Remembering Ten Lessons on Father’s Day

Jody Britten
5 min readJun 16, 2024

Today, we celebrate Father’s Day. For many years, this day was filled with cards, funny t-shirts, calls, and visits. Since losing my dad a few years ago, it has taken on a deeper significance.

When Dad passed away after an unexpected battle with cancer, we each wrote something to be read at his celebration of life. Reading it now, a few years later, reminds me of a few key lessons and reiterates the importance of time, priorities, and showing up.

I was fortunate to grow up with a dad who had the privilege and commitment to take the time to coach, laugh, learn, listen, teach, celebrate, and explore. Here are just a few of the lessons we walked away with after sharing the world with him.

Lesson 1: Take the time to learn how to do things.

I was Dad’s grubby sidekick growing up. “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey,” and changing a tire in under five minutes were important when I was in junior high and continue to be skills I rely on today. Don’t ever forget to teach the little things.

Lesson 2: Winning doesn’t mean much if you aren’t having fun.

Running lines during basketball practice and lining the laces in softball were ingrained, along with the importance of having fun first. Dad reminded us of one key thing when it comes to competition: it never means much to win if you aren’t having fun.

Lesson 3: The underdog deserves a hand. If you are in the fortunate position to lend one, you better step up.

Giving the kid whose family was late after practice a ride home, making sure the school carnival always sent the biggest cake home with the kid who could use something positive, and being the person to “accidentally” buy an extra pizza for kids down the street were part of his legacy. He demonstrated time and time again how important it is to show up for the kids who need it most.

Lesson 4: When there is data available, let it help you understand the story.

When we drove back and forth to Michigan to see family, we always sported a huge “honk if you’re happy” sign. We didn’t just make people laugh and get some honks along Interstate 80; we also collected data and had answers when he would ask us what percentage of honks were from individual states, various colors of cars, and more. He was teaching us that data makes your story better and teaches you how to improve.

Lesson 5: Understand that we are all learning, all the time. And it serves us well if we never stop.

When my mom was traveling and he needed to cover the dance recital dress rehearsal, he suggested that I lick my lips before putting on the required lipstick. When it smeared all over, he laughed at his mistake and then tried a different approach the next time. Whether learning to use new technologies, mastering a new banjo, writing a new song, or more, he always messed up and always moved on.

Lesson 6: Generalize lessons to new experiences.

After we moved onto an acreage, he always made sure I got the responsibility of mowing with the riding lawn mower. It worked well as a precursor to driver’s training, especially when he picked me up from junior high one day and asked, “Think you can pass the driver’s test?” I had no idea he was taking me to get my farm permit, so when I said “probably,” we headed to the DMV, and then I drove home. I don’t think he always planned it out, but he had a way of making sure that lessons could always be generalized to make us better at something else.

Lesson 7: Welcome others into your world.

In high school and college, our parents’ home was the gathering place. Both of our parents made everyone feel welcome. Dad had the gift of making pancakes when we all stumbled up the stairs in the morning, and there were many laughs around the breakfast table over the years. There are college football fans all over this country who remember Dad’s pancakes, but most importantly, they remember our house being one where they were always welcome.

Lesson 8: Share your passion with your kids.

Dad loved music. I remember going to concerts to see the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, Dave Matthews, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and so many other classics. Those moments aren’t things we have forgotten; they are things we are recreating with our kids.

Lesson 9: Not everyone has a dad, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to have a guy in their life who shows up.

I remember him being a dad to friends who didn’t have one or know their own. I remember him being a fill-in dad to interns who would come from all over the country. I remember him helping friends get jobs, make decisions about grad school, or get help with a big cross-country move. I remember him writing a lot, mentoring a lot, and serving others a lot. He wasn’t just a dad to us; he was a role model who showed up and supported everyone brave enough to chase a dream.

Lesson 10: Be the person who goes all in.

I remember him encouraging me through graduate school and telling me to just get the work done and get out and do what I loved. I remember him flying or driving across the country to dog sit so I could go to Key West with the girls. I remember him holding our son on his six-foot-plus frame and playing hide and seek with our daughter. I remember his accolades and accomplishments, but most of all, I remember him being thankful for the opportunities he had and the successes he experienced.

That’s a snapshot of the many lessons he taught us over the years.

But overall, he taught me the importance of making the time, showing effort, seeing others for who they are and who they can be, and prioritizing family.

On this Father’s Day, I hope those who are lucky to call themselves a Dad take some time to think about the moments (big and small) that are making a difference in raising good humans who will turn out to be our next neighbors, fathers, and friends.

Jody is a long-time contributor and activist in public education and social impact. You can follow along with her work at JodyBritten.com.

--

--

Jody Britten

fierce mom, constant learner, writer, speaker, researcher, thinker, designer, gadget queen, advocate for learning that matters & public ed, lead with my actions