Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lessons My Father and Mother Taught Me

James Scott Bell

I was blessed with good parents. They were of the "Greatest Generation," decent and dedicated to taking care of their family of three boys. When I look at how I’ve lived my life, it’s all been a variation on a theme: I wanted them to be proud of me. 

Even now, with both of them gone, I still think about them when looking at my own behavior.

From my dad I learned these things:

1. Never hit a girl.

2. You have to work hard to get anywhere.

3. Never, ever use the N word (my dad played baseball with Jackie Robinson on the UCLA team).

4. Everybody is entitled to the protections of the United States Constitution, even (nay, especially) those who can’t afford a lawyer.

5. If you make a commitment to someone, keep it.

6. Don’t lie.

From my mom I learned:

1. Don’t be selfish.

2. Don’t drink milk from the carton.

3. Take care of somebody when they’re sick.

4. Stand up for a friend if he’s treated unfairly.

5. Laugh a lot—it helps get you through life.

6. Finish your homework before you watch TV.

If I’ve managed to achieve some measure of success, I really do owe it to my parents. They laid the foundation.

When I started to take writing seriously, I determined that while I may not have the native talent of certain writers (for example, I think Stephen King is a literary and imaginative genius) at least I could work as hard as anyone. And I’ve tried. Thanks, Dad.

I also appreciate the value of a good laugh at strategic times. I write suspense, but I like comedy relief, a la Hitchcock. Reader mail tells me I do pretty well with that. Thanks, Mom.

What about you? What lessons for life would you pass on, and who did you learn them from?


  1. Great Post Jim.

    I too learned very similar lessons from my parents, mom & step-dad. From my father I had the added back-drop of do-nots for comparison, clearly showing me the what-if of not following my step-dad's conservative examples of manhood instead of the more hedonistic lads my father hung out with.

    Three others I'd love to give credit to are:

    Drill Instructor Sergeant Clayton, USMC who taught me that no matter how much screaming, yelling, in your face stress is flying at you from every direction your mission remains the same. There are no excuses that forgive mission failure, there is no almost made it. There is only win or lose, but the distinction between the two is not as immediate as many people think. Because even though you may have lost a particular battle, as long as you're still breathing you've not lost the war.

    David, Son of Jesse, King of Israel(~1000BC) whose story taught me that even though things seem dark and hard there is a plan to it all. As he summed it up in Psalm 139:
    "My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

    Finally, Jesus who said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

    These are the things that shaped my natural born sense of humor and particular talents into a shape that is today known as Basil.

  2. My mother said, "Always look your best and carry breath mints." Good advice for all professionals!

  3. From my father I learned that ocean waves are caused by whales. He also taught me the value of taking pride in my work.

  4. No one owes you anything. Get up and go to work. Both my parents said and lived these words, though my mother never worked outside the home. She still got up every morning, and worked.

    Oh, and when cows are asleep in the field that means it's going to rain.

  5. From my father, who worked two jobs for much of his life-- "never put yourself above others." So in my writing I strive to see all characters as equal, regardless of station or relative importance in the story. We all matter.

    From my mother I learned the joy of reading and what stories can mean for readers.

  6. My relationship with my parents was problematic, however a few lessons caught:

    From dad:

    1. How to read when I was 4. Even though he didn't pay much attention to us kids, one day he scooped me up, plunked me down, and we didn't get up until I could read "The Gingerbread Man." That weekend gave me an advantage in school that lasted for years.

    2. When passing another car, don't pull back into the right lane until you can see both of their headlights in your rear view mirror.

    3. Always order prime rib rare.

    From my older brother:

    1. How you treat your body when you are younger and reckless dictates how you will live when you are older and settled. (He had COPD from smoking)

    2. Despite your limitations (see #1) you can redeem your youthful follies and live a life you can be proud of.

    3. Mickey Mantle is the greatest baseball player EVER.

    4. There is no muscle like vintage Detroit muscle.

    5. When your little sister is a baby, don't pull the spring-loaded jumper so hard that the baby launches straight up and bounces off the doorframe. Mom gets really mad.

    6. Don't be afraid to think for yourself and question authority. It is the mark of a patriot.


  7. Things I've learned from my mother:

    1. How to be a good cook.

    2. An appreciation for books and music.

    3. How to let your kids be who they are even if everyone else thinks something's wrong with them.

    4. If someone marries into the family, you treat them like family, even if they're way more "white trash" than the rest of the family.

    5. Make your bed, pick up after yourself, and clear your own plate after dinner.

    6. If you turn into an irrationally demanding person, your kids will dread coming to see you at Christmas.

    Things I've learned from my father:

    1. How to shoot a gun.

    2. Driving fast is fun.

    3. You can still be a fun person, even as you grow old.

    4. Do the right thing, always. No need for fanfare, just do it.

    5. If you love your kids and grandkids unconditionally (see "irrationally demanding" above), you will earn their respect, admiration, and gratitude. And they will look forward to visiting you at Christmas.

    Lessons from both my parents:

    1. Coffee is good.

    2. If you bring home a stray dog or cat, you're responsible for feeding it and caring for it. (I've mastered this one, Jordan Dane.)

    From my dear departed Aunt Sue, I learned to make good sweet tea.

  8. Huh...interesting question.

    From my dad:
    Don't depend on a man to support you.

    From my mom:
    Don't kill Daddy long leg spiders.

    Seriously, (although my dad was dead-serious about the man thing), I think their greatest gift was the appreciation of reading. Some of my best memories are of them reading to me.

    1. That's major, Kris, from both you and Terri.

      Parents: read to your kids.

  9. My ophthalmologist and my graphic designer taught me not to print white on black. It tires readers.

  10. Always watch your six. No lights at nite.
    -- Basic 101

  11. My Dad taught me humility.
    Mom taught me quality over quantity.

  12. thoughtsforaconsciousworldFebruary 24, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    My parents gave me a love for literature and music and always encouraged my creative side.
    One of the greatest things they did was to encourage all three of us to pursue our passions. Whatever our talent was, they were always there to support us. Even if we failed, we had learned something in the process.

  13. My dad was a Cub Scout leader for over 20 years and a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast, so he taught me to respect Mother Earth, and how to camp out and build a campfire. Mom taught me about hard work and perseverance. Both my parents grew up poor without access to a decent education, but they encouraged their 5 kids to do well in life. RIP, Mom & Dad. You done good by us! Thanks, Jim, for making me think of them now and appreciate them!

  14. Great advice; my parents taught me a lot of the same ones (well, not #3 because they weren't native English speakers and wouldn't know what the word meant). Sharing on FB and Twitter!

  15. Great post. Brings back lots of memories for me. I'm fortunate that my parents are still alive & fun to be around

    From my dad:

    If you want to renovate & make a change, knock a hole in the wall. Get committed.

    From my mom:

    Her idea of the "sex talk" was to come to me on my wedding day and say, "I want to tell you about the birds & the bees, but I'm afraid you'd correct me."

    Both my parents taught me that family is everything & that love is unconditional. They are quick to laugh & always encourage us to try new things with confidence. They are amazing.

  16. Enjoyed your post!
    From Daddy - perserverance & determination. He had polio as a child, but the lifelong side-effects he had never stopped him from doing anything he wanted to. And he told me I was "stubborn" enough to do whatever I set my mind to. I learned later that stubborn isn't always bad.
    He loved people and never met a stranger - was friendly and greeted everyone.
    He had a great sense of humor and thought it was his job to make sure everyone he met had a smile on their faces.
    He loved the blessing of having a job and thought people who stayed home were lazy - hence my work ethnic.
    Go to church.
    From Momma -
    Always look your best.
    Keep your house clean and neat.
    Wash your hands before you touch anything in the kitchen.
    Always offer people who drop by something to eat or drink.
    Finish what you start.
    Go to church.

  17. Loving all the words of wisdom. Thanks.

  18. I have so much to thank my parents for but above all they taught me to look at the world critically, not to take anything or anyone for granted and to value learning for its own sake. My parents remain avid and voracious readers who are curious about history, economics and politics and always delve as deep as they can into the issues. Debating them is, needless to say, futile - they have always read more and thought more about it all! I only hope I will be so interested in the world (and be so interesting) when I am 70!

  19. From mom I get my artsy craftsy creative side and any art talent I possess. From dad I get my love of sci-fi (he would read the classics to me as a kid until I could read them myself), horsepower, and motorcycles. I also get my faith, my good grounding, and my sense of secure self from them.

    Dad taught me how to work with tools, work on cars and motorcycles and drive cars and motorcycles. (I learned on a big stick-shift pick-up and still always prefer to to have a manual transmission.) He also taught me to shoot a gun- bows I picked up on the side.

    Dad always said you can't have too much horsepower or go too fast (I also spent my formative child years at drag strips on the weekends). He always said "it's not yours until you work on it" (put work into something)... cars, motorcycles, etc... until you'd put in the sweat, it wasn't yours. Of course at the other end of the spectrum - he also told me as a youth that if I unscrewed my belly-button a half turn every night my butt would fall off. And the classic- you used to be a boy- but the toilet shark got you.

    I speak in public often because my dad made me tag along and speak with him a lot- he hated doing in and would say - Moses had Aaron- I have Penny.

    I still ride motorcycles with my dad (although we're down to really short hops now- not cross country) and I still create and have fun with mom.