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day 86: the fundamentals

April 28, 2011

I grew up a girl’s girl.  I played with dolls until I was at least twelve.  I knew every word to every song on the “Annie” soundtrack.  I took several hours of dance class a week, but in all my school years, I never participated in a team sport — never — unless you count games of gym class kickball (and I don’t).  I absolutely threw like a girl, and my sister was no different.

My Dad, God bless him, ended up with two girls and precious few opportunities to play coach.  There were plenty of piano recitals, ballet productions, and choir concerts to attend, but a sideline pep talk urging me to “be aggressive” during my mazurka performance just wouldn’t have rung true.  I’m also pretty sure he never blew a whistle at my sister as she played Wagner, demanding that she “hustle” or “get in the game.”  I often wonder if he wished for bleachers to pace or refs to besmirch, because we never gave him either.

When I was a sullen teenager, my father often enlisted my help in the kitchen.  A talented and entirely self-taught chef, my Dad emphasized the importance of knife-grip, solid garlic-mincing technique, and a neat bell pepper dice.  I distinctly remember rolling my eyes and tossing my permed hair at each of my assigned kitchen tasks, because invariably I played “sous” to his “chef.”  He demanded mastery of the fundamentals before letting me step up to the fancy stuff.

As I think about my parents’ kitchen, I’m reminded of the first dinner my then-fiance (now husband) ate at my parents’ home.  I don’t remember what was served, but afterward Steve remarked, “I like that your parents talk about real things at the dinner table.”  When I pressed him to elaborate, he admitted an appreciation for weighty dinner conversation — talking about current events, religion, news — over small talk.  “I guess I hadn’t noticed,” I remember saying.  I hadn’t noticed because dinner table debates comprised the backdrop of my childhood.  My sister and I were encouraged to have opinions and to defend them, skills we sharpened at a dinner table helmed by my brilliant Dad, a lifelong devil’s advocate.  A solid footing in the fundamentals — what do you believe?  why do you believe it?  how do you demonstrate it? — was a prerequisite for full participation.

My daily tasks now are shaped by the fundamentals I learned around that dinner table and in that kitchen.  When I go all Julia Child on an onion, I thank my father.  When weighing a financial decision, I imagine him adding sums in neat columns (asking, “What do the numbers say?”) and I’m grateful for his logic.  When my wayward imagination drifts me from treetop to treetop, thoughts of my Dad root me: honor the basics, they say.  Check the foundation and do the math.  Keep your eye on the ball and, for God’s sake, keep hustling.

Retired coaching legend Bobby Knight said, “Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”

On Day 86, I decided to finish a gift I started for my Dad almost two years ago.  For Father’s Day 2009, I bought a small photo album and began sorting pictures of my children to place in it for him.  Before we reach Day 90, it will be complete.

The good news?  In the coming months, once we move back to Texas, we’ll all be seeing more of one another.   I want my boys to learn from my Dad as I did, practicing the fundamentals until they are ready for the fancy footwork.  I look forward to them digesting dinner table conversation and  apprenticing in the kitchen.

I know, too, that our future overflows with Little League games and soccer practices.  Perhaps my Dad will get the chance to storm some bleachers and yell at a few referees, after all.

Today, I hope you find beauty in the basics.  Thank you, always, for showing up.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Barbara Culbertson permalink
    April 28, 2011 11:56 am

    What a wonderful family to return to.


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