Lessons my Father Taught Me (And What I'm Trying To Teach Him)

My dad likes old cars, albeit tuned up with tires full for optimal performance. He can't pass a sock sale without buying five pairs, although he has drawers full of them. And he recently discovered Sam's Club, where he likes to buy my children lots of plastic toys made in China.

But when I was a kid, things were different. Although my dad grew up in a white-bread family and a small mid-western town, as an adult he was adopted as a blood brother to the patriarch of a Lakota Sioux clan. In the late '60s, he started teaching the novels and poetry of Native American writers to students in his English classes; eventually he co-founded the Native American Studies Program at UCLA.

lakota siouxWhen I was five, he caravanned a group of these students from California to North Dakota, meeting Native American writers and elders along the way. I remember a Monarch butterfly that landed on my finger at Sitting Bull's grave site and stayed that way for the next two hundred miles.

So as an adult, I never thought of my dad as much of an environmentalist. But then I started looking at the ways my life has changed in the last few years, and I realize that much of the inspiration comes directly from him.

Take the garden for example. As a child growing up in the canyons of Los Angeles, we planted corn, tomatoes, salad and squash; even when he lived in a condominium, my father had edible plants growing on the balcony.

And he doesn't just grow them to eat: My dad believes in the power of plants. If you cut your finger, he'll offer you an aloe vera leaf. Feeling under the weather? He'll brew up some foul-smelling concoction of Chinese herbs. On important days-my wedding day, and the first time he met each of his three grandchildren-my dad will sprinkle our heads with corn pollen as he says a prayer to the four directions.

But most importantly, my father taught me that plants-and all living things, really-deserve our respect. That when you cut a flower or an herb you should give the plant some water or food in return, and thank the plant for what it gave you. And he helps me pass these lessons on to my children.

There are some childhood habits that die hard, however. My father now buys organic milk when we come to visit, but he still likes his meat bought in bulk and eaten daily. He does not believe that my Green Wash Ball can actually get his clothes clean. He stocks up on antibacterial soap and scoffs at my inspection of shampoo labels when he sends my kids to shower at his house.

grumpy julia And regardless of how many times I talk with him about the dangers of chemicals in cleaning products and fertilizer, he still cleans his tub with Tilex and douses his weeds with Round-Up.

But hopefully, just as his lessons changed my life, mine might change his someday. Thanks, Dad.


By Rachel Sarnoff- www.ecostiletto.com

More cool stuff on Celsias:

Eco-Parenting in 8 Simple Steps.

Safe, Organic Family Life: Talking with Alexandra Zissu.

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  • Posted on June 18, 2009. Listed in:

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