I think there’s a moment in almost everyone’s life where’s it’s like… Oh, God, I’m becoming my parent. It’s a strange little revelation to come upon, and totally horrifying to a lot of people. It’s so easy to nitpick your parents and identify those traits you definitely don’t want to inherit… the little quirks that drive you crazy, or the big ones that cause real problems. But if I turn out anything like my dad, quirks and all – I’d consider it a win.
My dad’s a pretty typical Navy guy. His 20-year service started when he was 17 years old, and ended when he had me.
He spent an awful lot of time in a cramped sub taking two-minute showers… but he also spent a lot of time on Oahu, Hawaii, and got to travel to countries like Greece. The Navy’s where he made lifelong friends, developed a career, and met my mom. He grew up there; it shaped him into the man he is today. And in some extended way, I think it shaped me, too.
In celebration of Father’s Day, here’s seven things my Navy dad taught me.
7 Things My Navy Dad Taught Me
1. Plain hard work
When you’re in the military, you give much more of your personal life to your job than you’d probably like. You move for your job, live with your coworkers (or near them), and abide by the military’s rules 24/7. It’s an environment where you’re expected to work a lot and do it well. So hard work is a lesson I think a lot of young men and women learn in the military, and certainly one my dad did. It’s served him throughout his life – from his Navy days to his time as a FedEx worker, salesman, and personal trainer.
“I think the people who don’t work hard just kind of exist,” he told me. “But the people who do work hard, and really learn their jobs, are the people that are most successful.”
2. Save your paychecks
I’ve always thought my dad should’ve been a financial adviser. The man counts everything down to the penny. But taking a look at his life, it makes sense. He grew up pretty much dirt poor — his dad was a pastor and his mom made money doing odd jobs like cleaning. He and his two brothers all went into the Navy out of high school, but my dad was the only one who stayed for 20 years. And he really made the most of it. He lived in barracks for a long time without a car, because he could just walk to work. He decided he was going to serve on subs for one reason: It made more money. He’s always been money savvy and it’s an important skill that’s been impressed on me from a young age. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
3. The big picture
The short term has never been my dad’s game. He usually sets up vacations six months in advance, and he’s got his retirement mapped out to a T. Spontaneity isn’t very high in his vocabulary. But he’s excellent at seeing the bigger picture — what his goals are, and how he’s going to get there. It’s carried him through 20 great years in the Navy, success as a salesman, a great marriage, and an exciting career change in his 50s. They’re all things he planned for and achieved with genuine interest and dedication.
4. Be upfront
When my dad met my stepmom, the first thing he said to her was, “You look different than your picture.” (She told him he did too – he’d used a photo that was six years old, and had since gone completely gray). He decided his best first-date strategy would be to put himself out there from the start, and obviously it worked. The thing about my dad, and I feel this way about a lot of military guys, is he’s not going to bullsh*t you. When you meet him you know right away what you’re getting and he’ll never be anything different. It’s a great foundation for business and personal relationships, and it’s refreshing to know someone who never has a fake face on.
5. You don’t need to go to college
Growing up, I never felt like it was an option to skip college. I was from a well-educated middle class family and it just seemed like the next step. It was a lot of pressure for a kid who really didn’t like school. My dad was the only one who always told me to do what I wanted — whether that was college, the military, or something else. He had found success without higher education, and that was a great example for me to see. You don’t need a degree to be smart, worthy, or successful, and I think bypassing college is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
6. The value of fitness
My dad’s a personal trainer — obviously he’s fit. It’s a passion he’s had from a young age that really blossomed in the Navy. “The reason that I became a personal trainer — and wanted to for many years — was that on my last submarine, the executive officer offered me a collateral duty as command fitness coordinator,” he explained.
He’s always loved sports, and I think taking that to the next level and actually learning how to train people was a great experience for him. I get the benefit of a lifelong gym buddy, and a free trainer if I want one.
Coming from a fairly strict household, I think my dad wanted to raise me with as much freedom as possible. Freedom to wear what I wanted, do what I wanted, and say what I wanted (within reason). If I drew cheetah print all over my face with permanent marker, he’d still take me out to eat. When I got older and I stayed in my room all day, he wouldn’t bother me. Even though my dad loved the structure he learned from the military, he never enforced any of that on me. There was a mutual respect there that I think is lacking in a lot of parent/child relationships. As a result, I’ve had the space to form my own thoughts and opinions, make my own decisions, and feel supported every step of the way.
Ultimately, I’ve learned a lot more from my dad than this 7-bullet list. He’s probably the most honest, morally-upright and character-driven person I know, and I can only hope some of that rubbed off on me. When I think about his service, I’m proud. Not only because he served his country, but because he used his time in the Navy to be successful in every aspect of life.
What are some of the best things you’ve learned from the military? And to every military dad: Happy Father’s Day!