7 Life Lessons I Learned From My Dad

My son Clint wrote this piece about me on the occasion of my 67th birthday. I was touched and moved by it and am so proud to have a son who is loving and successful.

Michael Watson


My dad, Mike Watson, turns 67 this week.  Seems like a good occasion to look back and reflect upon some of the “life lessons” my dad taught me.  These are qualities where he is the master and I am his padawan.   If you’re reading this in FineArtViews, the actual birthday has already happened, but no matter, the lessons are timeless.  And if you’re reading this, Dad, Happy Birthday!

1.  Devotion

In my whole life, I’ve never seen two people more devoted to each other than my parents.  You can tell by the way they look at each other that the spark always has been, and always will be there.  They truly are the all-American love story:  My parents were high school sweethearts who lived in (what used to be) a small town.  Dad was a football player.  Mom was a cheerleader. They got married right after college and have lived happily ever after to this day.  They just celebrated 45 years of marriage.  I take inspiration from them in my own marriage, and PJ and I just celebrated our 16th.

2.  Passion

The day my father dropped me off at college he told me to “find something you’re passionate about and do it.”  I think he was trying to tell me that life is about more than school and work, and that it’s really about living.  He was trying to instill a sense of joi de vivre in me, you know La Dolce Vida.  It’s something you can see in his own life when he smiles at my mom, or when he recounts “tall tales” about his escapades while flying airplanes.  Or, if you talk photography with him, I hope you really dig photography because, I assure you, he does.

I’ve never forgotten that one little, but inspirational, moment that we shared while we sat in his car in front of my first apartment. “find something you’re passionate about and do it.”  That’s had a big impact on me.   I have become quite passionate about many things:  my marriage, time with friends, playing guitar, travel, wine, computer programming and tech, art.  In fact, I combined my love of fine art with my passion for computer programming to create FASO.

Turns out “find something you’re passionate about and do it” was pretty great advice.  Thanks Dad.

3.  Fitness

Dad ran triathlons, Mom taught aerobics [1].  On any given weekend, Jennifer (my sister) and I hung out in the back of our Chevy Blazer on Saturday mornings while Mom and/or Dad did a 5K, 10K, triathlon, whatever.  Inevitably, we both started running as well.   I still recall the year we “ran into the new year.”  Which means, you start running at 11:45 and keep going till past the stroke of midnight.  We did a 5K or so that night.  It was probably a tad more fun for the adults though, since, for them (although I didn’t think about it at the time), it really meant “run a 5K while drinking.”  Hmmmm, may have to revisit that idea……

Anyway, I can tell you, now that I’m 43, being fit (and healthy) is extremely important to your quality of life.  It doesn’t seem like it when you’re younger, but since I’ve always worked out and (mostly) eaten well, it’s been a habit for decades.  Now, in my 40s, when I get together with friends who were not ingrained with a sense of fitness, I’m starting to see dramatic differences in our health [2].   Having your health allows you to retain that joi de vivre.  Thanks again, Dad.

4.  Creativity

Creativity was celebrated in our household.  It shocked me to learn from friends that it’s not only not celebrated in some households, but even sometimes discouraged.  My father is the world’s best writer.  Anything he’s ever given me to read has kept me riveted, and often even brought me to tears and, I basically, don’t cry, so that is saying something.  Don’t believe me?  Then go read this.  You will be moved.

Some of my friends were told growing up “it’s not work if you like it” and taught that, in life, everyone has to go to work and nobody likes their jobs, so just deal with it.  I was taught “it’s not work if you like it” with a different twist:  if you can creatively marry your passions into something that finds demand in the market, you’re never actually “working.” because you like your “work.”  That’s worked out pretty well.

That’s great news for artists too!  Even if you sell your art, remember “it’s not work if you like it.”

5.  Love of Science and Technology

My dad and I have both been fascinated with sci-fi/science and technology as long as I can remember.  He might have been a football player in high school, but there’s no doubt that he’s a tech geek like me in his heart.

I recall Dad taking me to Star Trek movies, Star Wars movies, Alien, you name it.  He bought me all kinds of science related toys: a microscope set, a chemistry set, some sort of early circuit making kit, early video games.

But the thing that literally changed everything is this:  In 1981, dad bought me an Atari 800 PC.

That first night, we stayed up for hours typing in programs.  Those early programs were little more than print and if-then statements, but I didn’t care, because it made me realize that I could make the computer do anything.  I just had to learn the commands.  And learn I did.  Most of my friends had the Atari you all remember – the game console.  But my Atari 800, as most early 80’s PCs, booted directly to BASIC….directly to a programming environment.   While my friends were playing PAC-MAN, I was learning to program.  Because, if I wanted that computer to do anything, I had to write the program [3].  On that Atari 800 I wrote the fitness assessment test mentioned in footnote 1, a text adventure game based on greek mythology, basic graphics creation programs.  My algebra teacher assigned us a 4×4 matrix problem which takes tons of time and work to solve by hand, I’m lazy and didn’t want to do all the work by hand, so I wrote a computer program to solve it instead.  I was lucky he gave me good marks because he realized that to write the program, I had to actually understand the manual steps so well that I could translate them into computer code.

I cannot thank my Dad enough for somehow getting a real computer into my house in 1981.  Obviously, looking back in 2012, anyone can now see the value of learning to program, but my dad had the vision to instill that in me 32 years ago.

6.   Humor

Growing up with my dad, was like growing up with Clark Griswold (the Chevy Chase character from the Vacation movies).  No joke:  our family really did go on a driving trip across the country…..in a station wagon……just like the Griswolds, with similar disastrous results.   When we went out to eat, Jennifer and I had to learn not to even look at Dad.  Looking at Dad with food in your mouth was a guaranteed way to spray food all over the table.  He would make funny faces, stick food up his nose, act goofy when the waiter showed up…well you know….think of Clark Griswold.  I remember after one of his triathlons, dad crossed the finished line and looked at me and said “Gee, my legs sure do feel funny!” and then collapsed.  I’m not sure why I thought that was funny but it was.  It was like the biggest understatement of the year.  When we were little kids he would use his creativity (see above) to make up funny stories for us.  I remember, for example, “Oogle” and “Toogle” who lived under my parents bed and apparently ate “Coogle” (some kind of 70’s era peanut butter).

The point is, Dad taught me that there is humor in the small experiences in life and learning to enjoy those moments makes life better!  In fact, I’ve come to believe it’s one of the most important things to appreciate.  That’s why on the rare occasions I share personal experiences on this blog, I don’t share stories of how “awesome Notre Dame was”, but instead, I look for quieter, funnier moment to share, like the time our French innkeeper brought me the “wheefee” or the time our cruise ship butler told me, since I was from Texas, that he expected me to be a large man wearing “orange with horns.”

Thanks Clark…I mean Dad, for making growing up fun.  And teaching us the value of humor!

7.  Reading

I don’t think I can recall a time when my dad was not reading a book.  Of course being a writer and being a reader go together.  At any given time I’d see him reading Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, you name it.  On any given Sunday morning, he’d announce that we were “going to the bookstore.”  Oh my God.  When we were little, it seemed like we would stay there forever.  Jennifer and I would get so bored, but, if you have nothing to do for hours, in a room full of thousands of books, guess what?  You’ll start picking them up and reading them!  And soon we discovered that “going to the bookstore” wasn’t a bad thing, but rather a wonderful thing!

Dad instilled a love of reading in me that persists to this day.  Fiction, non-fiction, business books, sci-fi, fantasy, blogs.  PJ and I love reading so much that we don’t even turn the TV on anymore.  Not because of some moral stance about TV, but because in 2012 the TV programs are much less interesting and the books are more interesting.  The Kindle is a magical device that brings the entire world to you.

Being a reader isn’t just about reading for reading’s sake, however.  It’s really about developing a lifelong yearning to learn.  And one of the easiest ways to learn is to read [4].

8.  Learning

I saved this one for last because it’s really the meta-theme that applies to most of the others:  creativity, science, technology, humor, reading – these qualities sharpened my love of learning.  And that’s what my dad instilled in me: a passion for life, devotion to those I love and a lifelong love of learning.

His life “lessons” have given me an insatiable thirst for knowledge and experiences that make my  life interesting, funny, wonderful and meaningful.  That’s the gift my dad gave to me.  He gave me my life and the tools to make it wonderful.  For that, I am eternally grateful and will always remain his padawan.  Strive for “mastery” in these seven areas in your own life, and you’ll be amazed at the richness life has to offer you.

I love you, Dad.  Happy  Birthday!

Love, Clint


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