Things My Dad Taught Me

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I am my father's daughter.

My mother tells me this all the time. She tells me I inherited his calm, quiet demeanor and rare stubborn temper (when warranted, of course, like the time he got mad because I kept bugging him for a hamster, and I got mad because he kept saying "no"). I have his freakishly long fingers, shy smile, brown eyes and plain hair. I don't mind. Except he's had a growing bald spot on his scalp for as long as I can remember, and that makes me nervous.

My dad was always the only man in our house, the father to two daughters, and always joking that "even the dog was a girl."

(Even the hamster was a girl.)

With both my sister and me, my parents went into the delivery room blind to gender, but my mom told me her doctor said my heart beat was slower, and that I was probably a boy.

I asked my dad if he was ever disappointed.

"Of course not," he said.

Toy aisles are designed for either boys or girls, rarely both, but my parents never made the distinction. I think that's why I got a Fisher Price Work Shop with plastic tools. The bubble lawn mower I pushed to "help my dad cut the grass." The yellow dumpster truck that made cool noises.

My dad would build blanket forts with my sister and me, and construct LEGO castles—but he'd play dollhouse with us, too. He trained me to wipe dishes clean when I was 3 years old, and he stood at the bottom of tall, spiraling slides. He taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels, and bandaged me up when I crashed into pine trees. As I grew, he showed me how to mow a lawn with gasoline, rather than bubbles. How to use a real saw, rather than a plastic one. How to drive a small car through a blizzard.

It wasn't about raising daughters, as opposed to sons. It was about raising his kids to be nurturing, kind and grateful. Capable, brave and strong.

And that always came with one very important lesson.

My sister and I grew up with a pool, and one summer evening when I was 7, my dad was determined to teach me how to dive.

When I say "dive," I'm not talking about technique. When my dad taught me to dive, it had very little to do with grace and poise, and everything to do with gumption and resilience. I'm talking about running and diving headfirst into the water with some momentum.

Let me be clear: I was a mouse of a child—very timid, and not very confident. A bit of a pushover when it came to gasping lungs and pine needles in my hair. Afraid to learn something new because I was convinced I would fail. My dad knew this, but I think he saw a bolder character somewhere inside me.

I was his daughter, after all.

So, there I stood: a small girl towering above a huge pool, with waves furiously lapping the sides. Every time, I'd take a few powerful bounds to the end of the board, and every time, I'd hesitate just as I jumped.

That is how I perfected the belly flop.

I'd slap the water, sputter to the surface and gasp for breath.

Every time, my dad would laugh.

Every time, he'd ask if I was OK.

Every time, he'd say, "One more time."

Nearly 20 years later, I still don't have confidence perfected. But that's OK. My dad never asked for perfection—he just taught me to keep trying because a bold character requires perseverance.

It's not just the diving boards in life that require such momentum, either. Even after I finally landed the dive, my dad still told me to get out of the water "one more time." Through all the pine needles, bubbles and building blocks of my childhood, my dad taught me there will always be dirt to brush off, dishes to wipe clean, yards to mow and wounds to bandage. There will always be something new to learn, and a new experience to grow from.

I am my father's daughter. Not because I look and act like him, but because he's been steadfast by my side.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.

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