Yesterday I shared some wisdom of my dad’s, apropos of Parenting Week here at Writing Boots, (sponsored by Gerber, who wants you to know that mushed bananas didn’t kill the original Gerber baby last week, at 95).
I also promised to share more family advice that I’ve actually used to make good decisions (or avoid dumb ones).
“Keep your airspeed up,” my old man used to advise generally, drawing on the main thing his pilot instructor told him. He also often told me when I was young, “Buddy, get your head out of the goddamn wheel well.”
When I was trembling on the edge of a big decision—or, more likely, after I’d made it—he’d say, “Well, every once in awhile a fella oughta do something he’s a little afraid of.”
Less helpful was his advice to a teenager: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people said about you if you realized how seldom they do.” Come to think of it, that was pretty much the sum total of his advice to a teenager.
My mother was less an advice giver and more an aphorism dealer. “Before you’re thirty, you have the face you were born with,” she often rasped, plagiarizing Coco Chanel. “After that, you have the face you deserve.”
More directive was this, from a memoir she once wrote: “Told my dad, many Christmases ago, as he swung from chandeliers with new Polaroid and rest of family huddled on couch and said cheese for two hours, you either record having fun or you have fun.” (Apparently as a society we have chosen to record having fun.)
Dad again: “When you’re getting run out of town, get at the head of the line and make it look like a parade.” (I actually did that once, at an IABC World Conference in New York, where the chairman was publicly comparing me to a small dog, and my journalism about IABC to that dog humping a doberman. I left the ballroom reared back like a drum major, and laughing at the top of my lungs.)
My little sister gave me some big advice once, inadvertently. She’d inured her leg in ballet, and I asked her why she wasn’t limping. “Limping doesn’t help,” she said. No, it does not.
My father-in-law eventually got into the act, telling me what his own farmer dad once told him when he was young, and furious that some neighbors were borrowing more than they lent. “Dad, they’re taking advantage of you!” young Sherdian shouted. “They can’t take advantage of you,” his father told him with a gentle smile, “if you know they’re doing it.”
Yesterday I also asked Boots readers to contribute advice they’d gotten. I was relieved that Ron Shewchuk didn’t volunteer the avuncular advice he once received when he had a cough. “Stick one thumb in your mouth, and the other up your ass. Whenever you feel like coughing, switch thumbs.” So gross.
“At parties,” Mike Field was parentally advised, “DO NOT DRINK STRANGE LIQUIDS OUT OF RED SOLO CUPS.” Asked whether he followed that counsel, Field replied, “Mere technicalities.”
Also on drinking, my Australian pal Karen Nichol says her father often advised, “It’s 12 o’clock somewhere, time for a roadie!” Says Nichol pensively, “I’ve never forgotten those words.”
More sober was Kasia Chalko’s old man (who was unwittingly echoed by Amy Curtner Andrews’ mother): “My dad taught me ‘pay yourself first.’ Even when my paycheck was small enough that I didn’t think I could afford it, I put something directly into an investment account. $25/check in my very first job, then $50/check. If it’s an automatic deduction, you don’t miss it, but you’ll be happy years from now when you have some retirement money. Now I try to maximize my pre-tax contribution. Same premise, better mechanism.”
It should have gone without saying, but it didn’t, for communication professional Kristen Ridley: “Educate yourself on issues before voicing your opinions, but you ARE entitled to, and should voice them. As a woman growing up in an era where it was still acceptable too often to summarily discount women’s perspectives that was revelatory for me (and annoying to some of the men I worked for, and with).”
“From my pops,” shares childhood friend Chris Lally. “‘Be on time, be prepared, and try your best.’ Simple advice but, it has served me well personally and professionally.” If it were simple, we wouldn’t all know so many people who practice their opposite.
“Near the end of his life, I asked my dad what he would change about his life,” says David Butler, a soccer dad who I admire for his calm bearing. “He said without hesitation, that he wouldn’t have worried about things so much. It takes a lot of time and energy, and almost never happens.”
Speechwriter pal Jackie Fearer’s dad told her: “When in doubt, don’t.” That would appear to contradict my good dad’s advice about how you should do things you’re afraid of. But of course, advice should be calibrated to its recipient, and despite her surname, excessive caution was never Jackie’s problem.
And Facebook-quaintence Bruce Elliott constructively contributed, “When I told my parents I wanted to be a gay porn star they told me that I should be the best gay porn star I could be.” Unfortunately, young Bruce didn’t achieve his dream, and he wound up becoming a Facebook troll, a bad portrait painter, a cockeyed guide to Chicago culture and owner of the city’s smelliest bar, the Old Town Ale House. But I won’t pick a fight with Elliott, for the same reason you should never wrestle a pig. You both get muddy, and the pig likes it. (As my dad used to say.)
Thanks to everyone who shared their wisdom here, all of which fits under the umbrella of my favorite definition of the meaning of life, offered by Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark: “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”