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What fathers know best: Notable personalities on what they learned from their dads

Published: Friday, June 6 2014 9:20 a.m. MDT

Best-selling author Brandon Mull and his dad, Gary Mull.

Mull family photo

My dad, Frank Collins, was a blind piano tuner who had a photographic memory before glaucoma stole his sight when he was 13.

When doctors told him he would go blind, he read the the entire encyclopedia and dictionary, and decades later he could recite the chunks of the Encyclopedia Britannica that had not changed. He also watched a lot of sunsets because he didn't want to forget how spectacular they were.

I learned from his example, but other lessons were more direct: Don't be rude. Don't be lazy. Share the gifts with which you are blessed. He was playful and resourceful.

A father's influence lasts a lifetime. Social science is awash with research about what an involved, interactive dad brings into the lives of his children, from emotional stability to a sense of playfulness and more. It's also clear that dads contribute different things to each of their children based on very personal, life-altering interactions.

To celebrate the approach of Father's Day, the Deseret News asked a mix of noteworthy individuals to talk about their dads and share the lessons that stuck.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman on her dad, Jackson Holtz: "What I learned from my dad was resilience. He ran for Congress and lost by 500 votes. The next morning, he got up, put on his tie and went back to work. That was an extraordinary message to me, and I've followed it. Without the tie!"

Mike Leavitt, former secretary of Health and Human Services, on his dad, Dixie Leavitt: "I rarely left the house that he didn’t say to me, 'Remember who you are and remember what you stand for.' He did it enough that it stuck. He taught me that 'if you look after the dimes, the dollars will look after themselves' — a good piece of economic advice. And over and over he said, 'I want you to learn how to work.' When I was a fourth- or fifth-grader, during the summer, he'd never leave the house without giving me some jobs. He'd also never come home that I didn’t have to account for that. I didn’t always do it and I complained often, but I learned that he felt work was a virtue. He wanted me to learn to work."

Brandon Mull, New York Times best-selling author of the Fablehaven, Beyonders and Five Kingdoms series: "As a kid, my dad taught me baseball — how to throw, catch, hit, field a fly and field a grounder. He also showed by example the importance of family. He drove long commutes for most of his career so we could live in nice suburbs, and he spent most of his free time with us in one way or another. Dad also taught me that religion could be more than a family tradition — it could be a practical part of life. Speaking broadly, the advice, guidance and support I got from my dad has helped me make some of the most important decisions in my life. I'm delighted to thank and salute Gary Mull on Father's Day!"

Lanny Davis, Washington attorney and former Special Counsel to President Clinton, on his dad, Dr. Mortimer Davis: "The most important lesson my father taught me is to always be kind to people and animals — kindness to others, especially those in need, was the most important quality he wished me to have when I grew up. He was a kind man. And my mother was the Pied Piper of all homeless creatures — humans and four-legged. So she and my father were married for 55 years for a good reason, because they agreed on the importance of kindness."

Robert Magleby Christensen taught his son, Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor, author and authority on disruptive innovation, that “whenever possible, never work without your children by your side. Never hammer a nail, never cut a board, never write a book without employing your children with you.”

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