4 Lessons I Learned From Watching My Dad Ruin His Life

Tim Ebl


I can do better

Photo / Giacomo Pratellesi / Shutterstock

A great father is supportive and loving. He is a force for good in your life, setting you up with positive mental and emotional tools. He supports his partner and his children and helps them succeed.

I didn’t have that kind of dad. I had the father that you run away from while he chases you with a belt and screams in rage.

Dad was a farmer, welder, and blacksmith. He had a ton of skills and invented his own tools. He was the kind of guy who could fix broken machinery with wire and some bubblegum, but his soul was broken, and he blamed the world for it.

He used pain, violence, and insults to get us to toe the line. That’s how he was raised, and he wasn’t an innovator. He kept up the family traditions of brutality.

He didn’t praise anyone. Either you got ignored, or you got consequences. As long as I stayed out of the way and didn’t screw up, I wouldn’t get the belt.

Mom was quiet and kept to herself. She didn’t want to be a target, so she kept busy with farm chores and work. Her life was better when her children were in the house to act like human targets for her husband’s wrecking-ball anger.

My childhood was a learning experience. I came out the other side with a few lessons that I took to heart. I won’t repeat my father’s mistakes. I strive to do better.

1. Your Self Talk is Super Important

My dad ranted to himself out loud. And none of it was good. He programmed himself for failure with his shitty self-talk.

I suspect that he was carrying on stuff he heard my grampa say when he was little, but that doesn’t excuse him. We make our own way in the world. Here is a sample of things my dad said out loud daily:

“Well, I guess I’ll never get our house finished now. There’s no way I can ever get this built.” A deep, forlorn sigh followed this.

“We’ll never get that money back. Why do things like this only happen to me?”

“We can’t afford that. We’re broke.”

“None of my plans are ever going to happen. I might as well give up.”

“There’s something wrong with me. I’m such an idiot.”

“Why was I born with all the bad luck?”

“We can’t have that. It’s for rich people.”

“ I got fired. I’m just not supposed to get ahead. What’s the point?

I was a captive audience. We were trapped with a guy who was down on himself and looking for someone to unload his pain.

He took his bad thoughts and vocalized them, which sent him into depressions and drinking bouts that would last days. Because of that, he missed opportunities to get ahead and made everyone else around him unhappy.

Dad used manifestation to get what he imagined. The more he listed his woes, the longer the list got. Bad luck happened all the time because we were looking for it. Any common incident was just more evidence that we were unlucky.

If we got a flat tire, it wasn’t because it was worn out and wafer-thin. It was because of our terrible luck. God doomed our family to suffer. The world had it in for us.

His self-talk sabotaged not only his happiness but ours.

The life lesson:

  • It matters what you think and say. The story you tell yourself will make or break your life.
  • Repeat a thought over and over, and it will turn into reality. So don’t repeat bad thoughts!
  • You can crush someone else with your words. I don’t want to be a soul destroyer, so I have to take responsibility for what I say.

2. You Need To Take Responsibility For Your Life

My dad never admitted that he was the one responsible for where we were.

He blamed his parents for treating his brothers better than him and giving him a poor start in life. The way he was raised wrecked his chances.

He blamed growing up in the country for not getting a good education and being a farmer. He blamed the weather for poor crops and not making much money.

He blamed my mom for not keeping the house clean. He blamed my brother and me for anything that went missing, tools or household items and such.

He blamed the government for everything else.

We lived in a world that revolved around blame every day of our lives. But my dad never took an ounce of blame for himself. Because of that, he never felt a need to look at his own actions. If it isn’t your fault, you can’t affect the outcome.

The life lesson:

  • Each of us is responsible for our own lives. What happened in the past is dead and gone; all we can do is move forward.
  • Blame doesn’t do anything but make you feel good for a few moments. It doesn’t help anything.
  • Once I stepped up and accepted responsibility, I could do better. I wasn’t a victim anymore. Now I was a player in the game instead of a pawn.

3. You Can’t Quit When It Gets Hard Or You Never Win

My dad never felt successful. Whenever the going got tough, he gave up and went home to feel sorry for himself.

When he tried to get into raising livestock, the first year went terrible. He didn’t make much money, and it was a lot of work. So he took the few cows he had to the auction and sold them.

Other farmers all around us used persistence to grow their herds. After 5, 10, or 20 years they had hundreds of cow-calf pairs and large, successful farms.

We still had a tiny, poor farm because we were quitters.

Dad went to school and became a welder. He got a job and made good money until they fired him.

He could have gotten another job welding, but he didn’t. He sat around moaning about it for months and never worked as a welder again. After one defeat, he gave up.

I know others who started at the bottom as welders and started successful freelance businesses from their farms, fabricating all kinds of metal items and selling them. Some got good jobs and even ended up getting pensions from welding all their lives.

The life lesson:

  • Everyone runs into setbacks and failure and thinks about quitting. You need to keep going instead.
  • If you give up, you lose all the effort you sunk into it. If you trained for your career, you don’t need to toss all of that knowledge because the results weren’t perfect on the first try.
  • Persistence and repeated action are what lead to success, not just luck. You can grow a huge herd of cattle, write a book or build a business by showing up day after day after day.

4. You Need To Treat Your Romantic Partner Like a Friend, Not a Screwup

My mom dreamed of the day my dad would die and get out of her life. That was her exit plan from a shitty marriage. Unfortunately, they still live together after more than 50 years of an abusive relationship.

I saw them kiss once when I was 10. That was the only time. They don’t hug or touch each other except to push past in the hallway rudely.

My brother and I grew up, so we escaped the farm. Dad was left with just one person to torture with his rants and blame: Mom. No matter how she tried to please him, it was no good.

Mom was his maid who did everything. She cooked, cleaned, took care of farm animals, kept the books, grew a garden, and did all the shopping. She worked a part-time job because dad was unemployed, and the farm didn’t make much. After a hard day working her butt off, mom got yelled at for hours, especially when dad got into the bottle.

20 years ago, she was about to leave. She finally worked up the courage to escape, and my wife and I supported her decision completely. She was going to live with an old college friend in a different part of the world. Her camping van was packed and ready to hit the road when her pastor pulled into the driveway. The religious leader in her life convinced her she was going against god if she got a divorce. So she stayed.

The pastor patted himself on the back for saving a soul. My dad got to keep his whipping mule. My mom got to be a victim until she dies.

Things got even worse. His tirades and blame led to death threats against my mom and then against me for standing up for her.

I couldn’t get her to leave. But I got my dad to lay off the bottle for a while and go to the doctor to get some anti-depressants prescribed. He calmed down a bit, but the blaming and yelling never stopped. All we could do was watch and give my mom a place to go when she needed it.

Their marriage is a loveless, sexless tragedy. He doesn’t deserve her, and she feels trapped. She talks about how old he is and how long it might be before he dies, and she wishes it was today.

The life lesson:

  • When you’re in a relationship, you are supposed to be your partner’s best friend. That means you go out of your way to make their lives better. You smile at them, and you hug them. You help do half the housework. You treat them with respect, or else you’re a loser.
  • If someone treats you like dirt, don’t accept it. When your heart tells you to pull the pin, leave immediately. It doesn’t matter what religion or society tells you. Each of us deserves to be happy and treated like a human being.
  • If someone you love is in an abusive relationship, you might not be able to fix it for them. You can still be there for support no matter what. Don’t blame them if they can’t get out and abandon them.


My parents are in their 80’s and still live together. I visit them almost daily to support my mom. I wouldn’t bother visiting the old man more than once a year if she wasn’t there.

I do my best to learn from all of this. That’s how we can grow as people by learning from the mistakes of others.

  • Your self-talk will make or break your life. Go out of your way to use positive words in your head and out loud.
  • If you take responsibility for your life, you can make it better.
  • Don’t be a quitter. Use persistence to get ahead. No one achieves long-lasting success without repeated action.
  • Be nice to your life partner. This is supposed to be your best friend!

If you can do these four things, you have a good chance at a happy life. It’s up to us to make the best of our time on Earth. What kind of life are you creating for yourself and those around you?

For the parents out there, listen up. What you say goes straight into your children’s heads and never comes out. Load them with good stuff, not regurgitated garbage thoughts. Do this on purpose. Go out of your way to plant seeds of love and support.

Be a positive force in their lives, and they will love you for it.

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I'm an author, yoga enthusiast, and meditation instructor. I spend a lot of time outdoors with activities like running, hiking and camping. My writing is all about the humorous side of life and personal growth, habits ,mindfulness, and outdoor adventures.


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