Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 22, 2004 Herald Journal

Lifelong lessons from my dad


Children teach us many things that they don’t even know they are teaching us. We also teach our children many countless, lasting, impressionable lessons of which we aren’t always aware.

We teach them through how we live our lives, the habits we establish, and how we interact with others.

I think about my father, Walter Schultz, who died almost two years ago on Jan. 10, 2003. He was born on Nov. 10, 1915 and would have been 89 this year. He lived a long and prosperous, yet simple life.

He was the rock of our family, and he had a lot of family — a wife, lots of grown kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, whom my dad loved and lived for.

At my father’s funeral, Pastor Bode eloquently said when someone dies, one of the most important things we can reflect on is “what did that person’s life teach us.”

That question about my father and his life will forever remain with me.

What did my father’s life teach me?

My dad enjoyed the simple things. He loved the outdoors, fishing, and hunting. He loved to go outside and see all the things nature has to offer: the trees, the sky, the birds, and other animals that scurry around.

He loved weather, to stand outside the milk house as a storm was coming, watch the dark clouds, and feel the wind.

He enjoyed going for a ride, especially cruising, which meant 30 miles an hour around the countryside, at harvest time, seeing the fields ripened, harvests waiting to be picked, or the plowed black dirt. He enjoyed the colors fall has to offer against a blue sky.

Now, “fall cruising” with my own children, I think of my dad and pass on his thoughts to my children, so they will continue to enjoy Grandpa’s passion.

He was thrifty. He kept track of everything in a box in his drawer in Mom’s china cupboard. He was organized. He was not a miser, and he knew that spending some money for fun things was important, like eating an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.

My father taught me many life-long lessons in how he lived his life. He was a hardworking man, smart beyond the education received. He went to school until eighth grade and then farmed with his dad. He tackled problems with wisdom and common sense, rather than textbooks.

He did addition and subtraction in his head. When we were driving, he had a great sense of direction.

Family was paramount. He would take us kids fishing off the dock in Silver Lake or in his little fishing boat on Lake Ann. He was always patient, putting on the worm or untangling that line for the 10th time, but he didn’t mind.

Even when he got hooked a few times in his back or cheek, we just brought the boat in, went to the emergency room, got the hook out, and proceeded home a little earlier than expected, without a yell or a blame – just a bandage or maybe, a few stitches. He knew it was an accident, and sometimes, a part of fishing.

He always brought along a sweet snack, usually a Snickers bar, an apple and water. My dad had a sweet tooth and always took time during his busy day to come in and have a treat, usually a chocolate malt made with real malt powder. That has also become my children’s favorite treat at the end of the day — Grandpa-style malts.

He was not a materialistic person. He didn’t have a fancy boat or take Florida vacations. He always had time for us, whether it was fishing, going to a ballgame, or playing a game of cards. I learned that it’s important to work hard, but when your work is done, to play and have fun.

He knew that time was important to spend with family.

He always had stories to pass on to us. I experienced the Depression of the 1930s through my dad. I remember him telling us about when he was a teenager, during the Depression. People walked along the roadside, looking for a place to sleep for the night. Some people stayed in his family’s hay barn for a night and then moved on.

We learned to be gracious and always lend a hand in a time of need. My dad was very kind, not only toward people, but animals, as well. He would take in stray dogs, so we often had different dogs on the farm It wouldn’t be unusual for Dad to come home from somewhere with a dog that no one else wanted.

He loved music, too. He had a wonderful voice and loved singing. He would sing in the car while we were driving, such songs as“Home on the Range,” or “Take me out to the Ballgame.”

He loved singing hymns and Christmas carols and always wanted everyone to join in. He played the coronet in the town band, when there was a town band, and played it at home until he couldn’t anymore.

My dad never judged us or expected more out of us than we could do. If I felt that I didn’t do as well as I wanted, he said, “Did you do your best? That’s all you can do.”

I don’t really think it mattered to him how we did, it’s just that we did.

As a person and a parent, we listened to him out of sheer respect, and I never was spanked.

So it is that my dad’s whole life was a lesson for his children and family in how he lived each day.

My dad made sure we always went to church, and to Sunday school. He had a deep faith, and I am so thankful for that today. It remains very important for my own family.

Utmost was his faith in God, his family and spending time with them, singing and music, and his love for the outdoors, fresh air, changing seasons, a crop being harvested. And when he died in a nursing home, it was his hymnal, the Bible, and his family at his side.

And so as Pastor Bode asked, “What can we learn from a person’s life?” I learned unending love and devotion from my dad.

I learned that, first and foremost, faith is the foundation; it’s important that you work hard, but when the day is done, to have some fun; to save your money but don’t be stingy; to enjoy life and create traditions with your family; to be kind and honest and respect others; “strays” can sometimes be your best friend; to do your best and that it’s OK to make mistakes; that you don’t have to spank to have children listen; sing; feel the wind; look at the sky; observe nature and all its beauty; spend time with your children; and ultimately, enjoy the little things which really are the “big” things.

So, Doctor Phil, I love the advice you give and respect you, but I believe my dad “wrote” the book on “families first” a long time ago.

It was a lifelong book that was not written down on paper or published for the whole world to read, but for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to read on life lessons that we live our lives by, and hopefully teach our children the same lessons.

I will forever tell my children about Grandpa, and we will sing “happy birthday” to him each Nov. 10 as my children and my brother’s children did this past Nov. 10. Hopefully, I can teach my children what my dad taught me.

Happy Birthday, Dad.