Commentary: Dad - Man of few words, many lessons
"You're eating ugly," my Dad would sometimes say at the dinner table.
That phrase could mean a menu of things: Chew with your mouth closed; don't smack your lips; take a normal-sized bite.
"Waste not want not, and take what you want, but eat what you take," were two of Dad's other table-manner favorites.
He never expounded, but I suspect he meant for us to remember that many kids go hungry and nobody should be a glutton.
He used to say a lot of things that caused me to think as I struggled to interpret their meaning while also giving him credit for the smart guy he is.
I'm sure he didn't originate many of the sayings, but his Dad-isms were my and my brother's how-to guide for staying trouble free.
Many are comical, some shouldn't be in print, but all are meaningful and worth sharing.
I'm pretty sure he borrowed "front and center" from the military. That meant report immediately, same if he yelled our first and middle names together.
"Go play in traffic," he'd say. That meant buzz off and go be a kid -- build a fort, ride a bike or horse, take a walk. We decided he didn't mean it literally.
"Get the lead out" meant hurry up -- usually bellowed from the front door when we were late leaving for school or church. It was his final warning.
He'd tell us: "Go do something constructive." That meant instead of zoning out on TV or sitting around, why didn't we do something? Sweep the patio, clean a room, do some ironing.
"Pretty is as pretty does," my Dad said to me often. More than a handful of times, he made me made me wash my face before all-important teenage outings. He was proving his point that garish make up does not make beauty.
"You don't need it," he'd claim. I didn't realize then how sweet his words were. I was always angry about watching 40 minutes of cosmetic perfection wash down the bathroom sink.
Way before I could fully comprehend it, he'd say, "You smell like a French whorehouse." It was his colorful way of saying my perfume was too strong.
When we thought something was weird or odd, we got fatherly wisdom: "Different strokes for different folks."
We all wish for something now and then, but Dad would keep our feet in the ground by reminding us that "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Frankly, I'm still working on that one a little.
All children get excited about what they want, want, want. Dad would listen patiently then say, "People in hell want ice water, you know."
He taught us to distinguish the difference between needs and wants, and explained that he and Mom were only obligated to fulfill the needs. Profound, huh?
When my brother and I did something annoying, Dad would command, "Cease and desist." Once I understood English better, I challenged him.
"It's redundant," I claimed. That was one of many times he said, "Children should be seen and not heard."
"Do as I say, not as I do," my Dad would tell us as he smoked cigarettes and drank beer. We found out it was good advice long after he'd quit both.
Every now and then, when one of us made too obvious a wardrobe adjustment in public, he'd say, "Don't pick your seat unless you're going to the movies."
However said, I'm confident that all Dad-isms aim at teaching us common-sense essentials like there's no such thing as a free lunch and life ain't fair.
Dad always called himself a man of few words, so he wanted them all to have impact. Even though I hated them sometimes, I smile about them now.
Father's Day is a perfect time to reflect on and be thankful for what those Dad-isms taught me.