by Greg Krehbiel on 3 January 2013
I hope it’s not too weird to post on a blog about the death of my father, but I would like to offer him a public tribute.
My father has passed away after a long illness. His death was not at all unexpected, so I’ve been working on this post for a while — remembering things about Dad.
He hasn’t been himself for years. In fact, the last year or so he hasn’t even recognized me. But that’s not how I’m going to remember him.
I’m going to remember my father as the man who provided and cared for my Mom and my family, who taught me a lot of important life lessons, and who helped make me who I am today.
I treasure the things I learned from my Dad, but sometimes it’s hard to understand how he taught them. I don’t recall extensive lectures or anything.
My Dad wasn’t a teacher. If I were to pick one word to describe him, it would be “character.” IOW, he was a character, and that’s why I chose that silly picture of him. I could post a picture of my Dad in his Air Force uniform, or fishing, or something more serious, but mostly I will remember him around the house in the summer time, being a bit of a goof-ball.
Still, he taught me a lot, and here’s a partial list of life lessons I learned from Dad. I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life thinking about things I learned from him. Sometimes I can even hear his voice in my head.
Take responsibility for my own actions. This was like bread and butter in the Krehbiel world, but one example pops into my mind when I think about it.
We used to have one of those heating pads that you soak in hot water. I remember one time I left it in the pan on the stove for too long, all the water boiled away and the pad got burned. I went to the store and bought another one before anybody got home. I overheard Mom saying they should reimburse me because I had paid too much — that the original was far less expensive than the one I’d bought. Dad said no. Taking responsibility for cleaning up my own mess was the important thing, and if it cost me extra, that’s okay.
You’re less likely to get in trouble if you come clean. I spent a lot of time in Dad’s workshop, often reloading ammo for when we’d go shooting. Dad had this little .25 semi-auto Colt Jr. that I always liked. I wasn’t supposed to touch it because it was the only gun Dad kept loaded, but one time I took it out of the gun closet and accidentally cocked it. I was scared. I didn’t know how to uncock it without firing it, so I took it to Dad, expecting to get in a lot of trouble. He showed me how to fix it and that was the end of it.
It wasn’t always that way. Sometimes I got in trouble even if I did come clean. But it’s usually better to say “I goofed, how do I fix it” than to let other people find out about it.
Stand up for what you believe in. Dad was always willing to say what he thought to anybody, no matter the consequences. That’s both a strength and a weakness, really. But he didn’t change his opinion because it was unpopular, and if other people didn’t like it, too bad for them.
Along with that one — Don’t worry too much what other people think. You have to worry to some extent, of course — or else you’re a sociopath — but generally speaking you don’t have to worry that much.
Your feelings are your business — This one is really key, especially in today’s therapeutic culture. I can’t recall a single time that Dad asked me about my feelings. Some people probably think that’s very sad, but I found it liberating. What I say and do matters to other people, but how I feel is my own business. It’s my own world where nobody else can intrude.
I think our society has gone way too far in the other direction, where everybody thinks they have a right to know your feelings. No, they don’t. Your feelings are your business.
Value of hard work. Dad went to work every day and didn’t make excuses about it. He didn’t call in sick when he wasn’t sick, and I can’t remember him ever complaining about work. In addition to a regular job, he did a lot of work around the house. He finished our basement, laid the brick patio in our back yard, built the fence and the huge deck around the pool, made a rock garden for my mother, built a shed, landscaped the yard, fixed the cars when they needed fixing, and lots of other things.
He would also point out little things about work — how some people reacted to losing a job by sitting around doing nothing, while other people got out and found work to do.
When we got back from a fishing trip it was simply expected that I’d put away the gear, clean up the boat and start cleaning the fish. It wasn’t an option, and the idea that I’d run off to play and leave that for somebody else never even occurred to me. The funny thing is I don’t remember how he taught me that. I just picked it up by osmosis.
Do what needs to be done first. Some people might say “work before play,” but what I learned from my Dad is the ability to know which thing has to be done now and what can wait. When the anchor line needs to get around the cleat, it has to happen right now, not a second later. You’re always faced with options. Lots of things are vying for your attention. My Dad taught me to do mental triage. Again, I’m not even sure how, but it’s a life skill that I prize very highly.
It’s okay to be outrageous, but don’t over-react. Dad would take some pretty outrageous positions from time to time and say some pretty crazy things. I learned later that he had somewhat of a reputation for it at work. There’s a way to be outrageous that just makes you a kook, and there’s a way that can be funny, or just make you a character. Dad seemed to strike the right balance. Most of the time.
Don’t give up. Dad was disappointed when I quit things. It didn’t matter what it was. He just didn’t like me to be a quitter.
Competence over fear. Dad taught me how to shoot, how to reload ammo, how to fish and how to handle a boat. We took a “boating skills and seamanship” class together, which related to another thing he taught me — that guns and bows and knives and boats and power tools and hard weather are only scary if you don’t know what you’re doing or aren’t prepared. If you follow the rules and do it right, things will be okay. But don’t you dare even think about shooting that gun until the range is clear and everybody has their eye and ear protection on. And don’t goof off with a gun — it’s not a toy.
Dad didn’t like to hunt, and I think he thought bows were kinda silly, but I liked them, so he bought me a bow to thank me for watching my little brother one summer, and took me bow hunting a couple times. At the time I didn’t realize how much of a sacrifice that was, since he had other things to do, but now I realize that he set aside time for me.
The confidence to fix things. A lot of life is just a matter of having the confidence to do it. Dad could fix just about anything, and it wasn’t always because he knew how — although, as an engineer, he did know a lot. But more important than that, I think he simply had the confidence to try and the sense to figure out what to do.
Don’t freak out. I remember one time somebody was afraid there was a burglar in a neighbor’s house. My Dad had plenty of guns, and when I heard about the burglar I expected him to take one with him when he went to investigate. But he just walked into the house, unarmed, to make sure things were safe. At the time I couldn’t understand why, but now I know. While you’re within your rights to shoot an intruder in your own house, you can’t go into somebody else’s house with a gun.
Be serious, and don’t be a screw up. Dad had his own way of being goofy, but it was more a matter of “being a character.” He didn’t think it was funny when people were just being stupid.
One time in Florida, when we were watching a rocket launch, Dad was taking me to the bathrooms. A couple scary looking hippy dudes were at a table with a sign that said “dope for sale.” I wanted to walk the other way, but Dad led me right up to the table and said, “Which one of your two is for sale?”
Respect the law, but don’t be silly about it. Dad was a very law-abiding person, but he had a carefree attitude about silly rules. Even when we were in important government buildings, if we saw a door that said “authorized personnel only,” he’d say, “that’s us” and walk right in. It always scared me, but Dad was always confident.
Along those lines, Dad taught us to respect but question authority. He was a “your boat, your rules” kind of guy, but when it came to organized authority he assumed that rules were made for the benefit of the people in charge, and that while it’s best to follow them (to avoid the consequences), he thought they were a necessary evil and, in some respects, a bit of a joke.
One time we were driving past a junior high school and some kids were arrogantly walking in the middle of the road, interfering with traffic. Dad said something like, “these kids think they don’t like authority, but what they don’t realize is that it’s authority that’s keeping me from running them over.” Not that he would have really run them over, of course. The point was that law and order are there to protect us, and we should respect it.
Sacrifice for your family. One time we were camping at Point Lookout and the Coast Guard told Dad he needed some sticker on the boat, or something like that. I don’t even remember what it was. He waited until we were all asleep, drove back home to get the sticker, and was up the next morning to take us fishing.
Don’t get taken in by sentimental crap. This goes along with the “your feelings are your business” idea above. Dad was not sentimental and didn’t fall for that kind of thing.
Be skeptical of any attitude that tends to shift blame. Dad believed in personal responsibility and accepting the consequences for things, so whenever something seemed to be shifting responsibility away from the person who actually made the decision, he was skeptical.
There’s another thing I should have learned from my father, and I wish that I had. That was the faith to let kids go. We’re so over-protective these days, and when I look back I’m somewhat amazed at the things Dad would let me do — like ride my bike all over creation, or walk home from high school when I felt like it, or run around in Greenbelt Park playing weird games with strange people. I went to Bermuda with the band when I was 14. Dad let me drive a friend to Pittsburgh when I was 16.
Dad would teach you how to do something, and then he’d expect you to do it right. He showed me how to shoot, but then he trusted me to be safe with guns. One time some lunatic was loose in a town near our home. Dad got out the M-1 carbine, set it on the kitchen table and said, “if there’s any trouble, you know what to do.”
He could do that because he knew perfectly well that I wasn’t going to touch that gun — unless I needed it.
In the same way, he taught me how to use the boat, and then he let me take it out on my own.
I think I’m a responsible person today not so much because Dad taught me to be responsible, but because he trusted and expected me to be responsible. He didn’t have to lecture me about it. It was just part of life with Dad.
I certainly don’t agree with everything Dad told me, and he had his faults. But he was a good father, and I will miss him.
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