Dreams Of My Father’s Advice
One of the things y
ou lose when your dad dies, if you were lucky enough to have a present, involved dad in the first place, is Dad Advice. My dad was a lawyer. Like all lawyers, he loved to talk, and like all people who loved to talk, he couldn’t help telling people what to do. Sure, sometimes it was aggravating. Now that it’s gone, though, I miss it. It’s been over five years, and I have by no means outgrown my desire to call him and listen to him rattle on about water rights or ants or the Peloponnesian war, or to make me some out-of-the-blue offer.
Here are some of his pieces of ageless wisdom and suggestions, rated on a scale of 0 (pointless or detrimental) to 10 (more useful than Band-Aids):
+ Don’t take any wooden nickels. He used to say this to me as I headed out the door or into a new situation. He never explained what it meant. Something like, Be savvy. Don’t get duped. Keep your wits about you. Don’t assume everyone out there is on your side, means you well, and can be trusted. Maintain a healthy amount of skepticism.
Since I was allowed to ride the subway by myself pretty early, and we lived in a city, this was important. I wonder now, though, did he say this to my brothers or only to me, because I was the girl and seen as most likely to be taken advantage of?
You shouldn’t give out wooden nickels, either. That’s not nice.
+ If you’re going to get hit by a car, make sure it’s a Mercedes.
Hard to argue with that. I mean, ideally the driver should be insured to the hilt and feel horribly guilty too, but that’s hard to ascertain in advance.
+ Like this medieval Italian town? How about I sponsor you to live here and write for a couple of years instead of going to college?
My family took two vacations to Europe, both of which were amazing. We did a tour of Paleolithic caves in France and we did the Rome-Florence-Venice loop in Italy. While in Italy, our guide had us stop in a fairy tale-type place called Orvieto, where he ordered food for us, and because I didn’t have the heart to tell him I couldn’t eat what he got for me because I was vegetarian I just shut up and ate my homemade pasta with rabbit sauce. It was one of the most goddamn delicious things I’d ever had in my life.
Later, we wandered around town, dazed by beauty and protein, and as the sunlight bronzed the door of the thousand-year-old church my father put his arm around me and made me his offer. Wanna live here and write? I’ll support you. All you have to do in exchange is not go to college.
“Paul!” said my mother. “She’s going to college.”
“The offer stands,” said my father.
I’m not going to lie, I did agonize about it for a bit. Italy! Writing! Attending the School of Life! Then I did the typical thing and went to a four-year liberal arts college. I did not regret it except maybe once during senior year Honors exams. Those were rough.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’”
+ Never marry a short woman.
Apparently this was sardonic advice my father received from his father and passed onto me. It’s funny if you met my father’s mother, whose tiny old-world peasant feet were a size four-and-a-half or something and who had to shop in the children’s section. My grandpa hadn’t heeded the advice, in other words, and my father didn’t, either: my mother is 5’2″.
I always nodded when my father delivered himself of this sagacity, because I am only a couple of curls above 5’1″ and can understand how diminutive ladies are a nuisance. We need help to get things off of shelves, for example, and it’s not easy for us to change lightbulbs or move bookcases. If I married another short woman, we would only compound our misery. Instead I married a guy who was, luckily, never warned off of petite girls. I like how his chin feels on the top of my head.
+ How about I give you $10,000 in cash and instead of having a wedding you elope?
“Paul!” said my mother. “She’s having a wedding.”
“The offer stands,” said my father.
The two of them ended up spending much more than that on my wedding, so it would have been a great deal for him financially if I had said yes. It would also have broken his heart. Wedding planning became my parents’ shared obsession. It brought them together, it gave them a goal. Although they asked for my opinion sometimes, they would nod while I answered and then do whatever they wanted. It was clear that I was the equivalent of a board member: someone invested in the outcome who ought to be humored, but not a decision maker. They were the executives.
They spent a year planning everything and they did not make budget-conscious choices: tropical flower bouquets on every table; a many-tiered, many-colored cake; a videographer; a band. They fussed and stressed and complained and loved every minute of it. It was one of my dad’s last years. He was being treated for cancer at the time — not the cancer that killed him, a different one — and wedding planning was a perfect distraction. The wedding, too. When they pulled it off, when he was able to walk me down the aisle and dance with me during the hora despite his cane and his exhaustion, he was prouder than anyone.
He didn’t live to see either of my brothers wed, and he would have traded the experience of bringing the family together for one last joyful extravaganza before the funerals started for a lousy ten grand? Please.
He also taught me to carry cash and that, if you’re unsure whether to put coins in the meter, put coins in the meter. It’s true on its face, and, when you think about it, it’s also a metaphor for life. When in doubt, do.
Support The Billfold