10 Things My Dad Taught Me About Survival (feat. gumbo)

My dad is convinced he’s dying (from the stress of being a father to eight children, he claims). He’s not even fifty and I’ve already gotten the “What Every Girl Needs to Know to Become a Woman” speech like 500 times, along with random and increasingly intense survival lessons. I honestly believe he’s fine, but I humor him a lot, and over the last few years I’ve picked up some nifty skill sets.

Ten Things My Dad Taught Me About Survival:

  1. The secret to a good gumbo is in the roux. I’ve made gumbo twice, but each time he has stood over my shoulder, micromanaging every little detail. To spite him, I altered the recipe to fit my tastes. It’s fantastic, but it isn’t the family recipe. I have a feeling that when he is gone I’ll stop improvising and try my damnedest to recreate every flavor he’s made over the years. You just don’t mess with the classics.
  2. When (not if) you are attacked, it is better to be crazy than to be strong. My dad grew up in very rough neighborhoods. One of the many reasons he thinks he’s on death’s door is because he’s amazed he’s outlived so many of his childhood friends. Over the last few years I’ve been in some dark situations. I made it through them because he taught me how to be angrier, louder, meaner, and crazier than whatever (and whomever) I encountered.
  3. GFTB. When cornered, go for the balls. Eyeballs, balls-balls. Whatever. Fight dirty, and fight hard.
  4. Play the game. My dad is well versed in corporate politics, and the politics that are inherent in every church in America, no matter how wonderful the people who go there may truly be. He taught me to maneuver social circles in such a way that I have never been taken advantage of by those who would wish to harm me. I can best sum up his lessons on the subject as this: do no harm, take no shit.
  5. Be a person your family (and others) can depend on. When our island was on lock-down after a hurricane hit the area, my dad was the designated “haul these supplies across the military barricade and leave them in this vacant house for the survivors to find” guy. How does one break into a house on stilts when the staircase has been washed away in the storm? By becoming a human catapult and launching your daughter onto the top deck of said house. It took a couple of tries to get it right, but my dad caught me every time I fell, and those supplies got to the drop point when people needed them most.
  6. It’s okay to start over. We’ve moved thirteen times to date. Every time my dad made sure that we knew we could be whomever we wanted to be in the next town we lived. He let us start over, wipe the slate clean.
  7. Nothing is beneath you. My dad throws gender roles out the window. When my mom got sick he was the one who started cooking, doing laundry, scrubbing toilets, and sewing buttons. In addition to keeping up with his four jobs, and outside home maintenance responsibilities. He’s a man who can do any task that comes his way. He leads through service, giving me and my siblings the ultimate example of how to be a truly effective, strong leader.
  8. Know yourself, and know others. My dad sat me down when I turned eighteen and he told me that the curse of our family was our tempers. He warned me that not everyone could handle the rage we were capable of, and he urged me to find other ways to express anger or sadness–ways that would protect those I loved. It has saved many relationships from going down in flames.
  9. Be better than your parents. Both of my parents have fought hard their entire lives to distance their children from the worlds they grew up in. They became better than their parents, and have always urged us to do the same. It’s a delicate balance they’ve instilled in us: to not act superior, but to make superior decisions.
  10. While we live, let us live. My dad’s motto. Every breath needs to count for something. The worst life lived is one spent in idle selfishness. My dad never stops serving others, even at cost to his health and happiness. My life will be a beautiful, amazing thing if I can give to my children half of what he has given to his.

I love my dad, cantankerous and ornery as he is. He better stick around for a long, long time.

Single Woman Desperately Seeking Motivation

This Saturday I’m going to commencement and getting my diploma. It doesn’t feel real yet.

Over past five years I’ve lived on my own, or with my family, taking care of my six younger siblings and bed-ridden mother while going to school full time. Even after she got better I worked—sometimes 60 hours a week—and helped in the children’s ministry at my dad’s church.

I’m so tired.

A part of me is angry that after countless sleepless nights, beautiful weekends spent indoors, and sacrificed relationships all I’m getting is a mound of debt and an embossed sheet of paper. I tell myself it’s just another stepping stone to law school, but what I hear myself saying is, “Great. Yet another obstacle in my way.”

I should get used to it.

At the risk of sounding clichéd and insincere, I’m going to remind myself once again that no one—especially me—deserves a problem-free life. I need to realize that the person who goes untested is a worthless person incapable of helping themselves or those around them in times of need. I’m blessed to have gone through so much in college. Loss, tragedy, unending loneliness and sacrifice—worth it if it helps just one person going through something worse to know there is a life after you’ve hit rock bottom. There is hope to go on when everything—everything—in your life is pushing against you, holding you down.

There are butterflies in my gut, rising and falling every time I think about walking into that stadium and standing side-by-side with my peers. I never thought I was going to get to that point. This seemingly unimportant milestone feels huge to me. I paid for my school, I took out debts in my name, and I did all my own work— made the honor roll for most of it, too. But that’s not why I finally feel like I’ve earned a place in the commencement ceremony.

Though unspeakable pain I’ve learned that I’m strong, that I can bear the weight of anything as long as I stay close to God. Without Him, I really would be dead. I know that, somewhere deep inside me it rings truer than anything I’ve ever written.

So I’m pushing away my cynicism and anger and I’m going to skip onto that football field Saturday with my head held high. Despite my best efforts, I am alive, I am healthy, and I am heading for brighter, better days. Not days free from worry or tragedy, but days I know I can face head-on because God gives me peace, and he gives me joy.