Pak: Dad’s Little Lessons

Finding my own small dictums in the day-to-day.

by Eowyn Pak | 9/27/18 2:00am

On a random weekday night when I was 10 or 11 years old, my dad called for me and my three younger siblings down to the basement. Usually, calls down to the basement meant movie nights, which the four of us always looked forward to. Giddy and excited at the prospect of watching a movie late into a school night, the four of us hopped onto the couch and bundled ourselves in blankets.

The movie opened to a stereotypical American high school scene with all-too-obvious cliques –– nerds, bullies, jocks, hipsters. The main character was on his way to class when one of his “friends,” a troublemaker dressed in sagging pants and a dirty shirt, with unkempt hair and a rebellious attitude, stopped him and tried to convince him to skip class. The main character hesitated for some time, but ultimately agreed. The two of them went outside and started chucking rocks at the building, destroying school property. Abruptly, the screen switched off and our dad turned to face us, saying, “Don’t make friends with troublemakers. They’ll pull you down with them, sometimes without you realizing.” And with that he bid us all goodnight (it was a school night after all).

From time to time, my dad will tell us things like this out of nowhere. Once, on a long road trip to Rhode Island, he mandated that the four of us tell four funny stories each. Four each! And he wouldn’t let us go back to our own devices until we had each told four. “Why are we doing this?” we kept whining, to which he replied that it was important to be able to tell stories successfully, particularly funny ones, in life and the workplace.

On a drive to my biomedical research internship, my dad talked about a recent TED Talk he had been listening to about the difference between how girls and boys are raised. The gist of it was that girls are raised to be perfect, prim and proper, whereas boys are encouraged to be daring, bold and risky (think playground during recess). These seemingly minor differences had significant ramifications in life. My dad talked about his own personal experiences in his line of work as an investment banker with his clients. In his observation, female clients were generally less open to alternatives to their original proposal whereas male clients were more willing to take a chance or be more open to further discussion. Dropping me off at the metro station, he ended with, “So Eowyn, be bold today.” As cheesy as that was, the whole rest of the day, as I was pipetting and studying virus samples, I thought less about how to please my intimidating principal investigator and more about different methods I might employ to approach our study differently.

I don’t even remember the name of the movie he showed us. I just recall being confused at how random his statement was. Of course, being a pre-teen, I didn’t give much thought about what he had said at all. It’s only after some recent reflections on my own friends and relationships that I’ve realized he was telling us something pretty important –– and that I’ve made mistakes. Admittedly, my dad can be didactic (probably why I’m that way too) and sometimes his stories land on sore ears. Occasionally his proverbs aren’t even original, like his TED Talk regurgitation. But, as with all things, I’ve only realized how integral these adages were in my day-to-day as an independent college student who’s a nine-hour drive away from home. Now I’m starting to find and create my own principles that are, like his, backed by personal experiences. And as inexperienced and immature as I feel, I believe this is part of the process of growing into an adult –– not so much about how responsible, mature, or intelligent a person is, but how many stories they have to tell and what they make of them.

That movie story has stuck with me for the past decade, but when I asked my dad if he remembered that night, he had absolutely no recollection of it. It’s likely that I’ve forgotten some of his lessons, too. But soon enough, I won’t need them as much because I will already have a repertoire of my own.