Life Lessons I Learned from My Father

I have always been a Daddy’s Girl. As a child, he was my protector, my provider and my teddy bear. For the 28 years I’ve been on this Earth, we’ve had a very one-sided relationship — he constantly gives, and never asks for anything in return.

Today, I’m looking back at some of the most invaluable things he’s given me throughout my life, and hoping to pay his kindness forward by sharing them with you.

5 Things My Father Taught Me

  1. Never be too proud to say “I’m sorry.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched my father humble himself to apologize to those he’s wronged. And those he hasn’t. I’ve seen take responsibility in almost every argument with my mother, apologizing for the role he played as soon as he calmed down. He’s apologized to me as we’ve fought about politics, religion and what we want to watch on tv that night. But, perhaps the best apology I’ve ever heard him make was to someone he will never meet. He was on the phone with a customer service agent and was furious with whatever injustice the company had served him. He. Went. Off. He raged at the customer service agent until his face was red and slammed the phone down to hang up. Ten minutes later, he picked up the phone, called the company back, requested to speak with the same agent, and apologized most sincerely. To this day, I always remember that moment when I’m struggling to humble myself and apologize.
  2. Stay strong in your convictions. For every argument my father and I have about politics, (he a diehard, blue-collar Republican and I a roaring, feminist Democrat), my father apologizes. But, and this is key, he only apologizes for hurting me or fighting with me. He has never once apologized for his beliefs. He has never once changed his beliefs. When I present him with evidence that contradicts something he believes in, he cedes my point, but doesn’t change sides. Think of that what you will, but the man stands firm, and I respect that.
  3. Respect others. Throughout our disagreements, I know my father respects me. He even respects the boyfriend, who, on more than one occasion, has been a little too verbose about his liberal beliefs in a house full of conservatives. My father will enthusiastically debate us without ever insulting us. Of course, it’s easy for him to be respectful of his daughter. Where he truly shines, though, is speaking with others outside of the family. As I mentioned, he has very strong convictions about a number of issues, people and their choices. But, when faced with a stranger who represents the antithesis of every belief my father holds dear, he still treats that person with kindness, love and respect.

    The Brown Family. From Left to Right: Nathan Brown, Lauren Brown, Gary Brown, Elise Brown, Stephen Brown, Gayle Brown, Cory Brown
  4. Give until it hurts. And then give some more. In the best of times, my family was middle class, but we certainly had our share of struggles. For most of my life, our clothes were hand-me-downs, handmade or from Goodwill. (To be clear, those handmade clothes my mother stitched were probably some of the highest quality clothes we ever had growing up. They had to be to make it through five kids.) But, even in the toughest times, my mother and father gave ten percent of every paycheck to their church. The gave food to the homeless shelter. They “adopted” children in Africa. They prepared meals for those in their church who were sick, experienced a loss or had a baby. They bought Christmas gifts for those less fortunate than them. For richer or poorer, my parents gave. They both grew up in homes where money was scarce, and they worked hard for every cent they brought home. But they always knew they were blessed, and that others were struggling more.
  5. Take care of your family. As made obvious in number 4, my parents are givers. As much as they give to others, they give to their children tenfold. Even as each of the five children has grown into adulthood, my parents have supported us in any and every way they can. When I was fresh out of college and couldn’t find a job to save my life, my parents made sure I knew I would always have a room in their house. If my parents had $10 in their bank account, but I was short on rent money, there would somehow be $50 extra dollars in my bank account the next day. When my sister and I ran out of gas halfway between New Orleans and Shreveport, my father already in his car to come rescue us when a policeman helped us out. When I ran out of gas (yes, there’s a pattern here) on my way to work in high school and my phone had died, I looked up through tear-blurred eyes to see my father running across the interstate to my truck. And, my parents have instilled that familial duty in all of us. When one of my brothers had a crisis, every member of the family, no matter where they lived, left their bed at 2 a.m. to be by his side. And, throughout my struggles in adulthood — not being able to find a job, moving cities, trying to leave a toxic workplace — each of my four siblings has assured me, time and time again, that if I ever need anything, they will come running.

 

Of course, my father’s taught me other things, as well — how to change a tire, how to find a stud, how to cook red beans and rice — but these five things are perhaps the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned.

What has your father taught you?

Greatness

I’ve always felt pressure to be something great. When I was a little girl, I thought that greatness would come on Broadway, where I could share my angelic average singing voice and mesmerizing laughable dancing skills with awe-inspired crowds.

That one year of high school when I thought I was a poet, I was convinced my simple ballads would make me this generation’s Emily Dickinson.

My grandest, longest dream of greatness was imagining myself creating a girls’ magazine. Seriously, this was a 10-year dream of mine (which, when you’re 26, is a long damn time). This is what I told every friend, mentor, colleague or passersby who asked my career plans. I was going to achieve my own greatness by helping young girls understand how wonderful they are. (I am just SO giving.)

I started by creating blogs, because I knew the best way to reach my dream was to start as soon as possible. I created at least four blogs in as many years because ADD. I never wrote frequently enough to gain the necessary traction for success. And, by the time I’d realized I hadn’t blogged in four months, I had a new awesome idea for a new awesome blog. My final blog attempt was a concerted effort to create the early stages of my magazine. Then I realized I had no idea what I was doing.

And then, I’d feel bad about my failures. I’d read too many articles by 23-year-old assistant editors at Vogue, and too many fashion blogs from women my age wearing Valentino on the daily.

Why hadn’t I achieved my greatness? There are women younger than me all over the Internet who are experiencing the kind of monumental success I’ve always envisioned for myself. If I haven’t made my first million and/or become a household name by 27, I’m obviously a failure.

Wait, Lauren. Take a step back.

It’s not about you.

Why did you ever feel pressure to be famous and wealthy?

It’s not about you.

Who ever said that notoriety was the only way to achieve greatness?

It’s not about you.

I live my life by a faith that prioritizes loving others, so why did I feel that everything needs to be about me?

The more negativity I see in headlines, the more narcism and bullying I see on social media, the more I realize that achieving my narrow view of greatness should never be a goal for me. I’m starting to think it’s not really worth it.

I’m starting to realize that true greatness already exists all around me, and I become an active participant every time I love my neighbor. I become part of the greatness of humanity every time I hold the door for a stranger, keep my middle finger down when someone cuts me off, or even take a moment to people-watch with love instead of derision and judgement. (If you’re overly hipster or trying to rock normcore, the judgement is just gonna happen, dude.)

It’s not about me.

Greatness is about loving others and finding ways to love through my talents. I write, so I enjoy crafting meaningful notes to those I love. I’m a gift whisperer, so I be sure to get people small presents randomly, just so they know someone is thinking of them. And I’m a fabulous hugger, so I try to make people’s gloomy days just a little bit brighter through a warm embrace.

I’ve given up on my silly, self-centered goal of fame, and am choosing to be the best, most kick-ass embodiment of love that I can be each and every day.

And that, dear friends, is greatness.