All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned from my Parents

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

If you’ve never read humorist Robert Fulghum, treat yourself by buying his books. His most famous one is ‘All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.’ More than 17 million copies of his books are in print, in 31 languages, in 103 countries.

On the downloads tab of his website, he had a delightful offering – Argentina Tango Chronicles – tales from a solo traveler. Since I am traveling solo to northern Italy in the fall, I can’t wait to read how Fulghum makes the most of his trips where he reinvents himself in foreign lands. Yes, he even changes his name.

Robert Fulghum grew up in Waco, Texas. In his youth he worked as a ditch-digger, newspaper carrier, ranch hand, and singing cowboy. After college, he had a brief career with IBM, but he wasn’t satisfied. After completing his graduate degree in theology, he served 22 years as a Unitarian parish minister in the Pacific Northwest. He’s taught drawing, painting, art history and philosophy. He’s also an accomplished painter and sculptor and sings, plays guitar and mando-cello. Fulghum even marches in parades, playing cymbals and tambourine.

Now that’s a diverse resume. He’d be a blast to hang out with.

His good-natured stories about families and life lessons are told with subtle ‘feel good’ humor. I love reading his short stories at bedtime, particularly after a long, trying day. His humor, and his ways of structuring a short story, always makes me laugh.

Fulghum’s work makes me think about my own upbringing and what I’ve learned from my parents. I’ve been blessed with a loving family and wanted to share my parents with you, my TKZ family.

***

My parents (Ignacio & Kathryn) have been married 68 years. They had a picture-perfect wedding in San Antonio at one of the oldest active cathedrals in the United States, the stunning San Fernando Cathedral, founded in 1731. We are blessed that they are still healthy and active and thriving. Good genes.

My dad is 93 years old and still going strong. I call him ‘the renaissance man’ because there is NO TOPIC that doesn’t interest him or that he wouldn’t try. He gave me my love for art and self-expression. He also gave me a competitive spirit and a ‘never say never’ attitude at trying new things. In his career, he designed and built things – an architect who became influential in developing downtown San Antonio. He actually named the Riverwalk – the Paseo del Rio. He retired early, but that didn’t stop him from exploring his love for the many things that still interest him. He has a mind like a sponge, always learning. I hope I have a fraction of his ability. He loves to cook, especially gourmet food and exotic recipes. This is the guy who dug a pit in our backyard to cook game on a spit or who wrapped fish in banana leaves to cook in an underground oven.

To this day, my dad studies food and painting techniques as if he were a young man. He’s a constant inspiration on how to grab life and hang on tight. He loves mind puzzles and the strategies of playing chess. Despite having hearing problems–due to his stubbornness at wearing hearing aids–he’s quick with a joke that makes me laugh. I usually say that my worst habits, I got from my dad, but I’m thankful I inherited other things too.

My mother is 90 years old. From her, I learned my lifetime love for reading. I have many fond memories with my mom, but she literally taught me how to devour books and planted the seed for my love of writing. Summers off from school were spent at the library (in the stacks) and I came home with dozens of books to read. My mom’s compassion for people and her generosity helped me see the world in a different way. That certainly gave me the insight to write about the lives of others in my books. She’s my best friend. We talk several times a day and I am their primary care giver, living only minutes away. Quite a change from when I was an angry rebellious teen. Even with our age difference, she has an intriguing mind that has adjusted over the years. She accepts a great deal and tries to understand things. We have long talks about how everything has changed, but she is curious and I love it.

Both my parents have a great deal of humor, but they are different. That doubles down the fun. I buy my mom the latest in Youtube (she calls it U2) viral video-wear, like her ‘Honey Badger Don’t Care‘ shirt or the Weiner Dog tee she’s wearing in this pic. Dad tries not to be seen with her in public when she’s wearing them. (Isn’t she cute?)

But on a day of weakness, even dad can be persuaded to do crazy family stuff, like the time we did a retreat to celebrate Willie Nelson. Long story. Even my dogs have headbands and braids.

FOR DISCUSSION:
1.) Please share what you learned from your parents or your childhood that has influenced you as an adult.

2.) Any funny stories to share?

Now if you’ll excuse me. My tambourine lesson is in thirty minutes.

6+

31 thoughts on “All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned from my Parents

  1. What a lovely tribute to your parents, Jordan. 68 years! That’s astounding, wonderful, inspirational.

    My dad, a World War II vet, taught me rock solid values, not to be a quitter, fair play, and to do something to look out for those less fortunate. He was a criminal defense lawyer who set up an indigent defense panel in L.A. for defendants who could not afford lawyers.

    My mom was the creative writer in the family, also a dancer. She looked like, and danced like, Cyd Charisse. She was active in our community, in theater, newspaper, Chamber of Commerce. I picked up a love of writing stories from her. However, I cannot dance like Cyd Charisse.

  2. Your parents are adorable!!! They sound like tons of fun. Sixty-eight years is amazing!

    As you know, I lost my parents early in life (Dad when I was 10; Mom when I was 18), but they still greatly impacted my life. Mom instilled creativity and my love of reading. She also taught me to find goodness in the world, to cherish animals and nature as precious gifts, and to never waste a second of life. One of her favorite sayings was, “You can achieve anything in this life if you’re willing to work hard and persevere. So, reach for the stars.” Dad showed me how loving and dedicated a husband could be to his wife. He also taught me there’s no such thing as “step” in parenting. You love the child as if s/he was your very own, as he did for me and my brother.

    Heartwarming post, Jordan. Such a beautiful tribute to your parents.

    • I love your parents, Sue. I’ve often thought about how difficult it must be for a young person to fend for themselves & truly live life without the safety net of parents. The challenges must have been many. My heart goes out to you, my friend. Thanks for sharing your parents with us.

  3. Jordan, what a privilege to “meet” your folks! Their greatest accomplishment was to raise a daughter who’s a generous, supportive, encouraging friend to many–including me. That’s a legacy to be proud of.

    My family? Uh…let’s just say some members have inspired my best fictional villains. πŸ˜‰

    Wishing your parents good health and continued curiosity, interest, and joy.

    • Thanks, Debbie. Yes, we’ve chatted about the challenges of family. Sometimes they make good fodder for fiction. Thanks for your well wishes.

  4. Reading this made my morning! What a beautiful, sweet tribute to your family. My parents were an example to me of overcoming when everything was set against them. They persevered through marrying too young (the reasons why are never discussed…but here I am), through hard financial times (like the Christmas my mom hand sewed me a doll and crocheting a blue and red purse for me because my unexpected baby sister put a dent in the finances), and through every adversity that came there way. In August they will have been married for 52 years and though we may not always see eye to eye, they are compassionate people with true servants’ hearts.

  5. Wonderful tribute!

    Although they didn’t have much time for it, both my parents had a creative streak. My dad painted a little, my mom liked ceramics. I’ve often wondered what they might have pursued artistically if they weren’t raising 5 kids. They were both good down-home people and raised us that way. Manners, work ethic and they kept me in good supply of books from a very young age. 😎 My dad was & will remain the greatest man I ever knew.

    It’s so wonderful to hear stories from people who really loved and valued their parents. There are so many people who don’t have good parental examples and it just makes my heart hurt. I can only hope that someone comes along in their life if not to replace, then to partially make up for that loss in their life.

    • So true, BK. Like you, we were blessed with good parents to show by example. We were 5 kids too. We were so close in age (my younger sisters were twins), it felt more like a reptile garden in diapers.

      It’s funny–after your comment about those who didn’t have strong parental examples–it made me realize how often I write about characters who are orphaned. It takes a strong & special person to define their life from a young age without a solid foundation that parents can provide.

      Thanks, BK.

      • “reptile garden in diapers.” LOL!!!! That made me laugh out loud.

        And yes, parents influence writing. There is a father theme in several of my books. Either restoring a relationship with a father or perhaps finding a father where the character didn’t expect one. I just seem to naturally gravitate to that.

  6. Jordan, what a beautiful tribute to your parents. Congratulations to them on 68 years of marriage!

    I was also fortunate to have had wonderful parents. My father was raised in poverty in rural Georgia and had to leave school before high school in order to help his family. Eventually he moved to Savannah, found work as an electrician and then opened his own business which he ran successfully for the rest of his life. He was known as a man who was thoroughly honest in his business and personal dealings. He was a quiet man, but I learned from him by watching the way he lived. He taught me that actions are more important than words (odd thing for an author to say!) and that a good name is better than wealth.

    My mother was a true southern lady who worked hard all her life and valued her family above everything. She taught me the value of patience (I’m still working on that one), service, and devotion to family. She wrote several poems and I believe she may have been a writer if she had had the opportunity.

    Of the many blessings in this life, perhaps the most wonderful is having good parents. You reminded me again of how fortunate I have been. Thanks.

  7. What inspiring stories of parents here.

    My dad was a storyteller and a writer, unpublished. He also liked to recite poetry and humorous limericks. Towards the end of his illness, he placed manually typed pages on a bookshelf. Mom found them after he died. His longest two pieces were of his time stationed at Neah Bay and having to find his own way home from Korea after his service there was completed. His siblings and some of my siblings/cousins also have artistic talents in painting, writing, and piano but being a stoic Midwest farm family, talents remain hobbies while we work in practical jobs. Mom’s creativity came out through sewing clothes, cooking, and baking. Both of my parents have/had generous hearts, giving money and time to others and were protective of me and my siblings. I feel blessed.

    Thank you, Jordan for asking the question!

  8. Your tribute to your parents is lovely, Jordan.

    Mine were married for forty-eight years before my father passed away. There was never a lot of money, we moved several times during my childhood and teens, but each parent gave me something to treasure.

    My father introduced me to the library and the joy of reading for hours. He also trained me in the fine arts of leveling floors, building closets, painting the interiors and exteriors of each of our homes. And of course, the essential knowledge–how to reseat or replace toilets, and how to change the oil, gap the spark plugs, and adjust the timing belt in my car.

    My mother did whatever needed to be done to keep our family comfortable. Besides keeping our home running, she worked outside the house for many years, canned the food we grew, and sewed all our clothes, including school uniforms. Before she passed away, she told me I could do or be anything I wanted. But I already knew that, because she believed in me until I did.

    • It’s truly inspiring to read how your parents made do. Mine did too, but we never felt deprived. When you think about it, they were probably very creative in making ends meet.

      I think,back on some of my,mom’s creative dinners. She grew up on a farm with 9 kids. They grew what they ate & her recipes were always “farm eating” basic food, but she had a few funny dishes that stretched the budget.

      Beanies & weinies – I think she used ketchup in her sauce.

      She also had a dish she called SOS – a WWII concept based on rations – that we later found out stood for “Shit On A Shingle.” She put a slice of ham or sandwich slice on a toasted English muffin with a white sauce (made of flour) & melted swiss cheese over the whole thing.

      We never starved & always had lively conversations at the dinner table with everyone there. Fun.

      • Ah, yes, those creative dinners! My sisters and I went to school every day for years with bologna spread sandwiches. Every Saturday we would get out the meat grinder and a log of bologna. It was a special occasion if we opened our paper lunch bag (which we reused until they shredded) to discover a meat pastie (similar to a Cornish pasty).

        When I took over cooking duties in my early teens, I came up with some creative dishes. One my family refused to eat, and have never let me forget. Another was a “fish” pie I created with canned tuna and peas. That one became a family favorite.

        And I hear you about the family dinners. Every evening we all sat down to eat together. The best meals were when relatives visited and we laughed, talked, and ate for hours.

        Wonderful memories! Thank you, Jordan.

  9. My father loved St. Louis and taught that love to me. He loved the history and the interesting places. He was never afraid of an area on neighborhood. I was an adult before I realized you could get good BBQ in the suburbs.

    He loved meetings. He facilitated many for many organizations. The whole process of coming to gether, discussing a concern, and coming to a joint resolution.

    He was given an assignment by another attorney, work out the immigration for a Chinese chef. He did it and discovered a passion for the tedious, administrative work of immigrating to America. His clients shifted home countries as the ‘worst place to be from’ shifted. Executive chefs fleeing the Cultural Revolution; a Lebanese doctor threatened with death by Hezbollah; the desperately poor from, well everywhere. I have a feeling if he were alive today I would be learning Spanish and he would be working harder than an 80+ year old should.

    My mother was a “libber” from well before it was a thing. Everyone has a place in our world. I learned that “ladies should..” is BS.

    My parents bought a home in University City, MO at the height of block busting. My friends and neighbors were in all colors from all backgrounds. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I learned how rare, ‘judging someone on their actions’ was.

      • Thank you very much. Mom is alive and well and still doing volunteer work at 86. Dad has been gone for 18 years now. I miss him every day. He never met his grand daughters. He would have loved taking them to the park and zoo.

  10. What a lovely tribute, Jordan. 68 years together is a beautiful accomplishment! Congratulations to your parents.

    My mum taught me resilience and perseverance: she and my dad divorced when my siblings and I were under 7 and she got majority custody. Everything she did, she did for me, my brother, and my sister. She put herself through nursing school- during our rebellious teenage years no less! It still amazes me she went through all that to give us something better.

    My dad taught me my values. He grew up a strict Southern Catholic and gave me the classic values of hard work, sacrifice, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and how to question everything- not reject it outright, but really dig deep to discover why something is the way it is. Though, he probably regretted that last one at times, since I was the “why” child, constantly asking why.

    My parents are still alive, but I’m an ex-pat American, so seeing them in person is something that only happens every few years. As much as we fight and disagree (I’ve adopted a different set of cultural values since moving), it’s always tears and hugs when I leave.

    • I love this, Molly. Lots of gems to treasure in your comments. I can relate to moving away from family & the challenges of that. After nearly 30 years of moving with my career in the energy industry, my husband and I decided to move to San Antonio to be closer to family. I’m glad we did it, especially now since I’m their primary caregiver (even though my sibs are a great help in all ways).

      Living apart is tough but you have to live your life–but stay in the moment with them when you visit, even when they DRIVE YOU CRAZY. πŸ™‚

      Write them in a book. It’s hilarious.

      • Thanks, Jordan. πŸ™‚

        In a soon-to-be-written book (as soon as I can get the other three finished), I’ve decided to write both my mum and dad into it, both by their occupations. They’ll know as soon as they read it that I’m talking about them: the lovely older nurse with the frosted blonde hair, and the retired professor emeritus of social psychology at the private college.

        And yes, even when I’m back in the US, I’m always in the moment with them; not sure when the next time I’ll visit will be- it was 8 years between visits last time. Yes, Mum and Dad drive me absolutely batty, but they’re still Mum and Dad.

        • I made my parents spies in one book. Cracked up my family & my parents. They still tell people about it. Mom tells people, “I fly helicopters & run facial recognition scans…while serving ginger snaps with pearls at my neck.”

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