By the time this article is posted, it will be my father John Dailey’s 50th birthday. I turned 25 this year, so this will be the last year that he’s ever more than twice my age. On that note, today I’m going to share with you some of the best lessons that I’ve learned from my father, as well as relate to you some stories that you may appreciate.
First, we’ll start with my favorite quote, which may or may not have been serious, in retrospect. I remember distinctly we were walking around in a Wal-Mart in California somewhere- it was busy that day, and there were people everywhere. He said, “You must learn to swim like a fish through the sea of people,” and at the time I think that may have been a somewhat facetious comment about weaving through crowds, that’s the one that stuck with me the most.
[Editor’s Note: I learned after showing him this that that is a paraphrase of a quote from Mao Zedong of all people, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” which actually made me enjoy it more.]
As you may have noticed from this site, I tend to think about things a bit, and I spent a long time trying to figure out what that quote meant- leaving out the crowd-weaving bit, although as a result of that, I actually really enjoy walking smoothly through crowds of people and simultaneously hate crowded bars more. One of the better explanations that I’ve managed to come up with is that the first premise of that statement is to be somehow distinct from your environment. If most people are a sea, blending together and being tossed about, how can you swim without being something else entirely?
Seas lack agency, and the individual drops of water are indistinguishable from one another. However, a fish, while it may get pushed by the tides, is separate, and it’s capable of doing whatever its wee fishy brain feels so compelled to. It can swim against the waves, or it can move smoothly with the current, and more importantly, it can do either as appropriate.
More than that, it’s about moving like fluid and able to react appropriately- a fish’s ideal environment is water, so that means I have to make my ideal environment people, which is something that I took very seriously.
When I was younger, I tried to think of a number of ways that I could somehow surpass my dad, as I imagine most sons do. However, most sons don’t have a father who is as tough as mine- he once ran 13 miles on a broken leg, has completed many 100+ mile races, and did just about every single hardcore job available in the Marine Corps.
That sets the bar pretty high.
There was a time I wanted to join the Marines as well, but I realized that even if I could do as well as he did there, it wouldn’t be a decisive victory, so I had to figure out what I could beat him at- he’s not the world’s greatest people person.
Neither was (nor am, truthfully) I, so I decided from there I’d teach myself everything I could about dealing with people. I read books on psychology, sociology, and body language, and I got a job at the movie store pushing magazine subscriptions (and later, the hair straightener kiosk selling $400 hair straighteners).
This ties into another lesson I learned from my dad, but more indirectly- be obsessive over whatever it is you’re doing. When we moved to NC from CA, we had a big enough garage for my father to make a wood shop and start woodworking. Never one to do anything halfway, I remember he’d almost exclusively watch carpentry shows (including some awful local show involving an old guy who would just ramble the whole time), as well as reading books and collecting vintage tools like chisels and a really great 50’s drill press. He made almost all the furniture in our house, including the desk/dresser/bookshelf set for my room that I finally lost all the pieces to in my last move when the elevator broke in my Reno apartment and we couldn’t fit the desk down the stairs- RIP.
Another fun lesson involves a half-marathon that we ran when I was in high school. I remember early on in the race, he explained the logic of doing these kinds of longer races. You focus on the person in front of you and treat it like fishing- reel them in, then move on to the next one. Sometimes they’ll attempt to push ahead, but if you do it enough times, you’ll break their resolve and they won’t try again. This stuck with me in everything- currently I’m about three months into boxing classes, and at this point I can beat everyone at lunges basically every day. The first time I won, people put up a fight, but now people just accept that I’m going to finish faster than they are. You gotta win the mental victories first.
Here’s another (dubiously serious) quote that I was always fond of- “free your mind, and your ass will follow.” I’m certain that he wasn’t trying to make some kind of profound point here, as I think it’s from a song or something, but I was always a fan (if the subject matter of this site isn’t any indication). I won’t go super in depth on that, though, but the basic takeaway is that thought guides action, so get your head right first, as everything flows from there.
My father also is largely the reason I got into mythology- when I was a kid, he’d read me a large collection of Greek myths, and I think I had several other books with different myths in them. Beyond just myths, though, he also referenced a lot of quotes from a variety of eras, with his favorite being the following from Heraclitus:
“Out of every one hundred men,
ten should not be here,
eighty are nothing but targets,
nine are the real fighters,
and we are lucky to have them,
for they the battle make.
Ah, but the one, one of them is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”
I’ll end this with what has somehow become my favorite story-
Once, when I was a kid, I was complaining about something, as I was often wont to do, and he went out of his way to take a can of Spaghettios and replace the label with a piece of paper with a detailed drawing that said “Whiney-O’s,” and proceeded to give it to me and laugh, and the whole time he said, “you want some cheese with that whine?”
At the time that was not funny at all, but in retrospect, that’s hilarious. If you find that story objectionable, please send me your address and I’ll mail you a can.
Happy birthday, Dad, I love you, and here’s to 50 more years.
If you enjoyed this, check out this guest post from my father, At The Time When Kings Go Off To War.