"No!" Dad signed after he swatted my hand. "That's dirty!" He continued with a disapproving scowl. Until that day, I didn't know it wasn't acceptable to eat boogers.
I don't remember how old I was -- two or three years old -- but it is my first vivid memory of a lesson taught by Dad.
His usual approach of teaching me the right way was to first show me the wrong. Like when I was five he gave me the same disgusted “don’t eat your boogers” look after I took a swig from a two-liter bottle of Pepsi.
"No, don't do it like that!" He took the bottle and demonstrated how I had done it wrong by putting my whole mouth around the opening. He shook his finger “No” and then showed me the right way by putting his upper lip inside the opening and creating a vacuum like effect to prevent backwash.
I didn't know why that was "right" but once I got the hang of it, I thought it was the most brilliant piece of advice.
When I was seven, we moved to the woods of Montgomery, Texas. That's where Dad taught me most everything I know about life, mostly through hard work.
"Don't do this," he signed before he haphazardly banged a nail into the deck we were building. "Wrong," he instructed as he deftly pried out the bent nail. Then he swiftly drove in a new nail straight with only two or three strikes and signed, "Right." I watched intently before I took over the hammering duties. With his instruction, I helped build an awesome porch that lasted longer than the trailer it was built for -- it got repossessed just a few years later.
With his right way / wrong way method, he taught me how to build a fire, till a garden, use a level, dig a culvert, drive a car and eat a chicken leg without missing any hidden meat, all by the age of 9.
As I got older, Dad still used this tactic to teach me how to smuggle new prescription glasses in to his jail, fold paper money into a square tiny enough to fit into the hiding place in his shoe, and -- ahem -- maintain relations with men.
-- "Don't hide them, instead wear them like they're your real glasses then we can swap."
-- "Don't try to fold it too many times or it's too thick. See? Fold it this way instead."
-- "Don't trust with men who are neat personal But They can fool you with aids. You better care with dating with men. (use condoms!) [Read more.]
With fifteen years to go on his prison sentence for attempted murder, I don’t know if he’ll ever get the chance to show me the right way of that wrong. But I suppose this quote is the best start: "Don't try adultery, drunkenness and dopeheads."