To honor my father on his birthday, I’ve collected some of his best advice to share with the online world. He’s a smart guy; take heed.
“He who hasn’t traveled has seen but one page of the book.”
Actually, I think he stole this from St. Augustine, but it’s still true and he says it on a regular basis.
A related piece of advice, “Get to the airport two hours early. Consider three hours if it’s an international flight.”
This might seem excessive, but I’ve almost never felt nervous about missing a flight and if you have loads of extra time, that’s just more time for cocktails. Plus, if there’s a problem with your flight, you’re first in line to fix things.
“A credit card is a convenience, not a way to borrow money.”
Dad is huge on personal financial responsibility, and I’ve been paranoid about paying my credit cards immediately since I was in grad school. I hear some horror stories, and I’m grateful Dad drilled this one into my brain from the beginning.
“The key to happiness is to find something you love doing and then trick someone into paying you to do it.”
Personally, I’m still working on this. But all the evidence shows he’s 100% accurate.
“When you’re anxious about doing something, just act like you know what you’re doing and no one will bother you.”
Fake it til you make it, basically.
“Have a firm handshake. No one likes shaking hands with a dead fish.”
Again, this is completely true. If someone has a weak handshake, I make snap judgements immediately about their character.
“You’re thinking about this too much. You can’t let stuff gunk you up.”
Dad didn’t have the easiest childhood, but he’s some how flourished into a successful and loving adult. I suspect he accomplished this by always looking forward and keeping a good attitude and refusing to dwell on the unhappy parts.
“Keep the Triple A. You will never regret having Triple A, but you will definitely regret not having it.”
Thanks to my last year with my Jetta, I can attest to the truthiness of this statement.
“And be KIND to each other.”
He stole this from a priest who finished every mass by booming this expression with relish at his congregation. Dad likes to say it when people are starting to snipe at each other, but I think he generally thinks we should be all practice kindness all the time.
“Always fill the gas tank at the three quarters empty mark.”
I’ve tested this one, and I’ve learned the wisdom. You always think you’ll find a gas station on a road trip, but then you’re sweating it when you travel a long expanse of country highway and your gas gauge is slipping closer to the bottom.
“It’s important to show up. People remember who goes to weddings and funerals. You have to make the effort to see people.”
This speaks to Dad’s value for family and friends. All vacations and holiday travel for us revolved around visiting people. You’ve got to see people or you drift. It can be a sacrifice in some ways, but it’s better for your heart in others.
And one more to round us out today…. “Big dogs make big poops.”
This is why we always had small dogs growing up. Just as loyal, but with less waste. My current dog weighs 9 pounds, and her poops are tinier than chicken nuggets.
This certainly doesn’t contain all the wisdom of Dad, but it’s a good sampling. Hope it’s another great year, Dad! Let the advice continue!
Earlier this summer, Dad said he wanted to read a book from each of my bookshelves as a kind of tour through my literary interests. We started with the “Road Trip” shelf, and I chose the classic Newbery Award winner A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Yeah, Madeline L’Engle has the balls to start her book that way.
Meg Murry doesn’t quite fit in, and her younger brother Charles Wallace is a child prodigy who doesn’t talk to most people. Between the two of them, they don’t get out much. They live with their brilliant scientist mother and their popular twin brothers, but their father has mysteriously vanished while doing his job. Charles Wallace might be more social than Meg realizes, though, because he’s made friends with some dotty ladies that live in the woods. One day, they whisk Meg, CW, and Calvin (a guy from school) through a wormhole with the intent of stopping a dark force from taking over the universe. Meg must show her intelligence and courage as she battles the treacherous IT and tries to keep her baby brother from succumbing to his darker nature.
Chances are you read this in middle school. I know I did, and I drew a picture of the Happy Medium for reasons I cannot entirely remember. It’s a favorite of librarians and regarded as one of the best books for children ever written.
Here’s what Dad has to say: (Spoiler warning here- Dad comments on the ending)
I finished A Wrinkle in Time today. Here are my thoughts. Basically a good story. The first half was slow but the second half of the book picked up in the action department. I think the place called Camazotz was a take off on “Camelot”, where everything was supposedly peaceful and wonderful. I also thought the ending was a little weak in how easy it was for Meg to overcome IT with just a little love. IT appeared to be much more formidable than that. As a side note, I think you can write as well as Ms Madeline and it would be fun to see you take on a magical story topic to challenge your imagination.
So there you have it– Dad’s not convinced that Love Conquering All is a compelling ending, and he thinks I’m good enough to take on Madeline L’Engle. While I’m obviously flattered my father thinks so highly of my writing skills, I wonder if love might be clouding his judgement. Just a little bit.
I spoke with him on the phone tonight about the book and he basically reiterated the same points, and his opinion seems to come down to the ending. He thought it was pretty weak sauce that Meg just had to say “I Love You” and everything was cool. I argued that the point is that love is the most powerful force in the universe. Dad said if love was enough, it doesn’t explain why their father was trapped for so long because it’s not like he didn’t love his family. Dad makes a fair point. He also said he didn’t get the acclaim and he thought Harry Potter was miles better. I could almost hear my mother in the background wincing.
Next time: Dad will have to Think Greek on my mythology shelf. We’ll see how he does with Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief.
This post will be cross-posted on my book blog, The Bibliotherapist.
Dad’s pretty smart: two masters degrees, virtual assassin in Words With Friends/Scrabble, and former engineer. Unlike the three women in his life, he’s not a voracious reader. He’s most likely to read something in which a government agent gets involved with a conspiracy theory and teams up with a smart and cute specialist to take down bureaucratic evil. He does read this blog, however, and he recently commented that he wanted to read one book from each of my shelves from my office reorganization project. Dad’s life goal was to visit all of the continents. Now that he’s finished, his new goal is to visit all of my bookshelves. I’m flattered.
I’ve done the math: with my two big office bookcases and a couple of others in my apartment, I have 17 total shelves. (I know, Dad, I originally said 14 but that was just an estimate and I was wrong.) So I have 17 opportunities to share my favorite books with my Dad.
Some shelves will be harder than others; I’m particularly thinking of my princess themed shelf. I just don’t know that Dad will appreciate Princess Mia. My goal is to choose books out of his comfort zone that he might actually like, though it is tempting to make him read something really complicated and dense, like As I Lay Dying. for my own twisted amusement.
As he finishes each book. we’ll have a conversation about it and I’ll post the results here.
First shelf: The Road Trip Books.
There’s a couple of good options here to get him hooked. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman has the kind of mild mannered but destined for greatness hero that Dad likes, but the fantasy element might be too much for him. I could also make him embrace Maureen Johnson on this shelf, but I might save her Jack the Ripper book for that purpose. John Green is represented here too, and that’s pretty tempting.
Ultimately, it came down to A Wrinkle in Time or The Phantom Tollbooth, two books from middle school with some fantastical elements. I finally decided on a A Wrinkle in Time because I think he’ll like the adventure and I want him to read something with a female protagonist.
I’ll give him the book this weekend and report back once he finishes; my guess is that he’ll have something amusing to say, so stay tuned.
When I was in middle school, I fancied myself an aspiring poet. Instead of gently pushing me toward other more lucrative career choices, Dad bought me an album to collect my poems. I wrote them on all on different kinds of paper, you see, and he wanted to make sure that I kept them all together. He read all the poems and complimented all of them and always asked me, “What did you write today?” Though I’ve moved on from poetry (let’s all be thankful), Dad still always asks me what I’m writing. It’s just one of the great things about him; he’s always supportive and always encouraging of creativity.
Today, Dad, I’m writing about you.
Dad has a sentimental heart, but I know he likes lighter fare better than sappy tributes. In that spirit, I’ve collected and defined some of Dad’s most often used and most amusing expressions (with the help of my charming older sister A). Feel free to adopt these for yourself– you’d be in good company.
Later than skunks Usually said in a cartoonish voice and with a fake startle reaction. You might guess that he says this when he is running late, but only when he’s not really upset about being late. If he’s really upset, he paces in the kitchen and checks his keys and yells, “COME ON, MARSH. WE GOT TO GO.” (“Marsh” would be my mother. She’s more likely to be tardy.) I googled this expression and I can’t find it online. Congratulations, Dad, you are an original.
Let’s blow this taco stand. You probably know this one- it means, “let’s leave.” Why it’s a taco stand, I can’t be sure. I looked around online, and it might reference an obscure 70s song, a Mork & Mindy episode, or it may just be an alternate for, “let’s blow this joint.” I think it’s probably the last one. Dad went through a phase when he had to change all of his favorite expletives and expressions because my sister was repeating them in context and that didn’t fly at her preschool. Which brings us to….
Manischewitz! (man-ih-shev-itz) Dad uses this in moments of frustration, and it’s usually hissed under his breath. I believe it’s a replacement for “mother effer,” only that “effer” would be more explicit. As to why he chose a Jewish wine, it has something to do with the Polish community he grew up in, but none of them were Jewish so I still don’t totally understand. While we’re on the subject of being Polish, he also likes to say…
Don’t be such a dupayosh (spelling??) When I was little, Dad tossed this one off to my sister and me when we were acting like brats. He told us it was Polish for “ass” and his old aunts would say this to him when he was acting up as a child. When I got to college, I gleefully told a friend from Poland about this. He gave me a confused look and said, “Is you dad’s name John? Because that means, ‘John is a pain in the ass’.” John is my dad’s name, as it turns out.
Bummeruski You may have guessed that we’re a Polish family by now. As such, we like to add “ski” to many common words when talking to small children. “Helloski!” and “Oh No-ski!” are favorites with my nephew. “Bummeruski” is the original example of this practice, and my dad uses it with people of all ages to describe a variety of situations ranging from an emergency vet visit to a broken glass.
I’ll give you a cox in the hoisin (again, spelling?) As I typed this one, I realized it sounds kind of dirty. But I’m confident the meaning is closer to, “I’ll tan your hide.” Actually, this also sounds bad. I want to be clear: my father was never ever abusive. This was more of an empty threat when one of us was being frustrating. Like, “Quit repeating the word ‘bambino’ or I’ll give you a cox in the hoisin.” I can’t begin to guess where this originated.
Let me see if I get this straight… A) yes, B) no… I rest my case. This is usually delivered with a sly, superior smile. Dad loves to use this one to win an argument or point out something he thinks is ridiculous. It’s his ultimate way of shutting you down because he takes away your gray area and gives you two choices: yes or no. If you try to say “yes, but…” or “no… but,” he’ll interrupt you and say, “Oh no… A) yes, B) no.” It goes something like this:
“So, let me see if I get this straight: you and you friends got together and decided to have a party in an abandoned house and you brought alcohol with you even though none of you are 21. A) yes, B) no.”
“Well, yes, but it’s not really abandoned and I didn’t–”
“Ah, ah, ah… I said A) yes, B)no. Which was it?”
(disgruntled and begrudging look) “A) yes.”
(arms folded over chest in triumph) “I rest my case.”
I’m beginning to get the picture and it’s not a very pretty one. Delivered in his best Sherlock Holmes voice, and it means you’re explaining a situation to him that is sounding worse and worse. He likes to use this when we escalate with him. You might start off telling him that you need help picking something up from the dry cleaner. Then once he has his keys, you tell him you also need some milk and eggs and special shampoo from the store. Once he writes down your list, you tell him to stop by the bank to get some cash. And this is about when he starts talking about the picture and what it’s really showing him.
Jim Dandy When you ask my mom how she is, she’ll answer honestly: “Tired,” “Oh, not great,” “Fine I guess.” My dad almost always answers “Jim Dandy.” Most people use this as a noun and it’s supposed to be old school slang for someone who’s very pleasing. Dad uses it as an adjective to mean basically the same thing. So I guess he’s always saying that he’s pleasing to everyone. Real modest, Dad.
Jee-man-eez This is another one that he uses in lieu of the curse word he actually wants to say. I don’t have any idea what this one actually means because it doesn’t sound like any curse words I know. I most often hear it during the holidays when my mom gives him an errand list or when he sees all the stuff he has to carry down from the attic.
Work! Said in a high pitched shrieky voice that you might also use when jumping away from a mouse. He likes to use this often since his retirement a few years ago, and it’s in the spirit of, “Oh, you have to work for a living? How horrifying!” He thinks it’s hilarious. And I also think he’s a little smug that he had to work all those years and now he doesn’t have to but everybody else does. It goes something like this:
Dad: How was your day?
Me: Okay, I guess. I just went to work.
It’s my belief system that… This is another favorite debate tool. I think it’s his way of softening his statements, like he’s making it clear that this is just what he thinks. There’s something very moral high groundy about it, though. Usually when he uses this he’s really saying, “Well, you’re a total idiot and I’m about to say something that sounds really simple and is way more logical that you can ever hope to be.”
I’m innocent! He says this whether he really is or not, so it’s hard to know when he’s being truthful. He usually says it while making the surrender gesture. Some things he might be “innocent” of: not putting more Diet Coke in the fridge after drinking the last one, breaking something while washing the dishes, or leaving the back door open and letting all the bugs in. He likes to use this one when he is falsely accused and he follows it up with some variation of, “That was lousy, Missy.” (“Missy” would be his nickname for my mom.)
If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. Used when he just said something outrageous. Dad is a good storyteller and he likes to tease, and he’s done enough strange things in his life that it’s often difficult to tell when he’s making stuff up. Sometimes we accuse him of fibbing about something particularly spectacular, and he’ll reply with this. My dad is a pretty honest guy, so when he says this, you know he’s not messing with you.
Dad: And then my friend drove his motorcycle down the hall.
Me: No way. Dad, you’re making that up.
Dad: If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin.
Happy Thanksgiving Day to you… You won’t understand why this is unusual until you realize that Dad sings this to the tune of “Happy Birthday” and he does it every Thanksgiving when he gets us out of bed. He loves Thanksgiving because he doesn’t have to buy anything or go any where and the point of the day is to eat with his family. He sings this song with gusto, and there is usually an accompanying dance.
Cat-as-trophe! Yelped when something only moderately bad happens. For example, one might drop a lightbulb or spill a glass of milk, and this would be the reaction. If a child falls and splits his or her lip, he wouldn’t yell this, but he would take said child outside to bleed on the concrete until my mom shows up to deal with it. True story.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. You really are the best guy I know and the best dad for me. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.