5 of the Many Lessons Learned from My Dad

Adam Hillis
6 min readJun 22, 2017
Dad and 4mo-Old Abel

After working nearly his whole life, my dad has finally retired. His last day of work was just three weeks shy of his 70th birthday. Which just so happens to be today.

Entering this last season of his life, my dad has been heavily on my heart and mind. With Father’s Day last Sunday, and his birthday today, I thought it was a great opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learned by watching Sam Hillis live.

The Lessons

In Everything, Pray

If I got up early enough I would typically see my dad at the kitchen table reading his Bible. He hadn’t put his contacts in yet, so he was wearing his large, thick glasses. As a kid I’d put them on and think I had the ability to count craters on the moon. Yet my Dad still needed to hold his Bible three inches from his face as he read when he wore them.

These were the days before large-print Bibles, which he has now and can read at a normal distance. But the image imbedded in my mind is the principle:

My dad always read his Bible.

No longer living at home I don’t get to witness Dad’s reading practices anymore, but his faith is still evident. Nearly every time we talk on the phone he tells me he’s praying for me and my young family. When his church was going through a legal battle with the city he was always asking me to join him in prayer. During his recent bout with cancer he called all of his children and all of his siblings asking us to contend for him.

But the most encouraging lessons on prayer come from when he tells stories of how things work out. While it’s rare he has a story of an instant answer, it’s a regular thing to hear my dad tell me about great things in his life as a result of prayer. He is constantly contending with the Lord and seeing his faith come to fruition.

Work Smart/Hard

My childhood home was on roughly 2 acres. I was driving a riding lawn mower on a regular basis before age 10. Doing yard work and taking care of goats and chickens instilled a decent work ethic in me at a young age.

There were times I goofed a job because I maybe didn’t know what I was doing, and other times it was because I was screwing off and not really paying attention. My dad had a mantra that his dad told him, “A job’s not worth doing if it’s not done right.”

The constant repetition of that phrase is probably at the root of my perfectionism and anal retentiveness as an adult. But at the same time it created this desire in me to make sure things were done well, and to work hard and smart in an effort to do so.

Watching my dad live this out was pretty amazing. Whenever we built something, like the chicken coop or a dog house, we always had a plan. Mowing the lawn or weed-eating was done systematically. Though we certainly may have, I can’t recall any time that we had to redo a job if my dad was involved. Things were always done right the first time.

Extreme Responsibility

I was nearly two when my dad met and married my mom. He didn’t simply help raise me, but chose to adopt me as his own. I wasn’t just his wife’s kid, I was his, and I was a Hillis.

While I was his only adopted child, my dad also took responsibility for his first wife’s daughter when they were married. Then, when he married my step-mom, two more teenagers moved into his home.

Growing up I’m sure the significance of this was lost on me. But now in my thirties with my own little ones I have more experiential information to put myself in my dad’s shoes.

To take on another person’s children isn’t simply a financial decision. It’s not just making sure there is another plate at the table. This is also an emotional responsibility. Dad gave part of his heart to four kids he didn’t help create in addition to the 4 kids he did. He put in the same time, energy, and love into all of us.

There is Always Time

Most of my life my dad was the sales manager for a small company that sold seals and gaskets to pulp and paper mills. He oversaw the west office while the owner was in the east.

In addition to the typical 9 to 5 grind there was a lot of travel involved. Sometimes we even had the privilege of going along, like when we turned business in Jackson Hole, Wyoming into a family ski trip.

Though he had a demanding job, my dad was regularly involved at our church and coached or assistant coached every sports thing my two younger brothers and I did. In all of the team photos with my uniform tucked in way too deep, and my hair out of control, my dad is in every pic.

Looking back I honestly can’t think of a thing my dad missed in my life.

It wasn’t just sports, but also school performances and music recitals. While I’m sure there were some he naturally had to skip, there isn’t a single one that stands out in my memory. My adult brain has the perception that he was at every single thing, and directly involved in most of them.

In this day and age it seems we’re busier than generations before. But I’m starting to believe that it’s not actually being more busy, but more so making ourselves less available.

Technology has allowed us accomplish more in smaller amounts of time, yet somehow so many families have fathers that can’t be pulled away from work. The same 24 hours have always existed. With essentially just email (at work on a computer, not on a phone) and a large car phone (not cell phone, but actually a car phone) as his only technology, my dad accomplished more in a day than most do in probably 2 or 3 days.

And he still came to my games.

There is always time for what we deem important.

Big Changes in Life Won’t Kill You

Again, most my life my dad was a sales manager. But at various points in his life he was also a music teacher, a bus driver, owned a business, built houses, sold cars, and more.

In the 10+ years Lisa and I have been married I’ve had the same job. We been in the same house all but the first 6 months. Though I know we won’t be here forever, the thought of something different just seems crazy. To uproot and change everything is a bit of an overwhelming thought.

In just the last 20 years my dad has remarried adding two step-children to his family, lost his job of almost 20 years, moved from Washington state to Texas, worked several sales jobs, found his way back into management, moved from Texas to California, recovered from a stroke, retired, and recovered from cancer.

Those aren’t small changes.

He has handled it all with strength and determination.

Watching him up close as a child, and now from afar as an adult, I have no reason to believe that any difficult circumstances or big changes in my life should rock me. The model I have before me has blessed me with the belief that I will make it.

Life’s changes and challenges will not beat me down and success is always before me.

More Caught Than Taught

It’s a spectacular thing to look back and see the ways a dad shapes his son. There’s more power in the way a life is lived than conversations had.

I don’t remember all the “talks” we had when I got in trouble. There were a lot… But I do remember the man my dad was and how he lived, and continues to to live, his life.

That is where the lessons and the impact came from. How he lived. We should remember that as we raise our own children.

What lessons have you learned by observing your dad? Not just things he taught you directly, but when you look back on your childhood and who your dad was, what do you see now through different lenses?

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Adam Hillis

Crafting educational email courses for coach/creators || Coaching men to connect w/ their wife & kids, and themselves || I juggle marriage, kids, and words