Friendship Lessons from Dad

When I remember childhood Father’s Day celebrations with my dad, I think of a trip to one of our favorite Smithsonian museums when we were still living near Washington, D.C., or sharing some of his homemade pizza when I was a teen in Kentucky. Those were special moments with my dad that my siblings and I remember clearly.

My dad passed away six years ago, and as my sister Kathy shared: “Father’s Day just isn’t the same without a funny but short chat with John Brady. He could always be counted on for a wry joke and some solid advice. His work ethic and dedication to family left us all with a lifelong impression.”

Sara and I have written about how our moms being East Coast transplants to Kentucky helped us bond, but our dads probably had more in common with each other. Both were curious intellectuals, observers of the world and open-minded human beings who were invested in raising good people. They taught their kids a lot about friendship, mostly through modeling, sometimes with their words. A few of these lessons we’d like to share with you as we celebrate our dads John Brady and Manny Mason, as well as the countless other dads who are shaping their kids, no matter their age.  

The best kinds of friendships have no borders. My dad’s lifelong friendship with his buddy Jim Hagen modeled what friendship across the years and geographies can look like. Jim was my dad’s older brother’s classmate and best friend, but this trio of pals was inseparable growing up. They continued to make time for each other throughout adulthood, despite starting families, busy jobs, and relocations. Over time the next generation has become friends, and from an early age my boys have learned the importance of ‘family friends.’ Those friendships that are like chosen family, forming bonds across generations and define who you are.

Ask about your friends’ experiences and adventures instead of just talking about your own. Sara’s upbringing in Kentucky was interrupted twice by two years of living in Europe at ages 9 and 14. Her dad’s work as a professor had brought them to some exciting places, but he reminded her each time she returned home to Kentucky that her friends would’ve had their own adventures in her absence and to make sure she asked about them rather than talking about herself all the time. Both of our dads were great listeners. They modeled how to ask great questions of others, helping them feel heard, understood, and appreciated.

Be yourself and don’t worry about people judging you for superficial reasons. Our dads couldn’t care less about fashion choices (like wearing black socks pulled up as high as they go with shorts) and had no interest in about what people thought about said choices. They focused on what mattered and motivated them. When other dads were driving nice cars to work, my dad rode his bike to the office, or drove the beat-up station wagon on bad weather days. Our dads showed us that to be a good friend, you needed to be yourself, and if someone judged about your fashion or transportation choice, then maybe that person wasn’t such a good friend.   

Being a curious introvert can be a friendship superpower. Our dads were not boisterous, life-of-the-party guys, but they were good at making others feel heard and appreciated. Sara’s sister Sandy learned from their dad that, “If someone asks you a question or looks to you for help: listen, share what you know, encourage curiosity.” She recalled as a child wondering aloud what made the arms of an alarm clock move around. So, her dad gave her an alarm clock and a screwdriver and patiently encouraged her to find out what was inside. Sandy proceeded to take apart the clock and when she put it back together, it ran backwards for the rest of its days. But her dad had glowed with pride as he watched the experimentation, and his quiet encouragement has stayed with her.

Happy Father’s Day to all of our dads and those of us who love them!

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.

Umberto Eco

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