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Like father, like son

Leading up to Father's Day, some notable men share what they learned from their dads, and what they hope to pass on to their children

My father always prefaces his advice by saying, "Now, I know you don't like to listen to me, but…"

It's a common sentiment. Dads want to pass down their wisdom – about love, work, faith, fortitude, dedication, whatever it might be – in order to spare their children mistakes that could easily be avoided and to mould their character. And they get frustrated to think that their advice is falling on deaf ears.

For most of my teens and even my 20s, I did ignore my father's advice: Didn't we all thumb our noses at the old man when we were young? But as Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey remarked of the lessons he received from his father and grandfather, "the older I got, the smarter they became."

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Eventually – hopefully sooner rather than later – most of us realize how our fathers' advice has helped us: to make better choices and to strive hard to be the best people we can.

My dad's best advice – it concerns doing what you love with all your heart and cherishing time with your kids despite the stresses of life – are words I do my best to keep in mind every day.

The fathers featured here, from Canada's most famous handyman to one of our most prestigious poets, have all been similarly affected by important advice passed down from their own dads. And now many of them are fathers trying to impart that wisdom to children of their own.

No doubt it was frustrating for our fathers – for fathers everywhere – to think they were being ignored. But know this: We always heard your words, even if it took us a while to prove we were listening.

Happy Father's Day.

Dwane Casey, coach, Toronto Raptors

Dwane Casey.

My dad was a prison guard at a medium-security boys' reformatory outside of Indianapolis. My grandparents raised me. My grandfather was more like [a father to me] than my father was. But I got the best of both worlds because I would stay with my grandparents during the school year and my mom and dad and brothers and sisters during the summer.

My grandfather ran two dry cleaning stores. He had an unbelievable work ethic. That's one thing I have always picked up from my dad and my grandfather.

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My grandfather played the piano at the Methodist church every Sunday. He was a really quiet man, but when he spoke it was volumes. My father loves to talk. He loved to tell stories and have his buddies over to the house on the weekends.

The best piece of advice my dad gave me was to work hard and that everything would come from hard work. It's the same thing my grandfather taught. I look back at their lives and how we didn't have a lot and I think that fuels my fear of failure more than anything else.

That's what's driven me all these years in coaching, as a player. I didn't want to let them down. I'm going to try to pass that down to my own children. I'm always talking to my son about working hard and at least trying. It's not always about winning, but you have to try. I'm trying to pass that on to my daughter when she plays sports. I want to teach them to be competitors.

Whether it's school work or on the court, compete. That's what people respect in life, is how hard you compete.

Mike Layton, Toronto city councillor

Mike Layton.

My dad, Jack, was a cyclist, canoeist, aspiring musician, political science professor, city councillor, member of Parliament and federal leader of the NDP. At several important moments in my life, when I had an important decision to make about my future, my dad's advice was "to choose the path that allows you to have the most positive impact on the lives of others." I continue to use that as my compass.

George Elliott Clarke, Seventh Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17)

George Elliott Clarke.

Born in 1935, my father, William (Bill) Clarke, was a Depression-era "coloured" child, who grew up in poverty, but with a … grandfather, William Andrew White, who had been the first black officer in the British Army; an uncle, Jack White, who became a renowned labour leader in Ontario; and another uncle, Bill White, a composer who became an Officer in the Order of Canada.

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So, despite the "congenial" race-prejudice of mid-20 th-century Nova Scotia, Billy Clarke grew up to believe … that fair-mindedness, hard work and a willingness to meet others half-way could overcome social barriers to economic progress and personal happiness.

He also grew up to be an independent thinker, a strikingly unique, defiantly stereotype-destroying black man who rode a purple BMW motorcycle, dabbled in pictorial art, attended Labour College (as a railway worker) and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and acted in a 1966 Neptune Theatre (Halifax) production of The Physicists. He was a social worker, a devotee of classical music and, in his 20s, the leader of a gospel-song-singing quartet.

The example he set for my two brothers and myself was to work hard, trust that most people were fair-minded, avoid the prejudiced (but defend ourselves forcefully from bullies) and pursue any respectable … career for which we had the aptitude and the passion.

His best pieces of advice to me were to presume the fair-mindedness and good-heartedness of others – at least until their behaviour or attitudes demanded a correction in perspective – to strive to be the best at whatever one pursues and to avoid herd mentalities and peer-pressure. In other words, to be independent … As for myself, I've tried to pass on to my now suddenly adult daughter much of what I see as the good in my father's teachings. I thank God for the gifts to me of both my parents … who were difficult, imperfect people, but who I loved very much and who I still miss every single day.

Susur Lee, chef

Susur Lee.

My father was an accountant, so he could be very serious and reserved at times but very playful at others. He taught me to eat and taste food. And I mean really eat. He loved food and he would always take me to try new things and I would stuff my face until I threw up. The best piece of advice I got from my father was to keep eating, try new things and be playful. He knew my future wasn't in accounting!

Mike Holmes, television host

Mike Holmes.

My dad, Jim Holmes, was a second-class engineer and he worked at General Motors for many years, but he was a licensed plumber and did many, many renovations. Even though I thought he was Superman, he admitted to me in my 20s that I spoke of [building] codes he didn't even understand. That's when I knew he was proud of me.

He was a great guy. He was a tough guy. He had a heart of gold. He was a man of his word. His biggest thing was, "Mike, if you're going to do anything, you better do it right the first time." He meant that. He believed that you're only as good as your word and it will follow you for the rest of your life.

To be honest, I gotta say that with everything he did, it did help create who I am, and that's do it right the first time and do what you say you're going to do, and that's part being a man of your word. Because he was tough as nails, you never did ignore what he said.

Interviews have been condensed and edited.

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