Penny, in a comment on my recent Advice From a Father to His Son post, asked: "Did your dad teach you? Or, is that the sum of lessons of a lifetime? Or, did you figure it all out fairly early on somehow?"
Good questions. I had to take a few days to think about it all. My father did indeed teach me a lot, but certainly not by talking to me. He was a man of very few words. We seldom spoke more than a few sentences to each other. It's not that he was stern and forbidding or anything like that, he just didn't say much. When I learned from my father, it was by his example, by the way he lived, by the way he acted towards me and, more importantly, the way he acted towards others.
My father was a classy guy. He loved to dress up in a suit and tie. He had impeccable manners and was always courteous and respectful of others. He would rarely say a bad word about anyone. He did not, however, like riffraff. He used a German word to describe these people, a word I have never seen written anywhere, and therefore wouldn't begin to know how to spell. He defined these people not by where they lived, not by how much money they had, not by their level of education. He defined them by their actions. Being loud and brash, rude or inconsiderate, might get you on the list. Not having any self-control definitely would. So would 'putting on airs.' My dad didn't like phonies. He didn't like condescending behaviour. He thought everyone should be treated with respect, at least until it was obvious that they didn't deserve it. My father was a labourer all his life, with almost no formal education, but you would never have guessed that on meeting him.
My mother and I spoke often. From her I learned that it is important to use context when evaluating behaviour. Circumstances could explain why someone might be behaving in an unexpected way. Context, though, while it might explain bad behaviour, would never excuse it. Being drunk, for example, might explain being loud and obnoxious, but it would never excuse having lost the self control necessary to govern oneself.
From my mother and father both, I learned fairness. Both parents were almost obsessively fair. If one of the kids got something, so did the others. Favouritism didn't exist in our home.
I did learn some things on my own. I learned by observing. If I didn't like how someone was behaving, I tried hard not to behave that way myself. Being considerate and polite is not only good manners, it is a form of self-preservation. The Golden Rule pretty much sums it up: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I also learned from my mistakes. I've made a few of those. If an action of mine results in pain or trouble, why repeat it?
Life is an interesting journey. In our travels, we can choose whether to be happy or miserable, optimistic or pessimistic, to live in the present or in the past, to deal with problems or to pretend they don't exist. I think you know which of those choices I am likely to make.
We are all imperfect creatures living in an imperfect world. We do the best we can. I hope my best, while I am trying to teach my son, is good enough.