Looking Back

What I Wish My Dad Taught Me When I Was Little, According To 11 Men

It’s impossible to teach everything. But it’s helpful to know what untaught lessons might be felt the most.

Adult man teaching young boy how to hold a baseball

A father’s influence on their sons is profound. As young men, we look first to our fathers to help lay the foundation for our own future growth and development. In an ideal world, they show us what to do, and what not to do. They help us distinguish between right and wrong. They encourage our strengths and nurture our struggles to prepare us for the future. But, as well all know, fathers aren’t perfect. Sometimes opportunities to teach life lessons, impart simple skills, or prepare for hard-to-swallow truths get lost in the chaos of life. It happens. And it’s easy to look back with longing and regret at those moments. No, the point here is to not dwell on mistakes. Rather, it is to learn about what you might want to prioritize. We asked eleven men what they wish their dads taught them when they were still kids. Whether learning how to problem solve, develop confidence, or rock and roll, they all had something to say. Here’s what they told us.

1. How To Be Present

“I grew up in a relatively low-income family with my mother on disability and my father always working hard to put food on the table and clothes on our backs. At one time my family had to file for bankruptcy because of debt. But my father still managed a way to get us what we needed. My dad was a hard worker and taught me the meaning of hard work and perseverance. But the one thing I wish I had learned sooner from my father was the importance of experiencing life, moments, and relationships over working for the dollar. Make your living doing what you do, but be present and don’t live life stuck in the past or even the future. Learn from past mistakes, but be in the present and cherish experiences and family because time is the one thing you can’t get back.” - Adrian, 31, Missouri

2. How To Know My Worth

“My father never taught me to be confident in myself. Instead, he forced me, as a little boy, to be timid, weak, and feel inferior to others, especially my peers. He was abusive and manipulative, and as a result, I would doubt whether any actions or decisions I took were the right ones. Later on, colleagues would insult, hurt, and bully me, and I didn’t have the strength to defend myself. I did learn lessons from my upbringing, though. The one that stands out in my mind all the time is that I must cherish and value my own children. I should never mistreat them or allow anybody to make them feel inferior. I’m traumatized by what my father did, and I wish he would’ve taught me differently. But what I have learned are essential lessons that I will never forget for the rest of my life.” - Phillip, 37, Colorado

3. How To Play Guitar

“My father was a musician, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I begged him to teach me how to play the guitar like him, but I wasn’t very good, and he wasn’t very patient. He got frustrated easily and nudged me toward other interests. As a father myself, I certainly understand frustration. But I also know how wonderful it feels when your kids finally learn how to do something new. I did eventually learn to play guitar. I’m still not good, but I’m better than I was when I was younger. My dad passed away before I had any skills worthy of sharing, and I always wonder what it would’ve been like if he were my teacher and we actually got to rock out together at least once.” - Jim, 45, New York

I begged him to teach me how to play the guitar like him, but I wasn’t very good, and he wasn’t very patient. He got frustrated easily and nudged me toward other interests.

4. How To Fix Things

“My dad was one of those guys who was very mechanically inclined. He had a blue collar trade for a career, worked on cars in his spare time, and fixed anything and everything that needed fixing around the house. I’m not wired the way he was, unfortunately. Fixing broken things and working on cars is not a skill of mine. If I could go back in time to being a kid again, I would have asked my dad to take time to bring me in on some of his repair jobs. To give me a shot at turning the wrench, so to speak. Not only would it have given me much needed knowledge, but it also would have given me much needed confidence when working with my hands, which happens a lot as a dad.” - Scott, 36, North Carolina

5. How To Set Goals

“When I was younger, I wish my dad had taught me about setting realistic goals. It’s a really important skill that could have helped me grow and become better. It would have made me more disciplined, determined, and adaptable from a young age. Breaking big goals into smaller tasks can make a big difference in how kids deal with challenges. If I knew this earlier, I would have been more motivated and faced difficulties with more confidence. Also, understanding the importance of setting timelines would have made me feel more urgent to get things done and not procrastinate. If my dad had taught me to celebrate even the small achievements, I would’ve felt better about myself and been more encouraged.” - Erik, 40, Texas

6. How To Care

“I wish my dad had taught me how to develop emotional intelligence. My dad wasn’t very present during my childhood. He was a traveling jeweler and usually out for two to three weeks, then back home for one or two. He didn’t show me how to play sports, read, or any of the ‘normal’ stuff. But the biggest thing he never showed me was how to care for the people I love. I didn’t need him to be constantly checking up on me, but to be involved in how I felt, what I thought, or even what actually interested me outside of buying me whatever game I wanted. I now know this was something that he just didn’t know how to do, which is why I’ve made it a priority. My kids will know that I’m interested in what they like, how they think, and the people they are going to become. And my wife will know I support her in whatever she does. Ultimately, their happiness and emotional health are priorities for me as a husband and father.” - Joshua, 33, Arizona

7. How To Connect With People

“Being a dad to two cool boys, 9 and 11, often makes me think a lot about what my own dad taught me growing up. One big thing I wish he’d shown me is how to connect with people. I’m an introvert and striking up a conversation with someone new feels like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. It’s tough, and I see the same thing in one of my boys. I realized a few years back that I had a small group of friends and didn’t stay in touch as much as I should. This hit me hard and got me thinking about the importance of connecting and building relationships. I’m learning to get better at this, and I’m taking my boys on the journey with me. I want them to understand that making friends and keeping them close is just as important as acing a test or scoring a goal. It’s something I’m still figuring out, but hey, that’s part of being a dad, right? We learn, and we teach.” - John, 31, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

My dad was very much a ‘Let me do it’ kind of guy. He wanted to fix the problem, whether it was a broken appliance or hurt feelings, rather than explore it.

8. How To Let Certain Things Roll Off Me

“I wish my father had known about and been able to teach me about the mind, and not letting what others say and do get to me so much. Sometimes the things other people say and do make us change how we do something or what we think about something, which has interfered with my life quite a bit. Had I have been taught how to manage those types of thoughts, I’m sure some of life’s worst moments wouldn’t have weighed upon me so heavily, for so long, and I would have been able to move on from them sooner.” - Michael, 40, Michigan

9. How To Problem Solve

“Getting older has made me learn to appreciate the ability to understand how and why things work. I’ve taught myself a lot by taking things apart and putting them back together, and I realize now that I’ve been conditioning my problem-solving abilities. My dad was very much a ‘Let me do it’ kind of guy. He wanted to fix the problem, whether it was a broken appliance or hurt feelings, rather than explore it. Or help us learn about it. I appreciate what he was trying to do, but I think it hindered my ability to think for myself and really figure things out while I was growing up.” - Trevor, 40, Pennsylvania

10. How To Nurture My Inner Child

“I wish my father had taught me that most adults, even parents, still feel like kids themselves deep down inside. That the feeling of not being ready for adulthood never really goes away, and most grown-ups are still trying to learn how to do stuff the right way. Since becoming a dad myself, I’ve realized that the feelings I have, like not always knowing the right answers, or trying my best but still making mistakes with my kids, must have been there for my dad, too. I’ve realized that they must have occasionally felt like a child with adult responsibilities sometimes, just like I do. I also think that lesson would have helped me be a bit more calm and understanding with other people throughout my life. When I stop and think of other adults as basically kids on the inside, with the same insecurities and fears that I have, it’s a lot easier for me to have patience and compassion for them.” - Phil, 45, Ohio

11. How To Manage Money

“I wish my dad had taught me about stocks and investing when I was young. He rarely talked about money or his work as a director at a large financial institution. His passing in December 2001 left a void in my life and financial knowledge. As I grew older, my interest in finance intensified, and I felt unprepared to manage money. I took it upon myself to learn about investing through self-education and seeking advice from others. Now, as a father, I understand the importance of sharing knowledge with my boy. I aim to be open and communicative about finances, empowering him to make informed decisions. Though my journey to financial knowledge was self-driven, I hope to create an environment for my son where he feels supported and encouraged to learn about finance and investing, just as I wish I had been in my youth.” - Patrick, 45, Korea