Like many women, I learned a lot from my father over the years.
For example, my dad taught me that you always introduce your children, even to fellow family members. “This is your cousin!” he’d announce to my cousin. “Say hello to your sister,” he’d tell my brother. “This is one of my Colorado girls!” he’d inform my sister, the other Colorado girl. “Do you remember Honey Bunny?” he’d ask my mother.
I didn’t necessarily appreciate this over the many decades in which I’ve re-met uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters, but I’m coming to see the merits of the practice as I progressively forget people, places, and sometimes pants. More importantly, it has demonstrated to me at nearly every stage of my life that my father hasn’t forgotten me. I’ll take that as a father-daughter win any day. And I find myself now following his sagely advice, repeatedly introducing everyone, at all times, at every encounter, and for any reason—including myself.
My father also used to tell me that I couldn’t date until I was 40 years old. That’s 967 days from now. By then, dating will exist only in history books, listed among other antiquated social norms like emotional intelligence, rational decision making, Social Security, hope, and, if we’re all lucky, Facebook.
Nevertheless, I launched into the dating scene as a teenager, and it was either around this time or when I was preparing for war—I can’t quite remember which—that he advised me: “Kill ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.” I opted out of that advice, but I’m sure he was well-intentioned and, in any event, being hyperbolic. But perhaps not …
When I expressed interest in pursuing a career in prosecuting mass human rights violations, he advised me: “You can’t help the poor by becoming one of them.” It was somewhat of a moot point at the time, since the client base I was aiming to help were dead, by definition. But even applied to the context of that situation, he was right: poor or dead (or both), I wouldn’t be fit to serve anyone in such a state. And since then, I often find myself wishing that I had listened more carefully to this advice. It would be a shame for him to find out that I proved him right on that point.
He gave me another piece of advice recently, although indirectly. This one was buried in a story about a lesson he learned during the days and months after he was drafted into the Vietnam War. Take note, modern-day law students, there are things worse than your evidence exam, although you pompous shits probably wouldn’t understand this to be true. Sorry, I digress and borrow from my father’s vocabulary in the process …
Over a greasy spoon diner breakfast the other day, my dad tells me: “You sit up and eat your cookie.” Me: “Umm … sorry dad … I can’t have cookies, I have Celiac disease. But thanks and also, what the fuck are you talking about?”
Whereas some people might have dodged their way right out of that draft (I’ll always love you, Bill, you’re a *rockstar*), my dad went proudly and immediately to boot camp. He describes those days in fonder terms than many of his more recent memories, if that gives you an indication of the wild ride his children have given him over the years. I’ll blame that entirely on my brothers and sisters: I’m perfect and always have been. #sealedrecords
As my father recounts his time in the Army, he describes how his fellow soldiers bitched and moaned about the duty—and I’d suspect also a bit about the prospect of death on the front line. My father, on the other hand, focused on leaning in to the notion of staying the hell out. He was engaged, he was eager, and he was proactive in ensuring he didn’t die among the infantry. He made himself indispensable to his superior officer on base, which more than once earned him a ticket off that flight to Vietnam.
He sat up. He ate that fucking cookie.
Things would have been a lot different if he’d shipped out, according to my father. To start, “we would have won the war, I’m sure of it.” But he didn’t, and we didn’t. And after his two-year stint, he opted to return to law school at the outrage of his superiors. “Only homosexuals and Communists leave the Army,” they told him, which I think we now know not to be true.