Things My Dad Said: A Father's Words Still Echo in a Son's Heart
An Arkansas native
My Dad was born Gerald Wayne Cabaniss, in a home in Bingen, Arkansas, on May 28, 1940. Arkansas impacted him, and he impacted me, in countless ways. I can begin to try to count them when I think about the things Dad said to me, over and over. He was a world class encourager. His encouragement came in various forms. I can easily tell you seventy one liners that I heard Dad say one hundred times, easily. I can reduce it to seven here. It reminds me, as a father and in all the other roles I play, to choose carefully what I say repeatedly. The words that become my proverbs are part of my legacy. Dad’s proverbs are certainly part of his. I can still hear them, in my heart, and Dad passed from this world on October 12, 2010.
Photographs and memories
For the shape I'm in
When someone would ask Dad how he was doing, he had various responses he would give. Every so often, he would look the person in the eye, and say, “I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in.” He wasn’t discounting a physical ailment he might be enduring, or a tough time he was going through. But he had a perspective about how he was doing in the midst of it. He focused on the good, not the bad. It was part of the winning attitude he had about life.
Part of the solution
Dad was a banker. Twice in his banking career, someone above him at the bank was convicted of embezzlement. It is the second time that I remember well. Dad began to be put under the microscope. If the top man at the bank was dirty, what about the second man? He had to take a lie detector test. He was passed over for the president’s job, a job he had turned down previously, for my sake. I don’t remember exactly what I asked him, but it must have been something like, “Why don’t you go to another bank, Dad?” I remember he looked me in the eye and said, “You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution.” It wasn’t the last time he would say that to me, not by a long shot. It was the most memorable. I find myself saying it in various contexts today. Sometimes, I am saying it to myself.
Not a step for a stepper
I would talk to Dad about various challenges in my life, at various ages. I would be focusing on the challenge, on the obstacles to overcome. Dad would focus on what he believed about me, as an overcomer. He would say, “It’s not a step for a stepper.” This line has been echoing in my heart almost daily lately. Dad’s belief in me continues to impact my belief in myself. His proverb keeps pushing me up the steps.
Set the hook!
Some of our best conversations were around a fishing hole. It is not the quiet words of wisdom I remember most. It was the three words he shouted at me, so many times. Who knows how old I was the first time I heard him say it? I would be fishing with a bobber. I would be watching that bobber intently, for a few minutes. Then, invariably, I would look away. Dad would still be watching my bobber. He would see it twitch and wiggle and then go under. And he would shout those three words, “Set the hook!” Those words said so much. You have a fish on, this is the moment you have been waiting for, it is time to act decisively, you can’t start reeling that fish in until you make sure he is on the hook. Set the hook! Those words still echo in my heart, and not just when I’m fishing.
A flea and a wagon
I rarely doubted what my Dad said, but when I did, I even more rarely could keep it to myself. I would express doubt, and I would get “that look,” and I would hear these words. “Son, if I tell you a flea will pull a wagon, hitch it up!” That one still makes me chuckle. Maybe it wasn’t so rarely that I doubted Dad, because I did hear that one a bunch. My son has heard me say it, at least a hundred times. To me, that line reminds me now that doubting Dad was a waste of time. I can still trust his words. I still do.
Love and pride
Whenever I talked to my Dad on the phone, in my adult years, he would always sign off the same way. "I love you and I am proud of you!” I still tear up, just typing those words. Those are the greatest words a parent can say to a child, no matter what age the child may be. Dad didn’t save those words for times of accomplishment and achievement and celebration. Those were everyday words for my father. They never lost their impact. They still haven’t. On my lowest of days, I never had to wonder if my parents loved me, and if they were proud of me. I still don’t. That’s a given. I probably still can’t begin to estimate what a gift that is!
Cooking with gas!
“Now we’re cooking with gas!” Dad would have a huge smile on his face when he emphatically said this line. Sometimes, he would literally be cooking, smoking a brisket or frying fish. Sometimes, we would be watching a ballgame, and our team would be getting their act together. Sometimes, it would be when he felt like he was getting through to me. Sometimes, it would be when a plan came together. I find myself saying it now, when I am teaching high school English, and my students seem to respond to what I am trying to teach them. The first time they hear me say it, I get some funny looks. As they hear me say it at key moments, it seems to grow on them. It sure grew on me.