Looking Back

What I Wish My Dad Taught Me When I Was Little, According To 10 Women

“I wish he had taught me earlier in life that the real value is in the question, and not so much in the answer.”

Originally Published: 
Father in plaid shirt holding young daughter in his arms

A big part of parent’s duty is to teach lessons. The big, the small, the hyper specific. But, of course, there are some lessons parents either forget to impart or, due to their particular sensibilities, model the wrong lesson. It happens. Parenting, after all, is friggin’ hard. But it’s educational to know what adults wish they learned from their parents so we know what mistakes to avoid with our own kids — or at least have a better understanding of what knowledge leaves the most lasting impression. On that note, we spoke to ten women about the lessons they wish their father taught them when they were young. From confidence, to respect, to self-sufficiency, they all shared intimate insights. Here’s what they wish they would have learned sooner.

1. How To Stand Up For Myself

"My father was raised by his father, who fought in WWII. He also had a strict, Catholic school upbringing, which taught him that blind deference to authority was expected. That mindset was passed on to me. I was never allowed to question an adult, period. The problems began when some adults — a few teachers come to mind — would abuse their authority, and I should have questioned them. I should have spoken up for myself and for others. But I was unable to. Sadly, this led to me normalizing a pattern of bullying in relationships and in the workplace for far too long. Bullying and the abuse of authority was so familiar that it just seemed normal. But I’d been raised not to question it. Fortunately, though, I pursued a career as an attorney and law professor, and did start questioning and speaking up about mistreatment, injustices, inequities, before it was too late for me to heal some of those old wounds. And guess what? My dad is darn proud of the person I’ve become.” - Lucia, 52, California

2. How To Be Proud

“I grew up in a traditional Asian family, where the father does not share his feelings and love with the kids. My dad worked hard, came home late at night, and missed important events in my childhood. I knew he worked hard, so I studied hard and performed well at school to make him happy and proud of me. He saw what I did, but he had never told me he was proud of me, or that I did a great job. So, I always thought that I was not good enough. When I was 26, I was preparing my application for the master's program. I was nervous about the application. He took out the portfolio document I prepared for the university application and said, ‘You can do it because you've done so many things along the way.’ I was very emotional. For so long, I thought he did not care about what I did, but he keeps that portfolio document to this day. I wish my dad could have told me to be proud of myself and be confident earlier.” - Min, 36, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3. How To Manage Emotions

“Growing up like so many others, I faced life's challenges without today's rich vocabulary and resources for emotional well-being. My dad loved me to the ends of the earth and back again, but when he (or my mother) encountered my issues with anxiety, depression, and lack of self-confidence, they were often at a loss. It wasn't for lack of trying. The tools and knowledge of their time were simply limited. Today, as a pediatric speech therapist, I'm on the front lines, equipping a new generation with these vital emotional tools because the lack of them during my upbringing made me realize how important they are. I'm fueled by a desire to bridge this gap, ensuring today's youth have access to the emotional literacy tools that would've made a world of difference for me if they’d been taught to me by someone like my father.” - Allie, 35, Colorado

My dad loved me to the ends of the earth and back again, but when he (or my mother) encountered my issues with anxiety, depression, and lack of self-confidence, they were often at a loss

4. How To Read People

“As a woman who's had several career changes and survived a string of past toxic relationships, I wish my father had strengthened my ability to determine which people aren’t right for me. Not being able to see certain traits or red flags has led me to opening up to people who created a very difficult environment for me and resulted in unhealthy relationships. My upbringing was predominantly about caring for others and always finding a way to please people. I wish my father had given me a better understanding of stable, long-term investments with the people I welcomed into my life.” - Felicity, 42, Edinburg, Scotland

5. How To Differentiate Between Being Nice And Being In Love

“Growing up, my father never explicitly expressed love for my mother. Instead, he treated her with respect and was super nice to her, doing all the little things she couldn't, or the things she preferred not to do. So, in my mind, I developed the idea that a man being nice to a woman is a love expression. I failed to realize that as a woman, a man could treat me nicely without a love intention. As a result, I got heartbroken several times in my early 20s because I misinterpreted kindness and respect as a sign of affection. Some of the people I fell for even took advantage of my naivety. Unfortunately, I learned my lesson the hard way and vowed that my kids would learn differently. Thus, my husband and I express our love openly and teach our kids to differentiate between affection and human kindness.” - Doris, 34, California

6. How To Stand Up For Myself

I grew up in a loving household where my parents got a long and worked hard. I consider myself very lucky. And I remind myself of this all the time. But my dad was very passive and an anxious sort to the point where any sort of minor problem or issue or conflict was shut down as soon as it began. Often, it was “calm down” or “you’re so sensitive” said with a smile. And if there was a conflict where I felt I was right or my opinion was valid, it was treated as a non-starter.

Outside of the house, my dad had a very successful job as a vice president for a large company and I’m sure he had to stand up for himself and be more decisive. But he never demonstrated this at home. This led to me being passive and not standing up for myself for a very long time. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized how easily I bent to other people’s will. I was my dad taught me that it was okay to be confident in your choices and statements and supported this more outwardly at home.” — Carol, 43, Georgia

I wish my dad had taught me earlier in life that the real value is in the question, and not so much in the answer.

7. How To Respect Women

“I wish my father had affirmed my intelligence and abilities. I wish he had assumed I could learn and accomplish anything I wanted. Instead, his belief was that women didn't belong in business. The few times I asked questions about his business, he was offended. His belief was that we were meant to be wives, mothers, and volunteers at school and church. His relationship with my mother wasn’t respectful in other ways, either. He chose to play the role of the victim in our family, wanting his daughters to be on his side against our mother. Thankfully, I’ve learned that all relationships have two sides. And I’ve worked hard to accept my intelligence and gifts. But it's taken most of my lifetime to disconnect from those very limiting beliefs.” - Nancy, 78, California

8. How To Find Answers

“My dad was a physicist and, later, an accountant. His world revolved around answers, and making sure a question didn't walk around too long without one. I took this philosophy into my own parenting, slapping a Band-aid on my children’s hard questions, covering them so neither of us had to look at them. I effectively ignored their questions because I wasn’t sure I had the answers. I wish my dad had taught me earlier in life that the real value is in the question, and not so much in the answer.

But I’m not sure he knew it as a young father. We learned this together near the end of his life, him suffering from cancer and me dealing with heart failure. Neither disease was one that came with answers, and it took us both a while to figure that out. Gradually we tiptoed into deep unknowns, about holding onto faith and the meaning of life. Near the end, we called each other and emailed several times a week, with no question off-limits. We never did settle on answers. Dad passed away in 2020, and I’m finally ripping the Band-aid off the questions now with my own grown kids. And, most importantly, I’m realizing maybe my dad’s lesson arrived on time after all.” - Lori, 58, Arkansas

9. How To Be More Handy

“My dad didn’t discourage me from learning how to fix things, or outright refuse to teach me some of the practical skills he readily shared with my brothers. But it definitely wasn’t his priority. As I got older and moved away, I was on my own for the first time, and I found myself overwhelmed by all of the things I needed to fix. First it was stuff in apartments, like a leaky faucet or a broken doorknob. Then, when I bought my house, it was stuff like making sure it had a good roof, and that it was structurally sound. I had help in all of these situations, whether from a landlord or a home inspector. And they all made me realize how accomplished I’d feel if I could do them myself.” - Claire, 46, Pennsylvania

10. How To Be Patient

“My dad did his best. He worked hard, was as present as possible, and always spent time planning family outings. But he was the least patient man you’ll ever meet. If you asked a question when helping him with a task around the house or when playing a board game or even spent a little bit too long to leave the house in the morning, he would pretty much freak out and start yelling.

He improved as we got older — or at least he stopped going off the rails as much — but the lesson was clear: He didn’t have time for our questions or pace. We felt like bothers. This made me very scared to raise my hand in class or take up space in social situations, and it also made me stop going to him. This led our relationship to not be as deep as it should’ve been. Did he intend for this to happen? No. He had his flaws like everyone. But I do wish he tried a bit harder in that area. It’s hard to think that your dad doesn’t have time for you or that you’re doing something wrong just by asking questions.” — Samantha, 37, Florida

This article was originally published on