Stuff My Dad Told Me

September 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm 1 comment

   Note: September 6th marks both the Labor Day holiday and what would have been my father’s 90th birthday. I dedicate this posting to his memory.

There I am, a fifty-something woman, sitting in my eighty-something father’s living room, as we commiserate about our mutual hot flashes. Mine arise from mid-life changes and his from hormone therapy for elevated PSA levels, but this is still not a scenario I would have ever predicted in decades past. I wasn’t, in my very early years, much inclined to imagine scenarios of any kind. I did, however, ask a lot of questions.

As a highly inquisitive kid, I had been born into the right family. My father was a well-read, well-educated guy with experience in many areas of work and life, always able and willing to help me come up with answers to that endless flow of queries. 

In the late 1980s, I started a Father’s day tradition of recounting remembered paternal homilies from my youth. Dad claimed no recollection of having shared many of these bits of advice. Funny; they stuck in my mind like bubble gum to the underside of a schoolroom desk.

Following is a small, paraphrased sampling of those “sticky” bits of wisdom, on subjects ranging from grammar to etiquette to mental hygiene. 

Language use… 

-The word “height” ends in a hard “t,” not a“th” sound – a common pronunciation error, probably related to the fact that “width” ends in “t-h” and we associate the two words. 

-There’s a memory trick for discerning between “affect” and “effect”: a-ffect is almost always a verb. 

-Be aware of the common misuse of the term “verbal” when the speaker actually means “oral.” All communication with words is verbal (verbal: Of, relating to, or associated with words), but when words are spoken, they become oral communication. A verbal contract, then, can be either written or spoken while an oral agreement has no paper behind it. 

-Note that there is a difference between “fewer” (as in number of items) and “less” (as in volume). I may have fewer French fries on my plate than you do, but you have much less Pepsi in your glass. 

-Because the words “mine” and “have” are both possessive, the phrase “I have a friend of mine” is redundant. Very redundant. 

-Overuse superlatives and you end up sounding phony and depleting your descriptions of meaning, like when I call every thoughtless driver a supreme idiot…but wait; that’s a bad example. Like when everything that’s kinda’ cool gets labeled “awesome” or “fabulous,” and that pronouncement eventually induces yawns instead of impressed gasps. 

-The speaker implies, the listener infers. 

In the work place… 

-The staunch individualist will find his career better served if he flexes a bit. Don’t, for example, vehemently insist on wearing white socks if your boss finds them grossly unprofessional. 

-On the other hand, the mediocre conform reflexively, rather than by choice, like a wet towel tossed onto a stool. 

Health and well-being… 

-For stomach distress, lay in bed, face down, with a pillow under your midsection. 

-If you can’t sleep, imagine that your body and limbs are encased in concrete and being pulled by gravity deep into the mattress. 

-Still can’t sleep? Try blocking out stimulating thoughts by substituting and repeating some neutral phrase, like “blank wall, blank wall,” and then picture the image of a blank wall (or even the graphic image of the words “blank wall”) in your mind’s eye. This exercise, I later read, occupies both sides of the brain so that one doesn’t remain stimulated while the other is trying to shut down for sleep.


-As both a courtesy to the main lane drivers and a safety measure, don’t radically reduce your speed until you have entered an exit lane. 

-If the driver in front of you has to back up to correct overshooting an intersection at a stop light, watch their backup lights to make sure they remember to put the car back into “drive” from “reverse.” Be ready to toot your horn if they haven’t. Of course, these days he’d probably just run the red light. 

-Visually scan a four-way stop as you are approaching it. This avoids last minute disorder and the possible inciting of road-rage should you guess wrong based on insufficient information. 

-Don’t apply your blinker to signal a lane change until you have actually looked to ensure that the path is clear. Signaling first can cause panic or confusion in the driver coming up beside you. 

-If you notice you are exceeding the speed limit at the same moment you spot a patrol car nearby, ease up very gently on the accelerator. If you decelerate abruptly, you’ll produce a puff of exhaust that might as well be a smoke signal for – dare I utter the expression – “speeding.” No one reading this, I presume, will ever have any use for this information. 

At the table… 

-In these days of plastic flatware wrapped in cellophane, our dining out experiences are far different than in the 60s, when they tended to be special occasion affairs. Still, if you should come across a formal place setting with multiple utensils, you’re pretty safe if you start at the outside and work your way in toward the plate, course by course. 

-Reserve a crust of bread or biscuit for the end of the meal, when you can use it to nudge that last dab of casserole or few niblets of corn onto your fork, rather than chasing them all over the plate. 

-Pour milk on cereal before sprinkling on the sugar, so the sugar will adhere to the cereal and not form a disgusting, gummy layer on the bottom of the bowl. 

Around the house… 

-Load silverware into the dishwasher in “shuffled” groups so that spoons don’t snuggle up to spoons and forks don’t snuggle up to forks, which prevents the conformed surfaces from getting clean. 

-When cooking, keep pan handles turned toward the back of the stove to prevent accidental bumping and possible scalding spills. 

-Cut homemade French fries into equal sizes for even cooking and keep the raw, cut potatoes fresh by soaking them in ice water until frying time. Needless to say, dry each piece very well on paper towels before cooking to avoid setting the hot oil a-sputter. 


-Keep your kids’ brains in gear over summer vacation by handing out weekly assignments. For example, one week Dad would assign learning the state capitols and another, the current cabinet members. He also taught us visualizing memory tricks to aid our efforts. To this day, I remember that C. Douglas Dillon was Secretary of the Treasury in 1961 because I still picture Sheriff Matt Dillon sitting in the jail house with his feet on his desk, counting out money. 

-My college GPA climbed up to a 4.0 once I put Dad’s recommendation of the SR3 approach into practice: survey the material, making a mental note of key themes; then read the material carefully – highlighting, making notes, or outlining significant facts; next recite out loud those points you need to commit to memory; and finally, review your material one more time. 

Personal growth… 

-The only way to get anywhere is to put one foot in front of the other. 

-You’ll find it a lot easier to turn away from habits you are trying to leave behind if you find something that really engrosses you, something you can get mentally lost in, and immerse yourself in it as a painless distraction. 

-Don’t say, “I should have,” say, “Next time I will…” Don’t say, “I can’t,” say, “I haven’t yet learned how to…” 

-There is no profit in resentment. There is however always a cost, usually at both ends. 


-Starting with your first pay check, put a set amount of money into savings each month, no matter how small. The important thing is to establish the habit, and set a pattern for life. If you wait until you can “afford” to save, it will likely never happen. How many of us would like to turn back that clock? 

But in lieu of reversing the eternal clock – which is surely better left to its forward progression – we can share glimpses into our own personal treasure vaults of quirky reminiscences. Please do open yours, too. There is a “comments” box right below this last sentence. It would be awesome to hear from you!

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Joan Leffler  |  September 7, 2010 at 1:08 am

    What a wonderful tribute. If Bill were with us today, I know that at 90 he would still be as sharp, engaging, and full of wisdom laced with wit and irony as he was all through his life. Happy 90th, Bill! You will always be lovingly remembered.


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