Play, Create, Explore: What My Dad Taught Me

Grandpa and Jackson enjoying puddles

By Angela Noel

June 29, 2017

Some dads teach their kids how to fish, or how to play backgammon. Other dads teach baseball or carpentry or cooking. Since a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich served as my father’s specialty–it’s safe to say his skills weren’t in the kitchen. Also an excellent handyman, he tackled work around the house as one would a science project. He’d carefully form a hypothesis of what needed to happen, then experiment until he found just the right way to fix whatever needed fixing. But I didn’t learn much from him on that front either.

My dad taught me skills of a different sort, like how to play, to explore, and to create. I remember few of the many nuggets of advice he offered, his words passed over my younger-self like water. Yet my quest to understand the world in new ways, my curiosity, all stem from the lessons of my youth. Who he is, rather than anything he said, shaped me.

One of the most creative people I know, he invented games, and still does. He dreamed up a card game for us one family vacation in Hawaii when I was in the third-grade. We used decks of cards to create a path through the rented condo, even up and down the stairs. We practiced our arithmetic as we added and subtracted the ten of diamonds and the five of clubs. He’d draw a card and we’d advance or retreat along the playing card paving stones. I don’t remember the rest of the rules or how to win. But I remember how fun it was, and how much we wanted to play again. Vacations bring out some of my dad’s best ideas.

Building a pool in the backyard
We built a pool in our backyard in 1986 or ’87. I’m twelve. It’s two years after the Hawaii trip. My dad, sweatband and all, is hard at work.

For example, in my pre-teen years he devised a scheme to test our budgeting skills. On a trip to New England, he allotted my sister, Dawn, and I a certain amount of money for food each day. If we didn’t spend it all, we got to keep it. This worked until he realized the two of us hoarded our money instead of buying food. He’d raised two savers.

But, he didn’t reserve his inventiveness for family trips alone.

He used to give us “think-ups” at the dinner table. He’d think of a question and we would have to think up the answer. I loved the game. I looked forward to dinner–even if I knew I’d have to choke down lima beans–because I wondered what my dad had up his sleeve.

He’s retired now, but the creative endeavors continue. We just returned from a family cruise to Alaska. Nine months ago, my dad devised the “Fun Facts About Alaska Game” (FFAA for short) intended to improve our knowledge and capitalize on the best part of vacations, the anticipation.

The game required we pick prospector names and complete a series of challenges to earn “Prospector Bucks.” Every night, while we ate multi-course meals in the cruise ship dining room, we bet our “grubstakes” on nightly quizzes. This game upped the ante on the think-ups of my youth. Fabulous prizes awaited the winners of FFAA–even one I heard could prove difficult to get through security at the airport, which made me both curious and a little nervous. I ended up winning that particular prize.

gold-filled bottle
My winnings for a night of FFAA. I packed it in my checked baggage to avoid awkward questions.

A gold foil-filled bottle shaped like a grenade now sits on my dresser. But the real prizes had nothing to do with gold or silver. In fact, they weren’t things at all.

At one point during dinner on the last day, after the prizes had been awarded and the dessert dishes cleared, I watched my silver-haired father talk and play with my twelve-year-old nephew. The joy on his face, the genuine smile–with teeth–lit his face brighter than polished gold.  Novelist Cesare Pavese wrote, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”For me, for all of us, we prize the memories.

Lucky for me, I am my father’s daughter. Let the games begin.


Your turn: What do you love about your dad (stepdad, father-figure fellow)? 


Author: Angela Noel

On a quest to become a better human, I write about parenting, leadership, and personal development. I tell my stories so you can find your own.

38 thoughts on “Play, Create, Explore: What My Dad Taught Me”

  1. I loved reading this and reminiscing. As another benefactor of the games and creative thinking that brewed in Dad’s head, I sure wish some of these talents, as well as his handyman skills, rubbed off on me.

  2. Awww…sounds like he was a great dad. I miss my dad. He’s been gone twenty years and I still think about him every day.

    1. Hi Lisa, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. He must have been an amazing man as well to have such a special place in your heart. Thank you for reading and sharing your love of your dad with me.

    1. He’s a delightful fellow who probably thinks he’s just an ordinary guy. But to me, he’s extraordinary and always will be. Thanks for reading, Noelle!

  3. This is a lovely tribute to your father who has clearly provided you with some wonderful memories plus gifts for life. I was particularly impressed by the way he tried to teach you money management skills. My own father was a lover of music among other things, and sang in choirs for as long as I remember. I joined a choir at the age of nine and have continued in this ever since. He passed on his love of choral singing to me and was responsibile for introducing me to great music very young. He was also very supportive of me as a writer. He supplied me with my first stamped addressed envelope to submit a collection of my short stories to William Collins Publishers in London, when I was 12 years old. I still have the kind letter they sent me in return, hoping i would continue to write and one day have a book published. Mind you, I have also kept all the other rejection letters I have amassed over the years! I still think, whenever I go out of my comfort zone to promote my novels, about how proud my father would have been of me, and how he would have enjoyed helping me. Thank you for your very touching and thoughtful post.

    1. Thank you for sharing your memories of your father. I smiled as I read every word. He sounds like a lovely man. 12 years old and submitting short stories! I remember submitting a story I wrote to the New Yorker as a teen. How fearless we are in our youth, and how much it matters that our parents and others encourage us to make our dreams come true! Thank you so much for reading this post, and for being an example for other writers–like me–and other creative types in pushing your own comfort-boundaries. 🙂

  4. Anyone who makes peanut butter sandwiches is okay with me 🙂 Fun post Angela!

  5. Ah lovely. What a great gift to pass onto one’s children. My husband is exactly the same with our daughter. They’re always inventing games together or constructing dens. It’s such an important part of childhood. Oh, but peanut butter and mayo sandwiches- no no no!

    1. I know! I think my mom put a stop to those delicacies pretty early on. 🙂 I watch my husband actually play with my son and I wonder why I’m not so great at constructing a Lego boat or inventing a battle plan that ranges all over the backyard with pretend light sabers. I do the reading and the snuggles, he does the playtime. Why this is I can’t say, but I’m so grateful to be the witness to such fun. I think watching them caper about is just as fun (maybe more) than being in on it. Your husband and your daughter sound like they have such a special relationship. Oh how lucky we are to have so much joy to celebrate!

      1. We’re so lucky! Yes, I’m the same. Dad is for all the fun & games in this house. I’m here for hugs, reading & lengthy chats. Plus I’m also her PA & social secretary ha x

  6. What a lovely tribute. I love how he “played” learning games. I miss my dad who died in 1999, but fondly remember all the things he did for us. I remember one rainy vacation in Cape Cod where we were stuck in the hotel more often than not. My brothers were playing cards together and I couldn’t because I didn’t know the game yet. My dad went and bought another deck of cards and taught me how to play Cribbage and how to count out the score when there wasn’t a cribbage board to keep score on because my brothers were using it. Your reminiscing of your father’s games actually reminded me of that moment. So thank you.

    1. Oh Jennifer! I love your story. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad my own story brought back happy memories. As I read comments like yours I can’t help but feel a little teary-eyed. So many amazing men out there making moments special for children. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  7. I learned honesty, integrity and kindness from watching my dad. God rest his unprejudiced soul.

    So glad you got the fun gene – what a blessing for everyone involved.

    1. Thanks, Julie! Your dad sounds like a great man. I’m sorry to hear he’s gone, but very glad he was here to offer you such awesome gifts.

  8. Your dad sounds amazing!

    My dad is an exceptional story teller, and one of my favorite things growing up was just listening to him tell his stories. There’s an Annie series, Greedy Smithy, and Blanket Stan.

    1. Hi Rachel! What an amazing legacy! Have you written down any of his stories? Or has he? I used to tell my son stories about “The sneaky kitty.” I often wonder if he’ll remember those stories.

      1. Thankfully he’s still with us and intends to publish his stories as children’s books :). I bet your son will remember The Sneaky Kitty, and might even make up new adventures for him to sneak on, haha.

  9. Wow what a great article. We r so blessed to have wonderful fathers whose passion for life and creativity fuel us to be the people we r today.

  10. Knowing how wonderfully elaborate the Alaska game was, it was so fun to learn about all the other games he created throughout your childhood. I can definitely see how that curiosity and creativity shows up in you too!

    My dad has taught me, and continues to teach me, so many things. But I think above all, I have learned to find the fun and joy in life. Long road trips were made fun with making up rhymes and poems in the car, and he is always the one making jokes and laughing loudly at the party. At the age of 60, he still plays soccer 3x a week, volleyball, and sings in a choir. Thanks to him, I know I will have fun anywhere, at any age!

  11. That is so cool! What a creative parent! Maybe some day I’ll have grand kids and can pass his idea along!

    1. Thanks, Susie! He is a special dad. I think writing the post helped remind me of the power of games with my son. Even now my dad continues to have an impact on me–and he probably has no idea!

  12. I love the idea how your dad invented games. I did this as a child and loved sharing the games with my friends. Unfortunately, unlike your dad, I never continued doing it, but reading your post bought back the memories of me inventing games; memories I probably would never have remembered.

    1. Oh! I’m so glad this post brought back memories for you! Are you thinking about re-starting your game invention? Might be fun to see what happens.

      1. I believe my creative gaming skills turned into creative writing, Angela. But, who knows, maybe I will go back to inventing a new game. Maybe in time for Christmas? 🤔

  13. My dad has always had an adventurous spirit, a love of different cultures and a love of storytelling. We are alike in many ways. 🙂

    1. That’s so cool. What a great gift. More than anything, I think the way our parents live their lives help us understand more about the world. I think an adventurous spirit is such a powerful way of approaching the world. And then storytelling—a love of newness and a desire to share! Wonderful.

  14. Wow! He sounds like an awesome dad. I liked reading about the part where he taught you and your sister responsibility through money. That’s a good way to understand the concept of money, and how temporary money truly is. Your dad sounds very creative, and full of life. Reminds me of my dad, too. My dad likes to paint, and draw, and write books. The apples don’t fall far from the tree. We seem to be walking in their footsteps!! Thanks for sharing such a delightful story!

    1. Thank you for reading! Painting, drawing, AND writing books! Your dad sounds like a wonderful creative role model. Does he publish or otherwise share what he writes?

  15. Pingback: Play, Create, Explore | Top World Blog

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