presents and send cards when appropriate
posted by Soliloquy at 7:43 PM on November 1, 2011

Yes, opening the door for people. When I first recognized that my dad did that for my mom, it changed my life.

Imagine, doing things for someone else! What a paradigm shift for a little kid to really understand that.
posted by asuprenant at 7:45 PM on November 1, 2011

My husband taught our kids (boy, girl):
How to change oil, tires, fuses in cars.
How to properly clean stove, toilet, inside fridge.
How to find a wall stud, use a power drill, glue and clamp broken wooden object.
How to tape off a room and cut in when painting.
How to use a soldering iron.
How to cook.
How to argue an issue without raised voices.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:46 PM on November 1, 2011

How to not be afraid to learn new things, and to keep at them until they are learned whether it's carpentry, mechanics, music, whatever. How to muck around in a new thing until it makes sense.

I think that if you approach it in a more meta attitude like this, it does not matter the actual content.

(My dad, sadly, did not pass on much to me. . .most of what I can do is self learned or learned elsewhere.)
posted by Danf at 8:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

How to grow tomatoes and drink expensive scotch.
posted by space_cookie at 8:07 PM on November 1, 2011

- How to use a knife.
- That most things can be fixed.
- Good tools are worth the expense
- Cooking
- How to safely handle a gun (and make sure that it's unloaded).
- Basic car maintenance
- How to be a gentleman,
- And while he never consciously taught it, how to treat your partner.
posted by gofargogo at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2011

My dad taught me to orient with a topo map and a compass in the wilderness. My step-dad taught me how to swing a hammer. He tried to teach me plumbing, but I refused to listen.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2011

My father taught me how to play soccer, and got me into boyscouts. Guns too. Taught me how to drive and how to clean the kitchen. I nominally learned many things from these lessons.

The most important thing I learned from my father: being nerdy / dorky / interested in weird things is totally fine.

Most people don't get why I care about some of the things I do, but my dad is always pleased as punch to hear about it, regardless of whether he gets it.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 8:41 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not my dad, but my grandfather taught me how to replace an axe handle. You just put the head on as far as you can by hand so it is tight, turn it over so the axe head is hanging down towards the ground and hit then end of the handle with a hammer. It is like magic.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:49 PM on November 1, 2011

Or better yet, what should I learn so I can teach my boys as they grow up?

Another language. Of all the things I could have learned from my father, that would have had the most positive impact on my life.
posted by mlis at 8:57 PM on November 1, 2011

Came to nth KNOTS, money management, and car repair.

Also, my dad's favorite saying is: the main thing it to keep the main thing the main thing. Sort of ambiguous, but also profound on some level.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:07 PM on November 1, 2011

Always sand wood before you start working with it, sand the surfaces, sand off the edges. It makes it much nicer to handle too.

Paint the small pieces of an Airfix model before you stick it together.

Remember people's names and have a nice word for everyone.

Practise till you can catch and throw and kick a ball and don't appeal for LBW when it's pitched outside leg stump.

If you really have to punch someone in the face, follow through with your elbow to their jaw.
posted by joannemullen at 9:36 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

- Learn to talk to your kids on a regular basis, not because they're in trouble and not as a quiz, but because you're genuinely curious about their lives.

- Show them that it's okay to have opinions, that people can love each other but hold different views, that it's okay to be passionate about your views, but that because opinions matter they call for careful reasoning and evidence, even on mundane issues. And, as a result of all this, that changing one's mind isn't a sign of weakness but of strength.

- Be passionate, plan-ful, and methodical in working towards your own goals in life so that you avoid being bitter or ever trying to fulfill yourself through you kids. On the same note, don't complain; if you're not happy, commit yourself to change and follow through.

- Convey consistently that the world is neither arbitrary or mechanical but artful: there are methods, heuristics, and ways of making educated guesses for even the most confusing situations, if you trust yourself and your ability to figure things out. Point out the artfulness of everyday acts done well.

- Never be ashamed of failure yourself or shame your kids for failing. Demonstrate that unsuccessful attempts provide the basis for figuring out how to do it right the next time, if you're willing to acknowledge and confront the problem.

- Value *resiliency* as one of the highest virtues and expect it of your kids above almost anything else.

- Absolutely distinguish between judgments of behavior/performance and judgments of self-worth: expect high levels of performance but never let that distract from conveying to your kids that you love them no matter what.

- Insist first on plain old, boring manners, even more than cleverness, creativity, and the like (those come later) and especially when everyone else is doing otherwise.

- More than occasionally, let on just how flat-out, goo-gaa bonkers you are for your wife and that intimate relationships truly have that potential, despite the inevitable foolishness and strife.

- Convey a balanced, reasonable sense of human agency: None of us control entirely what happens in life, but all of us absolutely control the choices we make about how to respond.

- Demonstrate how to compromise without losing face.

- Observe the everyday social and physical world with an acute, curious, analytical but playful eye and show your kids how much fun it is to do so.

- Work hard, save, and have the option for material pleasures, but always live on far less than you could. Help your kids see past the seductions of advertising/consumerism. True freedom comes from keeping your appetites in check, especially if you're otherwise "well off."

- Avoid perpetuating naive attitudes: acknowledge to your kids (in an age appropriate manner) that the world does in fact contain idiots, assholes, and boobs but that there are many more decent people and that choices about one's own behavior can bring out the best (or worst) in others.

- Be social enough yourself so that from a young age your kids get exposed face-to-face in mundane, everyday life to enough people of differing backgrounds (gender, class, race, sexual orientation, etc.) to counteract the stereotypes (both good and bad) that otherwise circulate via the media, the internet, and other indirect representations. Help your children learn that, despite appearances, most people are capable of being decent (in their own way) when you get to know them a bit.

- Whether you're "religious," "spiritual," or any of that other bunk, cultivate a relentless sense of hope, optimism, and trust in the possibilities of life for yourself, so you can share that sincerely with your kids.

- Never let your children forget that, above all else, "life is an adventure": none of us know exactly where we'll end up, but the journey itself makes it all worthwhile....
posted by 5Q7 at 9:42 PM on November 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

How to read street maps and how to use them.
How to mop a floor.
How a husband and wife should respect each other, love each other, and be silly with each other--every day and in front of the kids.
posted by calgirl at 10:03 PM on November 1, 2011

How to iron. Not a 5 iron, not a soldering iron, but how to put a razor crease in a pair of trousers, negotiate pleats, iron a shirt properly.

How to make a bed. Not throw your covers on and sort of straighten them, but get proper corners, and to do this before starting the day. UP! FEET ON THE DECK! SQUARE ThAT BUNK! Ah, good times.

How to polish shoes and boots.

How to tie a tie.

How to use a mop (twirl and fan, don't slop) and a broom (toward you).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:26 PM on November 1, 2011

When doing physical labor, always ask your boss "What now?" when you've finished a task instead of waiting to be given one. I was actually complimented by my boss today when hanging lights for a show. (I also received compliments today on my knot skills, as many other people have already suggested it) Of course I never actually followed this lesson when working for my dad, but I kept it for a real job!

How to use both power tools and hand tools for woodworking. (i.e. how to use a power saw, but then also the different types and how to use non-power saws)

Manners. This was so much drilled into me that when other people don't have manners it is VERY annoying to me. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I stop to hold the door for a stranger (and I mean, stop and wait for them even if they are a little ways behind me) and they don't have the proper manners to even acknowledge that I'm there.
posted by Deflagro at 10:41 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

The names of plants, flowers and trees. And now I am taking my son walking the dog and I realised I cannot remember many of them at all. Time for a book.
posted by fatmouse at 12:42 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

FINANCE! (such a crap job my parents did with this was just 'none of my business'...ARG!)
posted by sexyrobot at 1:00 AM on November 2, 2011

Sticking to your principles. My dad is VERY principled. It often inconveniences him, but he never regrets it. And I am also principled as a result, although our actual principles are different.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:53 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad taught me how to read a map. Properly - with eastings and northings, grid references, being able to work out a route and soforth. Very useful.

My uncle (dad's twin, so nearly my dad) taught me to tell the time. A big life skill.

Both of them taught me the value of a job well done with no expectation of praise, and that you can't always get what you want (or deserve).
posted by car01 at 3:04 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is an awesome question. Yu could probably answerit yourself if you rephrase it to:

Looking back, what do i wish my dad had taught me?

If you're like me, you'll have to be brady bunch deep in kids before you run out of stuff.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:12 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

My old man was "that guy", the one everyone used for practical advice, to fix things and "just make it work please". Everything from electronics (he worked as an engineer, though he had no degree) and motor mechanics (to the level of a full rebuild) to plumbing and photography - with detours by way of sewing, tree removal, steel fabrication, and much, much else besides.

I grew up in a house that was not so much renovated as radically rebuilt, without a day when we couldn't still live in it as the work happened. He did almost all of that himself.

I helped with almost everything.

When I was young I thought he was a god who could create anything with his hands. I wanted nothing more than to emulate him. I think growing in a half built house that doubled as a factory was like a 21 year apprenticeship, not an apprenticeship in anything in particular but in how to approach a problem, in how to think and how to work. I've done a lot of things that I never saw him do but I can still trace much of it back to being three years old and watching as my dad worked magic. When I'm working I still remember him frequently.

I'm "that guy" now.

None of that gets close to being the most important thing dad taught me.

Dad was not good at personal relationships. He had few close friends and was not good, even with family, at expressing feelings. When I was in my late teens I had conflicted feelings about him, I still lived at home and we still worked on things together (rebuilding much of my first car, for one thing) but I wasn't too sure what to make of him. I probably felt to be in his shadow a bit and there was no language we could use to talk about it. We had radically different political views, which probably didn't help.

He died when I was 25, after being ill for five years. He changed profoundly in those five years. He made and kept close, some friends, not many, but some. He mellowed. He made a peace with his end that I am still not able to articulately describe.

I very much doubt he had any idea of what it would all mean for me, I had no idea myself. But through what he went through I learned some profound lessons. He taught me the importance of community. He taught me the frailty of life and the importance of people. It's taken me years to digest much of that and I have lived my own life in that time, with its own nasty bumps and surprises and made my own choices too, but what I learned while he died is worth more to me than anything I learned working with him.

So I would say teach your children about the people around them. Teach them to talk about what is inside them, what they think and feel. Teach them to connect. Then teach them how to change a tyre. I learned much of that too late to ever thank dad and I'd give anything to have been a little more connected and open before he died.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go and stare into space for a bit.
posted by deadwax at 3:18 AM on November 2, 2011 [37 favorites]

Some cooking basics. How to make a white sauce. How to sautee onions. How to bake a cake. How to make an amazing sandwich.

Some car tips, such as: keep a bit of metal pipe in the car with which to get leverage on the wrench used for taking nuts off the wheel (ie, by sliding the pipe over the handle to extend it). Those things are often fastened by machines these days so they're pretty hard to remove when you need to change the tire yourself.

Thinking independently and sometimes contrarian-ishly, but not in an aggressive/show-offy way. Just in a curious way.

Respect for women.

I could go on and on.
posted by 8k at 4:12 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Practically, my Dad gave me a pretty good idea how to mend most things; fixing punctures on bikes is a particularly useful one. And basic garden maintenance.

Arguably the thing I value the most though is how to appreciate nature. He taught me some of the more obvious trees and birds and flowers when I was little; as I grew up I got more and more interested in nature, and I really appreciate the way it's become a shared hobby for us both now I'm an adult.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 4:58 AM on November 2, 2011

Seriously, my dad taught me that you will either be able to set up/troubleshoot much more easily or else have a few laughs at the expense of bad technical writers.

He also tries to teach me that it's okay, even for a girl, to be not-so-social, but mother torpedoed that.

Enjoy the offspring!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:42 AM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: First chance I've had to look at this. Much appreciated, thanks everyone.
posted by andywolf at 8:12 AM on November 2, 2011

Do everything in your power to talk your way out of a fight, but if you have to hit 'em, lay 'em out. And follow through by making sure he knows how to throw a punch.
posted by workerant at 10:33 AM on November 2, 2011

How (and, more importantly, when) to fight.

By fight I do mean physical altercations. We're talking playground level stuff, but by being there and saying.... nevermind, basically what workerant said, memail me if you want a more in depth analysis of the positive impact this has had in my life...
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2011

My dad taught me everything I know about how to tell a joke.
posted by editrixx at 11:15 AM on November 2, 2011

Nthing this: "Back a full-size van into a parking space." My dad had every number of huge pick up trucks, vans, station wagons... I (girl) had to drive all of them and back them all the way up the driveway to the pole barn in the back. I hated it! But it has paid off more times than I could count.

Also: financial things like the stock market, retirement, compound interest. He started a retirement fund for me ages and ages ago and we would watch it grow (or not grow) together.

Also: What a hard day's work really looks like.
posted by getawaysticks at 11:19 AM on November 2, 2011

Going along with the respect for women theme...more specifically:

In some way indicate what stereotypes exists about women (i.e., "this is what they say women do" --- cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, laundry) Teach them how to do these things for themselves and to never expect a woman to do those things for them...ever.
posted by teg4rvn at 12:01 PM on November 2, 2011

The best gift our dad gave us kids was the knowledge and comfort to manage our finances. We knew what the household budget looked like, we stored our own savings account passbooks and haggled allowance increases.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 12:29 PM on November 2, 2011

The desire to fix things myself.

He didn't really teach me much - soldering gold rings, some lapidary skills. A bit of tool basics. But, mostly, I learned what I know about tools post-Dad.

But now, when something breaks - a teacup handle, a sofa fabric tear, a chip in my smartphone glass, the bottom mud-guard under the front of my car - my first thought is, "How can I fix this myself?" Not, "Shit, now I have to replace it."

Sometimes I can't. Sometimes my fixes are a lengthy effort for naught. But I always learn.

(The obvious follow-up question is, "How did he teach me that lesson?" By trying to fix everything in the house that broke. Kids only really learn what they see over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, until they can't not learn it - and can't forget it. Everything else is just a spark in the night, soon forgotten.)

Thanks, Dad. I didn't like you much, but you did give me some important gifts.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:16 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fun question.

-How often "good enough" wasn't. Get it right if you're going to do it.
-Basic carpentry and handyman-ish skills, and the importance of using the same. Fix the things that are broken, don't just leave them broken.
-Saving and being mindful about money goes a long way.
-Treat peope with respect, and expect to be treated the same way.
-How to tell an anecdote.
-How to safely handle firearms.
-How to fish and hunt, and later, the fact that fishing and hunting weren't really about fishing and hunting, they were more about solitude or being with good friends.
-How men are often bonded through their shared interests.
-The value of honesty.
-That I should value myself in a relationship, as well as value the other person. When my then-fiancee cheated on me, he was furious. This suprised me, but in retrospect, it shouldn't have.
-Basic cooking skills.
-The pleasures of a short commute.
-How to chop wood without injuring yourself.
-How to dig a hole in the ground for an entire day, along with the fact that if a day only gets you half a hole and $75 can get a guy in a backhoe to dig the other half in 15 minutes, you should trade the $75 for a whole day of fishing.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:18 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up with a Dad who constantly criticized his children. We were never good enough. At some point, a good friend pointed this out to him and suggested that it might be why his older children didn't want to be around him. So, in his 50s, my Dad (who didn't really believe in crap like that) went into therapy. And he and I became friends who enjoyed talking and spending time together.

He taught me that it is never too late to change.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:29 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

My dad taught me how to read a map at a young age. He did something very similar to SMPA's father - on road trips, he'd make me (10 yr old girl) responsible for navigating. It's amazing how few people in this day and age know how to read a map; how many people are completely clueless when their GPS doesn't work or they're trying to find their way around an amusement park. Really, this skill has been invaluable and I don't think its value will decrease much even with all the technology we have now.
posted by yawper at 9:01 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

The best thing my dad ever taught me was this: Never trust a blinker. My dad is not a man for parables or anything like that, he was teaching me how to drive. But I have applied that little nugget to how I interact with people on a day to day basis. I always try to be sure of someone's intentions before I act; and while I no doubt make miscalculations, I think overall it has helped me to look out for myself and not be taken advantage of.
posted by holdkris99 at 10:28 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

He taught me that communication is the most essential, most difficult thing.
posted by nicholai88 at 1:41 PM on November 3, 2011

I had a discussion with my aunt recently about the differences between me and my room mates, who seemed really out of their depth living on their own. Here were a few of the skills we came up with that I'm really glad I have.

- Cooking. One room mate needed to ask for help to cook rice. I taught her how to make roasted vegetables and she was amazed.

-Driving a standard. This was probably more relevant cause we were in Europe, but it's nice to know that I can drive any car and worst case scenario is that I'll have to rent a car, not that I'll be stranded.

- Being able to understand and navigate a public transit system. And map reading in general.
posted by carolr at 2:25 PM on November 5, 2011

Female here, but as close to a "son" as my dad had. Valuable lessons he taught me:

-How to shoot a gun (and not be afraid of guns)

-How to drive, including defensive driving and how to really be AWARE (I remember him yelling, "who's in your mirror?? Who's behind you???"), as well as defensive driving techniques ("there are NO accidents, only human error and acts of God"), winter driving (at 16, he moved the "road closed" sign on the steepest road in town after a big snow, and made me drive up it. Then we did donuts in the school parking lot), and how to drive a stick shift

- All the basics of car maintenance (how to open the hood, oil dipstick, windshield washer fluid, tire pressure, etc.)

-How to ride a motorcycle, and all the basics of motorcycle maintenance (oil level, chain adjustments/oiling, etc.)

-How to vacuum a room correctly (most people think I'm crazy when I say this, but there IS a right way!)

- When using a knife, always cut away from yourself

-Reading maps, including topo and other types (he is a land surveyor, so this was very in-depth training)

- Think before you speak/react

- How to push myself to do my absolute best on something, instead of settling for 80 or 90 percent, even when that would have been just fine by most people's standards.

- How to question authority, but without being obnoxious
posted by angab at 3:00 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

How to solve problems. You have a problem - what might you do about it? What could you try? Where could you learn more about it?

How to be critical of things that you hear or read.

How to learn something. I meet adults who don't fully comprehend that to learn a physical skill one must practice it, they don't know how to start thinking about breaking down the skill and training parts of it independently, and they think that their initial clumsiness at a task is evidence of being unable to ever learn it.

How to pull your own weight around the house and clean up your own mess.

How to be generous to other people.

How to read a map.

How to iron a shirt.

How (and when) to ask for help.

How to haggle.

How to "wheel and deal", how to spot opportunities to earn a little money on the side or pick up and resell a bargain.

Having some basic awareness of your own feelings. Knowing when your anger is caused by being tired and hungry, when it's spilt over from some other thing you're frustrated about, and when you are genuinely angry because someone is putting one over on you and you should do something about it.

For bonus points: learning how to manage your own feelings, defuse your frustration, calm yourself when frightened.
posted by emilyw at 2:43 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

In a very timely fashion, this article on teaching your kid to be an entrepreneur just showed up on my news feed.
posted by emilyw at 4:06 AM on November 8, 2011

I am a woman, and have benefited from my dad's 3 concepts: save your money, get an education, and exercise. These are general advice that have directed my life over the years. I discovered religion late in life. Parenting skills is the one area that I struggle with.
posted by bossanova at 3:51 AM on December 27, 2011

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