By Ray Lucas
I love the opening scene to The Andy Griffith Show where Andy and his son Opie are walking to the fishing hole, cane poles in hand, while the narrator whistles the show’s theme song. It’s probably one of the most iconic father-son scenes in television.
The Andy Griffith character stands out for how he used subtle life lessons as a father to teach his son about responsibility, telling the truth and standing up to bullies. I remember watching an episode where he made Opie take care of three baby birds orphaned when the youngster shot and killed the mother bird with his sling shot.
One of the reasons I like the opening credits to this show is because it makes me think about walking back to the pond behind my childhood home with my own dad to go fishing. We would crawl through the barbed wire fence that surrounded the pond and kept the cows in the pasture to fish for blue gill and bass. He taught me how to tie a knot for my hook, how to cast an open face fishing reel and how to tell stories about the one who got away.
My dad however, whom we still call Daddy, was not exactly Andy Griffith. He smoked Kool brand cigarettes, had tattoos of eagles and snakes across his chest that he picked up in the Navy and to this day many of my favorite cuss words were ones I learned from him.
However, like The Andy Griffith Show, I grew up idealizing and learning from Daddy by the small lessons he taught through his words and actions. It would make for boring television but my dad taught me:
• How to back up a trailer and drive a stick shift.
• How to throw and catch a football.
• How to jump start a car and change the oil.
• How to play pool.
• How to be generous with your time by helping friends and family in need, before they ever ask.
• How to be kind to strangers who have less.
There’s another small lesson I learned from him when I was about eight years old and have never shared but always carried with me. I had accompanied him to a friend’s house to go boating when his friend asked me a question about whether I was excited to go out on the Ohio River with them later that day. I remember answering in a “trying to be cool” kind of way, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Later, on our drive to the boat ramp at Duffy’s Landing, my dad really let me have it about how I responded to his friend’s invitation to go boating. “When someone asks you a question like that you respond with “ ‘yes sir’ and ‘thank you.’ ” Like the Andy Griffith episode about orphaned baby birds, he shared how disappointed he was with my lack of manners. It was a tough-love type of lesson about being polite and showing respect to adults.
THE LESSONS I LEARNED FROM DADDY RUN MUCH DEEPER THAN HOW TO FISH.
The lessons I learned from Daddy, which most of us learn from our dads or surrogate dads, run much deeper than how to fish. They were lessons about being honest, how to work hard and the importance of being responsible for your actions. At their core, they were lessons about how to be a man.
For Father’s Day, we used to steal a pack of my dad’s cigarettes from the carton he had in the kitchen cabinet and wrap them up for him to open as his present. He would act surprised and delighted when he opened his pack of Kool’s. It was a true Hallmark/ Phillip Morris moment.
Daddy no longer smokes, and I haven’t stolen and wrapped a pack of his cigarettes for Father’s Day in decades. But if I were to steal something from him today to wrap and offer him as gift, I think I would steal a photo of my children that he has in his home. As he opened the familiar gift it would be a reminder that the most important lessons he ever taught me were how to be a good dad to my own children, a true Mayberry moment
I really like The Andy Griffith Show, but whatever good parenting I picked up over the years has little to do with watching Sheriff Griffith. The most important lessons I learned –like how to whistle, how to cuss and how to be a kind man – were learned from Daddy. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy, and to all the other great fathers I know outside of Mayberry.