As far back as I can remember, Saturdays were spent with my dad. We’d start the day at Home Depot, and a bookstore or lunch usually followed. Our house in Texas and then in Connecticut had large yards or pastures which required maintenance of some sort. No matter how many tools we had in our shed, he always needed something new. Once my mom confirmed that nothing was planned for the day, we’d head off to Home Depot. We’d wander the aisles as he’d talk about the weekend projects. Thinking back, I realize it was about spending time together in places that he loved, getting me familiar with tools, and instilling confidence in me. Saturdays is when our conversations about preparedness and resilience began, and my awareness of my surroundings started improving.
Lessons about ‘observing others’
Together, we would watch people and try to pick out those who did not seem to be familiar with the area, or somehow seemed out of place. My Dad was a top expert in the criminal justice field. He would talk to me about how to observe without being observed; to identify things that did not seem quite right – maybe how someone was dressed or what they were carrying. Because of what he did for a living, he also talked to me about the danger of jumping to conclusions without evidence, and about “profiling” because of someone’s race or gender. He taught me to consider possibilities and different explanations about what I saw. He would also challenge me to tell him what I would do if something was wrong in certain situations. We would talk about who I’d call first, what I would say, knowing my exact location, how to exit an area, and where a meeting spot might be.
Lessons about communication and personal space
One of my Dad’s pet peeves was about people who were not aware of personal space or boundaries. Again, in Home Depot while shopping, I learned that it’s okay to say, “excuse me,” in a loud voice as a way to ask people to move. It bothered him when people would stop or hesitate when they reached the bottom of an escalator or exit an elevator – especially in airports. Likely, it is because they are unfamiliar with the layout of the airport or where exits are. While an inconvenience for us, he knew it was also an opportunity for theft, something he learned traveling the world. By the time I was eleven years old, I had visited over thirty countries with him and my Mom. When I was old enough, we would practice our observation, awareness and communication skills together. I learned so much about different cultures on those trips, and I know it was because both my parents wanted me to become a responsible global citizen.
Some lessons were just from watching him
My Mom pointed out that my Dad always insisted on sitting in a position to see the main entrance if we were in a restaurant, for example. It was something he learned as a young police officer for the NYPD and also as a U.S. Marine – to be loyal and to protect others. One time I sat in what I knew would be his choice seat. My mom said, “He’s going to make you move.” As a ‘daddy’s girl,’ I really didn’t think he would. When he got into the restaurant, he looked at me, smiled and made me move to a different seat. I am 17 now and I try to sit facing the door. While I may not be able to fight off someone, I want to see potential trouble before it happens and warn my friends and family. I always make sure I know where the exits are and where I could hide if I could not get out. I also try to keep my phone charged in case I have to call for help or hide for a long time.
Lessons learned while doing things together
Also, we learned the hard way to always close your trunk when leaving Home Depot, especially if you have gallons of paint in the back. One time he didn’t close the trunk all the way. As we drove onto a main road, we saw our newly bought paint flying out of the trunk at 50 miles per hour. Luckily, nobody was behind us.
Another important lesson about preparedness he taught me was to use my observation skills when I was old enough to drive by myself. That means paying attention to any cars that seem to be following me for any extended period of time. I know I should change my route, pull off the road and turn around, and if I feel in any danger, pull into a police or fire station.
One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was that if you’re not early, you’re late. We would always leave what seemed like a million minutes early for any kind of outing. While I didn’t understand it totally back then, he taught me that being on time for things is important, and is a sign of respect for others. When he would drive us to my softball games, we would arrive early and be there in case anyone needed extra help. He wanted me fully ready when the game started and not fiddling around looking for things or delaying my teammates. Now, I cannot remember not being early for everything. Before I leave the house, I plan backwards and calculate time, distance, traffic, weather and the unplanned slow driver or accident causing delays.
Unfortunately my dad passed away 6 years ago, just before my 12th birthday, but the lessons I learned from him will stay with me forever. He instilled in me the confidence to tackle problems that will come along, to always be aware and prepared, and to teach those skills to others; it was his way of ‘paying it forward,’ which he did with students for over 50 years! My mom and I will soon be moving into a smaller home. The condo we’re looking at, as it turns out, is right behind a Home Depot! I think my Dad would be happy. ◙
About the Author Sophia Ward
Sophia Ward is a high school senior in Connecticut. She has played softball for the past 10 years – favorite position is 1st base.
Her interests include traveling, listening to Taylor Swift music, going to Taylor Swift concerts, hanging out with her friends, baking, and art. She is a safe and excellent driver. She’s been studying Chinese for the past six years and plans on majoring in International Relations, Intelligence or Cybersecurity.