“Too often we see that teachers and educational administrators feel threatened by self-organized learning. They, therefore, think it is not learning at all.” – Sugata Mitra

My dad taught me a lot in the short time we were together, but the most valuable lesson was the hardest for me to understand.

“Work on it for awhile, then I’ll be along,” were his words when I got stuck. By the time dad found me, I had usually solved my homework problem, completed another boy scout project, or gotten my old car to run.

That was his plan all along. That is how he had learned and how he had built his career. It was how he wanted me to learn. All development is self-development. He knew that and I know it today.

Dad’s lessons went beyond that phrase though. He taught me how to sit still in church and for Bible lessons in Sunday school.

I learned not to sass my mom, by his spanking me.

He took me to see Jackie Robinson’s first game against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 21, 1947. We sat on the first base side … still my favorite part of any ball park. Sure, dad could have explained the importance of that special game to me ahead of time. He could have talked about how blacks were not permitted to play white baseball. He could have warned me about the ugly reaction some of the fans would have when Jackie took the field. But instead, dad let me work on it for awhile. Then, when I got it … I got it and it is still there inside me.

Thanks to my Dad, I know how to fish. Thanks to my dog, Brownie I know what all dogs teach their owners.

He taught me how to hunt and fish, and to prepare and eat what I killed. He taught me scouting skills and celebrated my Eagle award. He taught me how to tend a backyard garden. I learned to always carry a pocket knife and a clean handkerchief.

My tool box got its start with my father’s, and his father’s, wrenches and other hand tools. They are still in there. Dad taught me how to use them, along with teaching me to respect anyone with the barked knuckles that come from earning a living by honest work with our hands.

Together, we took a class on Coast Guard Inland Waterway Safety. After graduation both he and my mom would let me take our small boat out on the Missouri River – alone – before I could even drive a car.

He went to my ball games and to my band and orchestra concerts. He saw me start college. What a proud time that was for a man who had only graduated from grammar school at age 15.

He did the things many dad’s do, but then he died, long before I was ready to let him go.

hbd-dad-noticeMarch 19 is his birthday and this year it will be different for me. This year he will have been dead for 55 years; the same number of years he was alive before he died in 1961. He did not survive a lung cancer operation. I was 20.

He did not see me graduate from college or start my first grown-up job. He did not come to our wedding or celebrate the birth of our children, and much later, their children.

He did not see me and his grand children, with their spouses, become officers in his beloved Presbyterian Church. Or some of his great grand children do the same.

There is so much he didn’t see – or did he?

I will spend time with dad’s picture on Saturday, along with some things that were on the top of his dresser.

So this Saturday will be special for me. I will not visit his grave in Illinois.

Instead, I will sit in my chair, near his picture, along with other old family photos and some of dad’s souvenirs from his travels.

I will think about those words. “Work on it for awhile, then I’ll be along.”

I want to do that. Keep working on it.

Keep working on it all.

I wonder if today we do too much for our children, rush in to help too soon? Would it be better if they just worked on it for awhile?

What about you? What did your dad teach you? Did he have a special style to make his point? Are you that way with your children?

Look at the old photo at the top again, can you spot me with my dad at this crowded magic show on a scout trip over 60 years ago? Let me know, and if you need help I will give you some clues.

As always, the conversation starts here.

“In the ordinary choices of every day we begin to change the direction of our lives.” – Eknath Easwaran


My dad would not know Sugata Mitra and he would not know about TED talks, but he would understand the idea of self-organized learning. It was the learning he understood best.

22:31 is a small investment. Make the time.