Inspirational Influences: 8 Lessons My Father Taught Me

By Gabby Gabriel


Happy Father’s Day!

As the first piece on my blog, I wanted to talk about one of the pillars who have helped shape and guide me into the person I am today: my dad.

Fathers have an impact on their daughters and set a standard for the overall societal portrayal of what it means to be a woman. I am thankful “girls should” was not part of my father’s vocabulary. Instead, he encouraged both my brother and me: to believe.

When I was 17 years old I had to write an essay to apply to school, and I decided to write mine about my dad:

Growing up, my dad encouraged me, daily, to think about the world. He wanted me to understand that there was much more to life than the comfortable life we were living in the suburbs of Cleveland. Here are eight lessons I learned from my dad:

1. “There is no such thing as normal”

When I was a kid, I didn’t appreciate diversity like I do today. In many ways my upbringing was conventional: I had two loving parents in a warm home. Nevertheless, we were not quite like the other families in the neighborhood. My mom was all things exotic: a thick accent, and the colored beauty that life on the beach creates — she was the original girl from Ipanema— unexpectedly raising a family in the white suburbia of Northeast Ohio.

My dad was always traveling and didn’t work 9 to 5. I wished I could just have a “normal” mom and dad, like my friend’s parents who were just having “normal” corporate jobs. The kind of mom that made rice crispy treats for the class— instead my parents brought Brazilian dishes to school celebrations or souvenirs from the rainforest. I remembered asking, “Why aren’t we more normal?” and my dad would take out a globe and spin it — his finger would stop on a place I never heard of… and he’d say, “There is no such thing as normal, the person living here, has a totally different version of normal that we see around here.”

2. “Know about the world.”

“You need to know about the world, Gabrielle.” I remember my dad saying this to me from the moment I could talk. Every night after kindergarten class, he would test me about geography and taught me the capital of every country in the world. He taught me that I needed to know- know – know. When we would go on family vacations, he made me study the map of the place we were going and encouraged me to choose places that I found interesting. All of which have proven useful during all of the travels I’ve had.

3. “Write it down.”

Whenever I made a major mistake, my dad would require me to write a letter of apology. He wanted me to understand the “why” behind the word, “sorry.” If I asked for money in high school, he asked me to write a proposal in order to explain what I was going to do with it and why. He taught me that if I can write it down, then I am able to understand it and achieve it.

4. “Be your best self.”

My dad taught me to be myself. He did this in two ways: by loving me no matter what, and by always being himself. He said he would love me no matter what. He proved that to be true, many many times: being a lesbian, changing my undergraduate major from business to film, moving to China, staying in China. Through each and every decision, he has been my support and mentor. He taught me that not only should I embrace who I am — I should be the best version of who I am: embrace my difference and appreciate it. He too, is his best self — he’s not interested in impressing anyone.

5. “Adversity builds character”

There had been numerous times when I messed up, and still do. After each fail, although able to provide emotional support: he wanted me to learn how to handle the situation my self. He taught me what to do for different situations: if the car breaks down, if you blow a circuit in the house, how to make complaints or suggestions for poor customer service. He taught me the skills I needed in order to be an adult, from an early age. He also taught me that no matter how difficult a situation, that I will be stronger when it was over. Now, I say the same thing to myself, whenever I meet a challenge: I take time for pain, but then I find the lesson and understand that I will be stronger having gone through it.

6. “Don’t be afraid”

From the age of 3, my dad took me boogie boarding on the beaches of Waikiki. He constantly encouraged me to try new things, and to not be afraid: of trying, of failing, of having failed. He wanted me to understand that trying is fundamental to life.

7. “Winning isn’t everything”

When I told my dad I didn’t want to play the piano (like my mom wanted), he accepted that I only play sports. I was six when I told my dad that I wanted to be a professional baseball player. He could have easily responded, “girls can’t play professional baseball.” Instead, he signed me up for every baseball clinic and team there was. He played catch with me whenever he was free. He was my biggest support: even after I switched to basketball at the age of ten. Unfortunately, although an excellent player, I was on one of the worst basketball teams in my division. Most of the time my team would lose, but my dad repeatedly quote Grantland Rice,

“For when the One Great Scorer comes To write against your name,He marks-not that you won or lost-But how you played the game.”

And this has become a fundamental aspect to how I live my life: winning isn’t everything — but being an ethical, responsible, kind person is.

8. “You can be as strong as Hercules, as beautiful as Athena…”

While learning about the capitals of the world, my dad also taught me about the classics: Greek mythology, the Greek Gods, stories of adventure. He would read stories about Odysseus, or summarize “Dante’s Inferno.” He wanted me to understand the concept of adventure, and to also understand that life is a gift— and that we too have our own special superpowers.

“You can be as strong as Hercules, as beautiful as Athena…” I’ll never forget the day he brought back a carpet from Baghdad. “This carpet can fly, just like in the story I told you about.” We were so excited. My brother and I were four and five years old, we sat down on it — and even though it didn’t leave the living room: my dad made us believe that it could fly.


在我的官方微信账号上阅读中文版文章 (Read the Chinese version of the article on my official WeChat account: )


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