My dad is Jerrell Ross Richer, Goshen’s curly-haired econ prof. I’ve often been asked what it’s like being Jerrell’s daughter. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from my dad over the years.
1) If your dream is to travel, travel. My dad is currently in Kauai, Hawaii with my mom, brother and grandmother. This isn’t surprising. When my dad has dreams, he makes them happen. What’s his secret? Hours of behind-the-scenes brainstorming, researching and unabashedly calling every number on the website.
2) Plant fruit trees. My parents have lived in nine houses since they got married, and at every house I can remember, my dad has planted fruit trees. It was cherries and plums in California, apples at the house on Birkey Avenue and lemons and mangoes in the Ecuadorian rainforest. My dad doesn’t seem to mind that we usually don’t stick around long enough to eat the fruit. He sees it as his gift to those who come after.
3) Buy compostable dishes. When I was in first grade and we lived in California, I remember my dad coming home from working at the Green MBA with leftover utensils made out of corn. They looked like plastic, but my dad explained that they were made out of plant fibers. I chewed on them to see if I could taste the corn.
Compostable dishes weren’t very popular back then, and they still aren’t now. But that doesn’t stop my dad from faithfully buying them. The compost pile at my house is full of palm-frond bowls, fir spoons and other dishes my dad brings home after his business events at Goshen College.
I remember my dad’s explanation to me when I was six years old: sustainable products cost more than conventional ones, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy them. The way to bring the price down is to increase the demand.
4. Step down so others can step up. My dad loves teaching people. But he also knows when it’s time to let someone more qualified take the stage.
In Ecuador, women aren’t usually invited to preach, so when my family visits churches and my dad get’s tapped to “give the word,” he dutifully goes up to the pulpit, talks for a few minutes and then invites my mom up before finding his seat.
5. Life is too short to spend embarrassed. Growing up, my dad was the source of much embarrassment for me and my three siblings. He isn’t afraid to try something new even if it means humiliating himself (and by association, his kids) in the process.
One example is the time he almost floated down the Aguarico River during an attempt to swim across after my siblings and our friends (my dad isn’t what you’d call a strong swimmer). Eventually, to the relief of our friends who were preparing to launch a rescue canoe, he eventually made it, but not without giving the whole village a good story.
The thing is, my dad doesn’t seem to feel embarrassment himself. He must know that life is too short to let it keep him from putting himself out there and trying new things — like learning to speak Spanish at 45.
I’ll never forget the time my dad ended a prayer in front of an Ecuadorian church with “hasta mañana” — See you tomorrow, God.