I have been blessed in my lifetime with several great teachers. My first great teacher was my father. He was a great teacher because he taught by example. My father was a remarkable man who lived in a remarkable time. In fact, he believed that he lived in the most remarkable time that any human being had ever lived or would ever live because he was raised in the horse-and-buggy era and lived to see men walk on the moon!
My dad was born in the hills of Virginia in 1896, amongst the poorest of the poor. He was the oldest of seventeen children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. When he was only ten years old, my dad was taken out of school by his stepfather and put to work in an iron foundry full time to help support the family. In that time and place full time really meant full time! He worked twelve hours a day, with only every other Sunday off. He was paid fifty cents a day and when he received his monthly pay, he was allowed to keep fifty cents for himself. The rest his stepfather took to help feed and clothe the younger children. My dad always used his small share to buy books; his hunger for knowledge was unlimited. After about a year as an errand boy, he was put to work with the men making molds for cast iron machine parts. The work involved extreme physical labor and my dad became strong and well muscled. Even in his seventies, he still routinely won arm wrestling contests with men in their twenties!
At the age of sixteen my dad quit the job, left home, wandered about for two years, and then joined the Navy. During every spare moment he studied. By the time he was discharged four years later, he had been promoted several times and was a Chief Machinist's Mate. After discharge he joined the Merchant Marine. Once again, during much of his off-duty time at sea, he studied. At the age of twenty-five he became the youngest Chief Engineer in the nation! Later he became a Marine Surveyor for the United States Government. By the time he retired, this position required a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering and yet my dad, with only a fourth grade formal education, was in charge of training the newly hired engineers!
When I was about sixteen, my dad sat me down and gave me some advice. He told me that there were four important things I should do to insure that I would live a meaningful life. First, he impressed upon me the importance of a formal education, something he had been denied. Then he told me that there were three rules I should follow: I should have as many experiences as possible, I should make every effort not to hurt anyone in any way, and I should go out of my way to try to help people. These three simple rules essentially comprised his philosophy of life. When I thought about it, I realized that as long as I had been aware, he had already taught me these things by sharing his life with me.
Both my parents always encouraged me to do well in school and each evening I was asked to present at least one new thing I had learned that day. My parents told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, as long as I got good grades and continued my education. They believed this and consequently, so did I! I never doubted the importance of a higher education, nor did I doubt that somehow, even without much money, I would obtain one.
My dad often told me stories about his many life experiences, including his wartime naval service, his time at sea in the Merchant Marine, the things he had seen and done during his travels around the world, and his observations of people and life in general. His interests were varied and he was incredibly skilled with his hands. I watched him add rooms to the house, dig a well and install an automatic pumping system, plant and nurture a small fruit orchard, grow the most delicious vegetables, and fix just about anything. He worked at something constantly, from dawn to dusk, until the day he drove himself to the hospital and parked his car before checking in for his final illness. At the end of each day, he took a shower, had his dinner, and read until it was time to sleep. He certainly lived his life to the fullest and as I watched him, I learned by example.
When my dad joined the Navy, he was ordered because of his size to report to the fleet football team. He tried to tell the coach that he didn't know anything about football but the coach thought he was just trying to get out of playing. So they put him in the defensive line, told him where and how to position himself and blew the whistle. The offensive lineman immediately knocked my dad down. My dad jumped up, grabbed the offensive lineman, and knocked him unconscious with one blow! The coach came running and screaming, demanding to know why my dad had hit the opposing player. My dad said, "Well, he knocked me down." At that point, everyone realized that my dad had been telling the truth. He had never even seen a football game! He sat out for a while but once he had learned the game, it soon became apparent that he was a natural athlete.
It wasn't long until they had him in the boxing ring. He had a brief but spectacular amateur career and there were those who thought he should turn pro. He had twelve fights and won all twelve by knockout, many in the first minute of the first round. But after his last knockout, he refused to fight again. His opponent was unconscious for several minutes and the fact that my dad might have seriously injured someone horrified him. He simply did not want to hurt anyone. I believe that he never again raised a hand against anyone, either in sport or in anger.
Each summer during my childhood my dad had a large, varied, and plentiful vegetable garden. Our fruit trees, grape vines, berry bushes and patches, and even a rhubarb patch produced luscious fruits. Each item was picked at the peak of its ripeness. To this day, I carry the image of my dad, dressed in white shorts, undershirt, and black iron-toed work shoes, his white hair poking out from beneath a large straw hat, pulling a little red wagon filled with bushel baskets of fresh produce down our street. At each house he would place a basket on the front porch, ring the doorbell, and without waiting, resume his "deliveries."
His charity was not limited to summer. He could and would fix anything for anybody. I remember him being awakened once late on a snowy February night because a neighbor's furnace had quit and the family was freezing. My dad put on a bathrobe and overcoat over his pajamas and boots over his slippers, grabbed his toolbox, and waded out into the snow. He returned at four in the morning, having left our neighbors warm and snug with their furnace restored to health. He had time only to snatch a shower and a quick breakfast before walking the mile to the train station to commute to work. In the great blizzard of 1949 when not one but two snowplows were trapped in our neighborhood, unable to proceed beyond the chest-high drifts, it was my dad who took the drivers in for the night and served them an old-fashioned pancake breakfast the next morning.
He truly did live life fully, tried to learn something new each day, tried never to hurt others, and he was always ready to lend a helping hand. When I think about his teachings these days, it strikes me how reminiscent they are of Huna knowledge. Huna teaches us that we are here to have fun (to seek pleasure), to learn (to seek knowledge and self-empowerment in order to create the lives we desire), and to love (to be in harmony with others and with the universe). This seems remarkably similar to "get a good education, have lots of experiences, never hurt others, and help whenever you can." Wisdom is wisdom, no matter from where it comes. Huna was a part of my life before I ever knew about Huna! Thanks, dad.
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