“Rrrrrrrrrr. Say rrrrrrrrrrrr; that’s how you pronounce “R.” That’s how it began. That’s how I remember Dad teaching me to read. The phonetics were simple, but for all it has become, the lessons fuel a lifetime of wisdom.

Outside the classroom, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10, most of my learning came on the living room sofa in front of the TV. I had my pencils, paper and crayons there on the coffee table close by. Dad’s dictionary was there, too. It was torn and tattered; you could tell it had been used a lot.

Dad had a keen sense about learning. He saw the curiosity I had for books that Mom says was there when I was only a toddler. I guess in those days, science wasn’t telling Dad his 4 or 5-year old might just be lacking the mental maturity to read. I think he was motivated by the impatience I showed at not being able to know what was in those books.

So he began teaching me. He pronounced the letters as I listened. He was articulate and his enunciation was polished. He seemed proud of that.

He wrote down common combinations of letters, like “ie” and “ous” and patiently pronounced them. He was firm. He made me say them over and over back to him until I had the pronunciations just right. Dad was that way….very exacting.

Dad rarely read to me. He insisted that I practice on my own. So I practiced and then practiced some more. He must have known that if he didn’t do my reading for me, I would practice even more so I could do it. He knew I would. Dad seemed to know I was making progress. He saw he had me on the right track.

Once I got started, I read a lot. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read so much that when I had to get glasses at age seven, everyone said it was because I read too much. I had worn out my eyes at far too early an age.

If Dad was home, he watched TV as I read and studied. When I came across a word I didn’t know, I asked Dad. He had an extensive vocabulary.

He was a stickler for proper pronunciation. It would have been very easy for him to tell me what the words meant whenever I asked. He didn’t make it easy.

Instead, he pointed to the dictionary on the coffee table. “Look it up. You will always remember it if you go to the trouble of looking it up yourself,” he said. Judging from his vocabulary, that dictionary had been his friend for a long time.

Sometimes I read in the car on a long road trip. If I came across a word I didn’t know, he would have me check his dictionary when we got home. He often stood nearby and waited to see that I did it, too.

Like all of us, I have had “defining” experiences in my life. I have made hundreds of new discoveries and still make more each day. I have met new friends who shared special moments in their lives with me. I have learned from each of them.

I did not happen on all of my discoveries first hand. I did not shake hands with every new person I met; I rarely knew any of them face to face. My greatest lessons were not written on a blackboard in a school classroom. Mostly I simply learned them from Dad, from the lessons he gave in teaching me to read.

Dad is gone now. But as long as I read I will always carry with me the special gift he gave. There is little chance I will part with it.

Dad’s real lesson in teaching me to read was to know that I could learn for myself. From both his teaching me to read and in the reading itself, I have discovered encouragement and inspiration; I have learned the value of thinking on my own. I have come to know the wisdom of persisting in the search for answers when they are not easily found.

Sometimes I think Dad understood what I might miss by his not being at home much. I think he had it figured out. Maybe he knew that by teaching me to read, I would be OK.

That’s what I think.