A pause to take note of what Dad taught you

This idea came to us after the funeral of Ralph E. Moore Sr., who had the distinction of being the first African-American man to serve as superintendent of maintenance for the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks.

Mr. Moore, who died at 81 last month, worked his way up from laborer to super at a time when that was still considered a remarkable thing for a black man.


"He dressed, walked and spoke with confidence, as if he didn't know less was expected of him by the larger society," says his son, Ralph E. Moore Jr. "I admired his certainty and learned it from him."

The surviving Ralph E. Moore is a longtime friend of mine and an even longer-time friend of the poor and unemployed in Baltimore. He's been working as an activist and advocate in some of Baltimore's neediest neighborhoods for decades. These days, you can find him in the director's office at the St. Frances Community Center on East Chase Street.


After his father's funeral last month at Greater Faith Baptist Church in Remington, Ralph went back to his office, made some notes and called me. The notes had turned into a list that might be called simply, "Things I learned from my father." He e-mailed me a copy.

I am publishing Ralph's list today and inviting readers to think about this and to compose their own lists so that we might publish them on Father's Day, coming up this weekend.

Details about that to follow.

First, here's what Ralph E. Moore Jr. learned from Senior:

"My father, the poor man's conservative Republican, the sole non-Catholic in a house full of Catholics ... taught me:

"Always wear an undershirt; you are not well-dressed without one. If you see me on a 103-degree day, whatever shirt I'm wearing, there's a 99.9% chance I'm wearing an undershirt beneath it, even if I'm wearing a T-shirt.

"My father taught me the 'Our Father.' I was maybe four or five years old. He was sitting in the kitchen, called me over and asked me to repeat it after him, a few times. I laughed when he got to the part about 'our daily bread.' I thought he was kidding. My father taught me to pray.

"He taught me to give a firm handshake while looking the other party in the eye.


"He taught me not to ever pick on someone or fight someone weaker than me. ... I've tried to work, to help and to advocate for the needy. I realize he got me started.

"My father began my sense of race consciousness and pride. We'd watch baseball and boxing together. I'd root for Muhammad Ali and he'd root for anyone who fought Ali. But while watching baseball, he'd say around the time of the All-Star game in those days, 'Root for the National League, son, they got more Negro ballplayers.'

"He insisted that my sisters and brother and I stick together. We do. We may fuss with each other from time to time, but don't mess with any one of us or you'll have to mess with us all. I always told my two daughters to stick together, when they were coming along. Through thick and thin, they do."

I thanked Ralph for sharing this, and I have been thinking about it, as Father's Day approaches.

It's not an easy thing to do, listing the things your father taught you or the qualities you think you inherited from him.

It's not necessarily a pleasant assignment, either.


I hesitate to suggest the negative side of all this, given the sweet and positive nature of Ralph's tribute to his dad.

But there are things some fathers taught their sons and daughters -- some "qualities" they passed along -- that their sons and daughters would rather not talk about, or even acknowledge.

I've come to realize something about that: Unless you are completely oblivious, bereft of self-awareness, acknowledging the bad stuff means you're not necessarily doomed to repeat it and pass it along to your kids. It means you might not repeat mistakes, that you've learned something from your father, albeit the hard way.

So, look, here's what we're going to do.

You're invited to compose and e-mail a short list, "Things my father taught me," and I encourage you to offer whatever comes to mind -- the good or the bad, or both.

Tell us what you picked up from the first man in your life -- or from a stepfather or father-in-law.


Could be the life lesson offered father-to-child as teacher-to-student.

Could be the bad behavior you survived and swore never to replicate.

Maybe he taught you how to grow tomatoes, or build a painter's hat from a section of newspaper.

Maybe you managed to forge a life of generosity, kindness and rational thinking despite your father.

I'm inclined to suggest keeping it all positive and humorous because fathers who persevere, provide, lead and inspire -- they have lessons to share with all of us.

We'll read whatever you decide to submit by e-mail and consider publishing a selection of them in this space Sunday. If your stories are so personal that you feel uncomfortable being identified, let me know and provide a phone number.


Send stories to dan.rodricks by midnight tonight. Those who want to submit a list of "things my father taught me" on Father's Day can go online Sunday and share your stories with others on a comments board at