I can only remember my father giving me one piece of advice: Brussels sprouts and spinach taste much better with sugar on them. And so they do.
-- Rose Jacobius
My daddy, Horace Gilbert Williams, left me three things when he died, longer ago than I care to remember: a pair of brass knuckles, an Army .45-caliber pistol and his copy of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," this last going into the dumpster as I drove from his home to mine after the funeral. Since these sorts of things always run in series of three, I will now share with you the three pieces of advice I remember him handing down, in lucid moments (his or mine), to me: (a) When trying to get a job, tell them you know how to do it, and by the time they find out you can't, you can; (b) don't bother to grieve for anybody who stands there and gets hit by a train; and (c) never bet on anything that can talk. This was all good advice, and he probably had more to share, but he was gone a lot.
-- Robert H. Williams
When I was 11 and locked in a bitter feud with my junior high school principal, my father never gave me any advice. My best friend, Bruce, and I planned a school protest because the principal had banned blue jeans as indecent, which at the time seemed like a gross violation of our civil rights. Unfortunately, we were found out. It was touch-and-go for weeks about whether we'd get kicked out of school, and everyone from our mothers to our school counselors filled our heads with lectures heavy on responsibility and obedience.
Except my father. He didn't say anything. But one day, in the midst of the whole brouhaha, he made a sudden and unannounced visit to the principal. He never told me he was coming, but quite by accident I ran across the two of them in the hall. There was the principal, as nervous and uncomfortable as I had ever seen him. And next to him, grinning from ear to ear and wearing his oldest and most battered pair of blue jeans, was my father.
-- Malcolm Gladwell
Never to windward, he told me. He was right.
-- Ken Ringle
I was 6 or 7 and he -- the erstwhile softball coach -- was attempting to train me out of throwing the ball like a girl.
When that failed, we moved on to batting the ball around. (Batting is a relative term. Perhaps one out of every 10 balls actually connected with the bat at the beginning.) He was yelling from the other side of the yard: "Okay, bend your knees a little bit more. Step and swing, step and swing. Watch the ball. Watch your bat hitting the ball."
I got worse as the afternoon progressed. I was hot and sweaty and dirty and felt like a complete idiot because even though I was bending my knees and stepping and swinging and watching, I could not hit the ball.
The tears started.
"Uh, I think that's enough for today," he ventured. I was horribly embarrassed at being caught crying and tried to hide behind my hair.
As we walked up the back steps to the house, my father put his arm around me and said, "Kid, you win some, you lose some. Some get rained out, and some you play in the mud."
Thinking this always makes me feel better.
-- Sharyn Wizda
My father is a true gentleman. He believes advice should be solicited, and I unfortunately have lived my whole life on impulse power. He also knows me too well to think he can stop me from banging my head on brick walls.
So he doesn't advise -- nor always consent -- but merely endures. And carries the Band-Aids.
-- Eve Zibart
My mother taught me housekeeping, but it was my dad who one evening took me back to the kitchen to rewash the dishes and show me how to get them clean. "The job isn't done when you've gone through the motions," he said. "It's done when you get results."
-- Elizabeth Dahlslien
When I was 15, I didn't dare talk back to my father. But I was often angry with him, for making and enforcing dumb rules that kept me from doing exactly what I wanted at the precise moment I thought I should. So I was stuck. How could I signal my displeasure without igniting his wrath -- and encouraging him to make even more rules?
I perfected a look. A nasty, "you may have control over my life, stupid man, but I want you to know I don't like it" scowl. It was wicked, I know, because I practiced it in the mirror before I got it down pat.
I remember the first time I used it on him. The man had actually told me to clean my room rather than remain on the phone for another hour. Dutifully, I hung up. Then I flashed the look at him.
He looked back. Then he said, very calmly, "Donna, you better wipe that look off your face or I'll wipe it off for you."
It's the only advice I remember him giving me. I took it.
-- Donna Britt
Dad said, "Take typing." He also said, "Get a real estate license as a backup." He would add for his bewildered, wild-haired hippie children, "Remember, there's nothing wrong with deciding to make a lot of money." Aaaahhh ... we'll never know what kind of agent I might have been.
But years ago, Mom, Dad and I were munching on nachos at our favorite Mexican restaurant, talking about a relationship that had died on me. I was crushed but trying to be brave and somehow he (I can't remember his exact words) let me know that when it comes to romantic love, withholding how you feel at the right time works. Something about mystery. The concept seemed contrary to his honest and straightforward approach to life, and I didn't understand and hotly debated. And I'm still trying to figure out why I agree with him.
-- Marla Harper
It was a lot like the advice a lot of daughters get from a lot of fathers.
If you can't be good, be careful.
If you can't be careful, call me.
And whatever the problem is, you can bring it home.
The difference was, he meant it.
-- Alison Howard
My father disappeared from my life fairly early on -- first lured by the spell of the race track and, finally, kicked out by my mother. Most of the time I haven't known where he was. But ten years or so ago, I couldn't stand the unfinished business between us. So I looked for him and found him and agreed to meet on neutral ground. We talked about the present and recent past -- my married life, my children, his part-time job. But the chasm between then and now was left unexplored -- too volatile a subject, too private. I knew he'd married again and wasn't anymore. And I knew life hadn't been easy.
Then one morning this winter a phone call from my father's stepdaughter (a woman whose existence I hadn't known of) informed me my father was gravely ill. Would I come to a diabetes clinic in Boston to see him? Well, sure. I mean, good God, but sure. At the hospital the three of us chatted as naturally as the unnatural situation allowed. Then at lunch she told me about her mother, a Las Vegas type she despised, who after 17 years had left my father during an earlier medical crisis. While he was on the operating table, she'd cleaned him out: their house, their bank account, their life.
After lunch I was alone with my father. Filled with morphine, he talked freely, and asked the question that had always tormented him: Had his gambling destroyed our lives? In turn -- emboldened by the last-chance nature of it all -- I was curious about his marriage. After my beautiful, classy, enduring mother, how could he have stayed so long with a woman who treated him like an overdrawn checkbook?
"Who knows why we do the things we do?" he answered.
Maybe it wasn't exactly advice. And indeed, who knows? I'd already spent most of my life trying to figure that out.
-- Judith Weinraub
There was a period in the early '60s when my father and mother spent an awful lot of time bitching at each other. The reason for this was fairly obvious even to us kids. It isn't easy on a marriage to be shunting a family of five around the world every couple of years, as his government job required. One day, after a particularly violent outburst, replete with gratuitous door-slamming and Mom storming out of the house in tears, I asked my father -- cautiously -- why she was so mad. He half-closed his eyes in weary resignation, and replied: "Michael, your mother is mad because she is a woman." Pause. "And if you were a woman, you'd be mad too."
Wisdom well heeded during the feminist '70s.
-- Michael Welzenbach
Dad was full of advice. Crazy advice about things I should be doing. There was the bit about the piano. He would sit at the baby grand in our living room playing classical compositions from memory or sheet music, telling me how the instrument held 88 keys to understanding music and the joy of art. Then there was the sewing. When my sister Judy, who was unusually tall, or my sister Sandy, who was unusually short, needed alterations, or when my Sunday clothes needed to accommodate a sudden burst of growth, it usually was Dad who sat down in front of the ancient Singer. Then he might go out and tune up the car. Or patch the roof, or begin reading a new novel. He had the wild notion that a person should learn as much as possible the skills of living in the world. No man is an island, but he was pretty close.
I insisted the electric bass guitar was the instrument for me. I'd play it today if the dust on the strings wasn't so thick and if I knew how to fix the jack. Besides, I'm waiting for the plumber, and after that I have to pick up my suit at the tailor.
-- Joseph Sobczyk
"Keep your tank full."
-- Gigi Anders
The driving lessons I took with my father still stick with me, more than 30 years after I first slid behind the wheel. It wasn't so much the advice he dispensed as he guided me through the streets of Washington in our lumbering Pontiac station wagon. I remember mostly what he didn't say.
He was silent, and remarkably calm as the Pontiac slipped and jolted along the streetcar tracks and cobblestones of Georgetown. It was a route I suspect he had chosen for its challenge. The narrow streets were jammed with Saturday Christmas shoppers, and I could see into the eyes of passengers in the cars that passed inches from my door. They tended to look back in alarm.
At considerably under five feet, I wasn't even bothering to try to see over the steering wheel, but was peering through it. Meanwhile, I was trying to do the math on how much street a Pontiac would leave for other cars. Pop may have hummed a jazz riff or two under his breath, as he does when he pretends not to pay attention, but I could hear no intake of breath as we crunched sideways and then forward along the tracks.
I had always admired his sense of adventure in both urban and wilderness settings. But I thought it a real act of faith to place his trust -- and our family's only car -- in the hands of a 15-year-old. Except for a $25 bump I later put in somebody's fender on an ice patch, I have never had an accident.
-- Claudia Levy
I doubt my father, Weston Booth, ever met a reporter before I became one. But from the time I was a small child he wanted me to be not just a writer, but a reporter. He'd heard somewhere that reporters could earn salaries and he wasn't so sure about writers and royalties.
His 11 brothers and sisters, descended from a long line of Methodist preachers, all would rather read than do anything but talk. No one in the family ever just said they walked from the chair to the door. In their telling, crossing the room became an odyssey, a safari, an expedition. He adored his mother, the family's -- if not the world's -- poet.
He saw no incompatibility in husbands, children and jobs, because all the South Georgia women he'd ever known worked as hard as their husbands, in the fields, in the kitchens, in the shops, in the church -- though they weren't often paid for it.
So he told me to be a reporter, to marry, to have children and enjoy it all. I did and I do. And I married a man who gives the same advice to our daughters.
-- Sarah Booth Conroy