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Your Take: What Unintended Lessons Did Your Parents Teach?

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When I was younger, my dad told me to memorize the present, past, and past participle tenses of each and every verb in the dictionary. My dad had one of those red hardbound Webster’s dictionaries and in the back of the book, in the reference section, they listed a whole bunch of verbs and their tenses. My favorites were the ones that were the same throughout, like “set.” I hated the ones that went back and forth (run ran run) or the ones where the word completely changed (go went gone, seriously???).

As a first generation immigrant to this country, the first in his family, my dad knew the importance of understanding the language. You’d probably be surprised to learn his handwriting helped him secure his first job, which was another skill he believed was crucial. While my grammar is far from perfect (my handwriting is pretty good considering I type all the time), I’m pretty sure my parents armed me with some pretty good tools to face the world. While my sister and I probably would’ve been fine otherwise, we were both born in the United States, my dad left nothing to chance. We repeatedly wrote the lists down, we recited them over and over again in the morning. We would use that system to learn a lot of other things like the the states, their locations and their capitals. We learned all the nations in the world (this was USSR days) and their capitals. At one point we tried to learn state flowers, birds, and motto’s but that never caught on.

Fast forward to today, a quarter century and two software related jobs in the defense industry later, and I’ve become a personal finance writer who needs to know about present, past, and past participle tenses. 🙂

I’m curious, what unintended lessons did your parents teach you?

(Photo: Hammer51012)

{ 25 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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25 Responses to “Your Take: What Unintended Lessons Did Your Parents Teach?”

  1. My dad taught me the value of frugality. I was one of five children and my dad was a sole provider for a long time. He had to be frugal to make ends meet. While my situation is a little bit different, the frugality that rubbed off on me helps me to ensure a better future for me and my family. I also learned how NOT to handle marriage.

  2. Patrick says:

    I have to say that my parent’s taught me how to be frugal. Both of my parents spent only what they had and did not carry much debt. They would shop around to always find the best deals. Well, I am exactly the same, but I use the internet more than they ever did to find great deals. I am grateful that they taught me this, even though they did not directly teach me how to be frugal.

  3. Amy says:

    My dad taught me to work for what I want. I was 12 or 13 years old, wanting to go to JC Penneys to get some school clothes. My dad told me that he could afford KMart and if I wanted to shop at Penneys, I would have to make up the difference. Hmmmm…ok. I mowed lawns with my dad and brother, helped clean my dad’s office, painted manhole covers (yes, that’s a job!!) to earn extra money. Yep, I got my blue polyester pants at Penneys, too. I thank my dad to this day for this lesson because it has served me well.

  4. Michael says:

    It probably seems insignificant but my dad taught me how to change the oil in my truck. However, him teaching me this really taught me that valuable time with the people you love is priceless. I now have a daughter and will teach her how to change her oil at some point (she is only 10 months old) knowing that she will learn much more about time and relationships than oil.

  5. This post made me smile. I married into a Colombian family so my in-laws were first generation. They both speak very well now but they explained the difficulties of learning the English language as well.

    My dad always taught me to do something right the first time. He would always say “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” Or “Don’t let your work be half-a**.” Ah, what a good way with words he had. ha! But I saw the value in that as I got older and worked my way through college.

  6. T says:

    I have a negative one, I’m afraid, but it’s one I’ve been thinking about lately.

    My parents both had a victim mentality. They would get incredibly angry at people they felt had wronged them (employers, coworkers, each other), but never do a damned thing to address the problem (up to and including TALK TO THE PERSON ABOUT IT).

    They taught me that there was no point in fighting back, that powerful evil people controlled the world and the best you could do was hide from people and try to ignore it.

    I regret that they didn’t teach me initiative. Initiative and hope. Initiative and hope and the value of working through conflict with people.

  7. MissMartha says:

    One of the best lessons my parents unintentionally taught me was about their relationship. When I was younger I would ask my mother who is her best friend, she would always respond “your father.” I didn’t understand how a man could be a woman’s best friend but as I’ve grown older I realize now how important it is to marry your best friend.

  8. My dad taught me about compromise. He always forced me to decide between things. He used to say, you can never have it all and life is a series of compromises – you give up one thing to have another. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but those have struck me as being very profound thoughts as I’ve gotten older.

  9. thomas says:

    How important it is to be involved in your children’s life.

  10. tom says:

    My parents are also first generation here in Canada.
    And one thing my dad especially grilled into me was finish the job, don’t leave it half assed.

    It was irritating to me for years but now I appreciate what he has done because whenever I do something, i do the complete job, and not cut corners.
    It is almost like impossible for me to avoid it.

  11. Start-Up says:

    My parents were two of the hardest working people throughout my entire childhood. My dad ran his own small company that sterilized and packaged medical products. He always made time for use, but he worked super hard on his company.

    My mom was stay at home until I was a little older, but after that she started working with my dad at his company. I can definitely say that work ethic is 100% attributable to them. I probably picked up some entrepreneurial ambitions from my dad.

  12. Bob says:

    Even though I was not born in the US my father made me go through the same exercise of understanding the tenses of every verb. Back in India the English schools also put a lot of emphasis on grammar and one was expected to write and speak well.

    Although a lot of Indians do not speak English, it is the preferred language in most colleges, corporate offices and central government services. In fact most competitive exams in India are in English. You do hear a lot of hinglish terms which is a form of english only Indians can understand. I think earlier Indian English had more British influence but with the growth of outsourcing and BPO, American English is beginning to have it’s effect on the queen’s language.

  13. Charity says:

    I was raised in another country. My father taught me, actually all nine of us children to change a flat tire. He would make sure he counted all nine before he started.

    As I was leaving for work one morning in the mid-nineties, I noticed that I had a flat tire and called one of those ‘rescue’ companies whose service I paid for. But then I realized the hours were ticking by, and I really needed to get going. Although I was dressed in an Irish green pleated skirt-suit, I couldn’t help but cancelling the order and to what I was taught to. Needless to say, I was done in no time and it saved the day.

  14. Red says:

    My dad taught me to question anyone who told me I couldn’t accomplish something. Or rather, he taught me to believe in myself and prove anyone who doubted me wrong.

    I was the little kid that would ask why? why? why?. Until the person I was harassing got frustrated and walked away from me. Anytime I said that “I can’t…” my dad played the why? game with me. Asking “why?” to every “because” I had to offer. Eventually, I would get so frustrated that I would give up explaining and go figure out a way to do what I said I can’t do. I reality, he was screwing with me, but it unintentionally trained me to not give up and prove that I could.

  15. headknocker says:

    My dad taught me that whenever someone asked me to do a job, I should strive to do it better than anyone else possibly could. After the job was complete and I had done my absolute best, I shouldn’t look for a pat on the back or a bonus, because if I had done my best, that was what was expected.

  16. MikeG says:

    Mine taught me the importance of being informed about current affairs and understanding what is really going on, instead of what some people want you to believe. This has been of inestimable value at work and in personal life. I made a little money last year instead of losing a lot.

    They read the newspaper every day and watched the morning news. I was raised on the Today show and never saw Captain Kangaroo. I still have a memory of watching Dave Garroway while I downed a baby bottle of orange juice. BTW, when I say morning news and the Today show, I don’t mean today’s entertainment shows, but real news shows as they existed in the 1950’s.

  17. Linda El says:

    My Mom taught me that good food need not be expensive food. For example, a meal of Pintoe Beans, stewed potatoes, corn bread and coleslaw is not only just about the best tasting, economical meal one could eat but is also one of the healthiest.
    Todays prices: 1lb. Pintoe beans $1.oo, 2 lbs. potatoes $1.00, small bag of self rising cornmeal $1.00, 2lb. head cabbage $1.oo along with staples most people have on hand, cup of milk, a little mayonaise, etc.
    Mom fed this meal to her family of 7, with leftovers, many times. I have served the same meal to my family of 7 many times as well. I have eaten in Paris, Geneva, Stuttgart, London, N.Y., all over, and no meal that I have eaten at these places has ever tasted as good as this one.

    When teaching me to drive my dad told me about the “blind spot” on the side of the car that
    can’t be seen in the mirrors on the drivers side or the rear view mirror. Dad told me to always turn my head and look for coming cars. “Don’t rely on the mirrors”, he said. Doing this small action has saved my life many times. Now, some 50 years later I always say, “thank you Daddy”, when a “near miss” happens.

  18. deb says:

    My parents taught me to care for others in need. Even though my parents struggled to make ends meet, they would turn a helping hand or give something away to a person or family who had need of help.
    When my brother was in the hospital, my mother returned home telling me that two little girls in the same ward as my brother had no dolls. She then asked me to choose two dolls that I could share with the girls in the hospital.
    My parents taught me not to wait for others to fix your problems. That meant in one of the heaviest snowstorms on record, our family worked on clearing both the street and the alley in our neighborhood along with the neighbors.

  19. Dan says:

    A truly unintended lesson came from my parents’ divorce. After 24 years of marriage they entered a 3 year, ugly, destructive divorce. During this process they actively sought to ruin each other financially out of petty spite and jealousy, while at the same time they were ruining themselves and feeding money to lawyers. This bankrupted my mother and cost them their house.

    The lesson is to prepare for the future because you truly don’t know what waits. People change, yet they are still flawed humans. My father never let my mother have savings of her own. My mother didn’t act on her own to build her savings. Since my mother and father were retired, their incomes were fixed and she depended heavily on my father’s income. I’ve encouraged my wife to set up her own savings to fall back on specifically to avoid this sort of situation.

    I learned to be frugal because they were not. My whole childhood was without want, but at what cost? There is nothing to show for it now. While I want to provide for my son, I also want to insure his future and keep my finances in order so he might never witness the downward spiral I had to. If I can accomplish that then the whole mess was not a complete travesty.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Never heard my father tell a racist joke or see him park in a handicap spot.

  21. Alice says:

    My parents, especially my mother, taught me to “work hard and play hard.”

    I was born in China, and for the first nine years of my life, I played hard. I was never really a good student in school, and never wore the 3-striped badge (president of the school), the 2-striped badge (president of the grade), nor the 1-striped badge (president of the class). I just had a lot of fun…

    And when I came to America, all that ended. No, seriously, I think that’s where my childhood ended. My mom forbade me taking English lessons in China because apparently, Americans won’t be able to understand anyways. So, I was 9 years old, and trying to memorize the alphabet.

    In elementary school, I worked hard to catch up to my classmates. In middle school, I worked hard to catch up with ideal STAR-testing scores.

    But in high school, I started to slack off hard. I sat at my desk all afternoon not really doing anything… I didn’t know what I wanted and didn’t have any goals or plans in mind.

    One day, my mother walked in on me doodling in my notebook, and told me that I could either study hard or go outside and play hard. I was only wasting time doing anything in-between.

    By sophomore year, my parents not-so-gently reminded me that I was going to become a failure. I cried my eyes out, and stared at my transcript. Well, I have to at least get into a UC, I thought to myself. It was doable… So I started to work my butt off. Junior year was the hardest year ever, especially at my high school, but it was my BEST year ever. I ended up with a 4.4.

    Now that I’m a senior, I get to play hard again (or experiencing life…) But I also realize that I would have to study hard again in college.

    Seriously… it’s stupid not doing either.

  22. JazGram says:

    When my father was teaching me to drive I was very nervous and only thinking about staying ON the road. He finally said to me, “Try ro steer AROUND the potholes.”

    At the next one, I did and said so. He then said, “Always try to do that in life too.” It became a joke between us that whenever a difficulty that could be avoided came up, one of us would comment, “another pothole”.

    To this day (at 68 years old) I think of difficulties as potholes, and try to steer around them in a positive way.

  23. Yana says:

    That’s a great question, and I think parents teach more naturally/unintentionally than intentionally. I accidentally learned to be resourceful, true to myself, hopeful, happily interdependent and genuine. If I learned a negative, it is that there are times when people use certain words or promote certain ideas, when their intended message is not what is clearly stated.

  24. hass says:

    I mean We all had A Lesson which we learned from our parents.But the Most important lesson i learned from my parants WAS TO DO THE RIGHT THINK NO MATTER WHAT!!!

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