My dad has been gone for twenty years now. I still find that hard to believe. But quite often, I find myself thinking about the six rules he seemed to live by.
After I consulted with my siblings, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that we’d heard him say the same things, even though we didn’t necessarily grow up in the same household (my dad married twice and had two children in each marriage).
Here are his six rules, in no particular order:
1. There are two types of people in the world – givers and takers; be a giver.
He had a theory that you only needed to sit in a room with someone five minutes to determine which type of person he or she is. Dad didn’t have much tolerance for takers. I don’t think he avoided them as much as he kept an eye on them.
2. Never pass a red kettle.
Continuing with the theme of giving, after seeing how one of my nieces, who has cerebral palsy in her lower extremities, benefited from the work of a couple of charitable organizations many years ago, I told my dad it made me even more aware of the needs of charities and it made me want to do more for them.
“Never pass up the opportunity to drop something into a red kettle,” he said, referring to the Salvation Army’s red kettle at Christmastime. But I knew he was talking about more than just the Salvation Army.
3. If somebody asks you for something, give it to him or her if you can.
Sounds amazingly consistent with what Proverbs 3:27 says: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
“And he abided by that rule,” one of my sisters told me. “Almost every time I asked for something (a new piece of clothing, a few bucks, to go out for dinner, to spend the night with a friend, a toy or some candy at the store) his answer was ‘I don’t see why not’ and he made it happen.”
He once pulled three hundred dollars out of his pocket to offer to buy me a laptop at a computer trade show when I was beginning to express an interest in writing. I knew it was all the money he had in the world. The laptop wasn’t worth it, so we didn’t buy it, but I never forgot that.
4. Keep spare change in your pocket so you can make a phone call if you need to and a dollar in your glove compartment so you can buy gas if you run out.
The specifics are dated, but the sentiment is timeless. Always try to keep a little in reserve, just in case.
5. The system is fine – it’s the people who run it who are broken.
Underneath Dad’s compassion was a healthy suspicion of people who seemed to operate with little or no regard for others.
6. Take a lot of photos. The older you get, the more important they will become to you.
In 1998, I had an instant camera. The film cost nearly a dollar per photo. As my family gathered at one of my sister’s houses that year, I shot a few photos and then ran out of film. I didn’t plan to shoot more that day because of the cost. Dad handed me a ten dollar bill and said, “Go get more film. You can never shoot too many photos – especially in a situation like this.”
He was right. Boy, was he right