Brilliance Without School – A Tribute to My Father

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My father taught me how to ride a bike and how to roller skate. He also taught me how to fish like a real fisherman. He took me on several worm expeditions and showed me where to find the fat and juicy ones in the darkest black soil – the best ones to use for bait. He taught me how to be thrifty by cutting them in half or threes so we’d have plenty of bait. He modeled the art of fishing showing me how to slip the bait on the hook, cast my fishing rod and then hold it with just the right amount of tension so as not to lose a catch. To my surprise, I caught several bluegills, (more than five) fish in one day.  Knowing that I had perfected the art of fishing, my father released them every time so I might have been catching the same fish over and over but neither I nor the fish seemed to mind.

Dad taught me how to build a fire and pitch a tent at our summer camping site north of our city. I had to make several trips through the woods to gather all of the twigs, but I never complained because I knew it meant golden roasted marshmallows for a treat. He demonstrated the proper way to build a safe fire, big enough to last late into the evening and then made sure I knew how to put the fire out before heading in for the night.

Although he had three daughters, it did not stop him from teaching us just about everything he would have taught a son. We learned the name of all his tools as well as what they were used for, which frequently comes in handy even today. He encouraged me to use the tools so I would understand their importance while also teaching me how to put them back in their proper place – more than a few times.

My father constructed the most utilitarian and modern outhouse we had ever seen on our summer camping grounds. Imagine an outhouse designed with free flowing air, bright colors, pictures on the wall, a bug repellent light fixture, a built in air purifier, and of course, piped in music. It was considered the most attractive outhouse in the entire camping area. All outhouses after that one were/are a huge disappointment, and I avoid them at all cost.

From my father I learned that whatever your mind’s eye can see, it can create.

The second home I remember living in was a rented three story house two blocks from the first. Our new washer and dryer were in the basement or what we called the “cellar.” To make chores a bit easier and more pleasant for my mother, my father built an intercom/music system so that when she was down in the basement she could listen to music and send or receive messages without walking three flights of stairs. He also built a laundry shoot. In addition to doubling as a fun pastime on a rainy day, when on occasion I tossed a toy or two down, the shoot served a family of five quite well on laundry day.

At a very early age, I discovered that my home was a beautiful canvas, and my father was the artist. I watched him painting rooms in our house, building wooden cabinets for the stereo equipment and installing the newest bathroom fixtures that included sliding glass shower doors and modern wall mounted lights. I was completely drawn into his ability to create something in his mind, transfer it to paper as a sketch or draft from which to work, and then build it.

My father was not an artist by trade and most of his masterpieces were only displayed on the walls of our kitchen, bathroom or living room, but he was a master nonetheless.  I wanted to be an artist like he was. He showed me how to hold a brush, how to carefully cut into the corners, how to mix colors and how to prepare and then clean the materials afterwards. He often allowed me to paint with him, fond memories that I cherish and skills that I still utilize.

From my father I learned the power of authentic participation. 

My father taught me pride in a job well done and gave me confidence to do things myself.  He created many innovative and useful products for our home that made me realize years later how ahead of his time he was. He could do or make just about anything. He designed drapery hangings for our living room, hung artwork, pictures and lighting with precision and perfection. He designed and created various pieces of artfully crafted furniture and frames that we proudly displayed in our home.

Our family was the benefactor of his great expertise, particularly my mother who never had to call a plumber, carpenter, electrician or handyman. Dad was quick at math and had a keen sense of how things worked. He taught himself the inner workings of whatever he found himself doing. He made everything he touched much better than how he found it.

My father also had the most beautiful handwriting. He taught me how to sharpen a pencil, use an eraser and sketch a drawing. Whatever he sketched was simply amazing. He appreciated the beauty in a painting, a drawing, a sculpture and shared that love with me.

From my father I learned how to make the world more beautiful.

My father’s parents divorced when he was a child. As a young adolescent he lived with various relatives, moving more than a few times. He attended school when he didn’t have to work and he managed to finish eighth grade. Most of what he learned about work he gleaned from observing masters in the various trades. What he learned about life was out of necessity, mostly teaching himself.

Even with a difficult upbringing,  a ravaging WWII, and a few disappointments in life, he maintained his keen wit and incredible sense of humor. These qualities along with a desire for his remaining years on earth to count for something; endeared him to family, friends, neighbors and even total strangers.

As an adult, I came to realize that my father was brilliant and that schooling had little to do with it. I learned that each of us has brilliance waiting to be released. Schools don’t typically do a good job of tapping into our brilliance. Many young people have a story like my dad’s. They may not know yet how to channel their disappointments, fears, and challenges into something productive. They are however, waiting for someone to notice their brilliance. Look for it, it’s there. They’ve already learned a lot about life, now they just need someone to show them how their creativity, participation, and brilliance can make the world more beautiful…just like my dad did!




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