A father’s advice: part one

Dad and me, c. 1967

by Dave Williams

Today I have some words of advice for my sons and theirs. We dads are very good at this. Even if the advice is sometimes nonsense we never stop spewing warnings, admonitions, analogies, metaphors and stories that begin with, “When I was your age…”

My own dad was a master of the art. He’s been gone for several years now but every day of my life things happen that remind me of something he said or did largely created the better parts of the man I am today. I still seek his advice and he still delivers.

Whenever I am faced with a perplexing decision I only have to ask myself, “What would Dad tell you?” The answer comes to me in a flash.

Jeremy and me camping c. 1986

It works very well the other way around, too. Sometimes I have a dilemma that just can’t be sorted out by weighing the pros and cons of alternative actions or decisions. If I simply ask myself, “What would you tell Jeremy or Nathan to do?” I get my answer immediately with clarity and confidence.

These wise tricks of fatherhood are excellent tools and I highly recommend them. They almost always work.

Almost.

So, the first piece of advice I must give my sons is: have faith in your wisdom but embrace your honest ignorance. There’s no shame in it.

Repeat after me now the three little words that are the most powerful item in a father’s bag of tricks:

“I don’t know.”

Say it again, fearlessly, as if you mean it this time.

“I don’t know.”

The more you say it the easier it becomes but you also must understand that these words should never be used except in sincerity. Your eternal responsibility to your children requires that you make every effort to help them find their way through life’s labyrinth. You, of course, are still finding your own way through the maze and sometimes they will encounter an intersection you’ve not seen. So, again with feeling, please:

“I don’t know.”

It’s getting kind of warm and charming, isn’t it? Maybe later we can address the other three words you need in your toolkit which require much greater skill and caution:

“Ask your mother.”

Post Script: After she read this my wife, the lovely and feisty CarolAnn Conley-Williams said, “You need to add the other three words that are the most important of all: ‘I love you.'” I replied, “That’s obvious.” She said, “No, it’s not. Many fathers can’t or won’t say it.”

She’s right, of course. I didn’t think of it because we Williams dads have no problem with it at all. You can read her comment below.

What’s my printer doing?

“…one giant leap for mankind.”

Our world is filled with technological wonders.

I have a device that fits in my hand and pocket and contains immediate access to all the discoveries, written histories and cultural achievements in the history of humanity.

Think about that for a second. It’s staggering.

We’ve landed men on the moon and robots on Mars. Modern medicine is on the verge of curing and preventing Alzheimer’s, cancer and genetic causes of heart disease.

But my home office printer is a spaz.

Peruvian folk dancers

I have a powerful desktop computer that will whisk me off to faraway lands to enjoy the music and dancing of foreign cultures as they are actually happening. I can learn a new language and how to build or repair a house.

I can see and talk with friends I haven’t contacted in decades.

But my printer, a mere three feet away, can’t print a single page of text without sounding alarms and screaming out error messages. Each time it does we have to do a dance, my printer and I.

Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith and “The Robot”

A few minutes ago I set the dance into motion by rebooting the printer, as usual. It has been clicking, clunking, whirring and spitting out blank pieces of paper since I started writing this. It shakes and clatters frantically, reminding me of the flailing arms of the robot in the original Lost In Space TV series of the sixties.

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

The app in the computer that contains my text source is ready to rock and roll, but the chunk of plastic next to me – which regularly reminds me I need to buy a new yellow cartridge to continue printing black ink – is still groaning and wheezing like a garbage truck.

What the hell is it doing?

I don’t fear guns made with 3D printers but I’m not in any hurry to get a heart from one, either.

Life at 67

Photo by Eddi Aguirre, Unsplash

I have a confession: I hear the clock.

I just turned 67. I feel fine, just got a clean bill of health in my annual checkup. I’m mentally alert and a whole lot wiser than I’ve ever been before.

But now I hear the steady tick-tick-tick I never noticed until quite recently.

The older I get the more excited I become by the life all around me. After fifty years of chasing career goals I’m close enough to the finish line now that I’m free of constant pressure to keep moving. I can sit down and look back with satisfaction. I can glance ahead with few wants and no expectations.

I enjoy my work more than ever because I’m not trying to go someplace else.

We’re always told to live in the present but you can’t get there until you get there.

Now I really do smell the coffee and the roses. I’m learning to let go of the nonsense and enjoy what’s left.

CarolAnn and I share the little things in our lives with more joy than ever. I’m embarrassed to admit I find myself paying the kind of detailed attention to our dogs that I should have paid to our kids when they were little. I tried, I really did, but there was always the background hum of things that needed to be achieved away from home. Now that’s finally gone.

I wish my boys could be boys again. They’d have more of me than I gave them 30 years ago. Still, they love me and they get it. I just didn’t know any better. I was being who I had to be at the time.

“Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there’s nothing I can do about it now.” – Song written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, sung by Willie Nelson

But now there’s that damned clock. It doesn’t bother me because I fear death, it bothers me because I have so much I want to do yet and I sort of kick myself for not getting up to speed before now.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, what difference would it make? Each achievement would have simply brought a new idea. I’ll never finish as long as I can find things to excite me. I get that and I’m grateful.

None of us know how much time is left on the clock. When it stops we’ll be right in the middle of something important. So, here’s what I think:

At 67 achieving goals is less important than having them.

 

Dog Days of Summer

by Dave Williams

(Originally published in 2009. Hey, I’m only plagiarizing myself.)

When I was a kid we didn’t have air conditioning, just a swamp cooler. On really hot days I just laid on the cold tile floor under that fan and panted like my dog, Rusty. I always figured that’s where the term “dog days of summer” came from: dogs that just lie around and pant in the heat.

As  much sense as that might make, I looked it up and here’s the deal:

The Ancient Romans called it caniculares dies (days of the dogs.) It arose from the notion that Sirius, the dog star, was angry this time of year and caused the Earth to get very hot. To appease the star’s rage the Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of Dog Days.

No, I don’t know why it had to be a brown dog.

The Romans, of course, thought nothing of committing carnage upon any creature that moved if it might be even remotely possible that a good screeching, bloody sacrifice would serve some useful or noble purpose.

This is why the Ancient Greeks were considered the brains of the outfit.

Sunrise and old men at McDonalds

by Dave Williams

Sunrise at McDonalds. Burkburnett, Texas.

You see them in every city and country village. As sure as the birdsong of morning sunrise brings old men to McDonalds restaurants all across America.

Before he passed away my dad was one of them. Most mornings he’d get on his bicycle at daybreak or hop into his old truck if the weather was bad and travel about a quarter mile to the nearest McDonalds. His buddies arrived about the same time and together they would grab a bite and drink coffee while solving the world’s problems for an hour or two.

That’s what Dad told me, “We drink coffee and solve the world’s problems.”

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
— Mark Twain

If you know me at all you know I have a deep respect and love for old people. I’ve been that way since I was a child and asked my grandparents to tell me about their lives when they were young. Most of the time I got a quick smile and a dismissive comment like, “Oh, that was a long time ago. It don’t mean anything now. Go play.” Occasionally I’d get just a tidbit of information like, “We didn’t have TV” or “We didn’t have money for toys”. That’s not what I was asking but I got the idea they didn’t want to talk about it so I left the room to play.

I’ve written often about how old  people are overlooked and disrespected these days but as I get older myself, a month away from 67 as I write this, I’m beginning to understand there’s more to it. Sometimes old people just seem to lose the need or desire to be heard. I shouldn’t assume their silence is a sorrowful response to being ignored. Sometimes they’re just satisfied to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Solving the world’s problems.

A couple of days ago at work a colleague in her late thirties said something to me about how America has changed for the worse since her childhood. She’s entering the age of nostalgia, I guess. I was about to just agree but instead I told her, “Maybe, but I’m not so sure things were all that great 60 years ago when I was a kid. They were probably bad in different ways. Things are a mess now, that’s for sure, but I have faith in my grandsons. They’ll fix the problems we’re handing to them while they create new ones.”

My colleague gave me a look I gratefully accepted as a sign of respect. So, I added:

“The nice thing about being my age is I don’t think these are my problems anymore. I did what I could to make the world better. I tried to help. Now I’m retiring from all of that.”

She smiled and said, “Must be nice.”

“It is,” I assured her. “You’ll get there but not yet. If you retire from all that stuff now it’s just giving up.”

This is another reason people don’t talk to old men, except other old men.

We get philosophical.

Perspective

by Dave Williams

Listen here:

About eight o’clock this morning at work I went to the men’s room and ran into the custodian doing his job.

We’ve smiled and howdied in passing before and we’ve never swapped names or had any conversation but this morning I asked, “How are you?”

He said, “Great! It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
He was cleaning urinals at the time.
I would guess he’s making minimum wage. This is a five story office building so I guess he spends his whole day cleaning toilets, wiping down counter tops and mopping restroom floors.
But it’s a beautiful day and he’s great.
That  made my day. How’s yours?

2006: Isaiah says Grace

by Dave Williams

“Nana, can I pray?”

“You mean you want to say Grace?” Nana and I are both surprised but try not to show it.

“Uh-huh. Like at school.”

“Sure, Honey.”

Isaiah goes to a Christian preschool so the fact that he’s used to a blessing at mealtime doesn’t surprise me but this is the first time he has offered it at home. Normally we don’t pray over meals, except at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter family gatherings but it’s nice. I like this new wrinkle to the developing man who is still our four-year-old grandson.

We all bow our heads and Isaiah begins:

“Thanks for the food we eat….um…the good food and, and…thank you for this beautiful day and….ummm….”

Isaiah has clearly been properly coached in the manners of Grace but he’s momentarily stuck for a big finish. I know the feeling.

“And….and….bless Nana and Grandpa and Daddy,” he continues, gathering steam, “And please make things grow and make things green and make Paige’s mom feel better and make Angela’s dog come back and make Nana’s bottom better! AMEN!”

I think Nana managed to mutter “Amen,” before her head snapped up and I started snickering.

“What did you say about Nana?” she asked with forced and admirable restraint.

He apparently thought she was hard of hearing so he answered very loudly, “I SAID MAKE NANA’S BOTTOM BETTER!”

Wise Grandpa and veteran husband that I am, I try to change the subject.

“Did Angela’s dog get lost?” I asked him.

“Yeah, he ran away.”

“And Paige’s mom is sick?”

“Uh-huh.”

Isaiah’s interest in explaining his prayer was fading quickly. I couldn’t drag it out any longer but I did fight back most of the grin as I asked my wife, “Honey, what’s wrong with your bottom?”

“He knows I fell on the stairs months ago. That’s what he’s talking about.” As she said this I clearly saw for the first time the look on a person’s face always described as “chagrined.”

A thought struck me.

“Isaiah,” I said, “Did you say that same prayer at school today?”

“YES!” he shouted proudly.

And then Nana bowed her head in prayer again.

God bless you, Tom Hanks

By Dave Williams

My youngest grandson called last evening. He was so excited and so am I.

Tyler Williams has achieved a thrill that eluded me when I was his age; his hero has made amends for mine.

Here’s the story:

Tom & Tyler

A few nights ago my son and daughter-in-law took their son, Tyler, to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV starring Tom Hanks. Though he’s only 13 Tyler loves Tom Hanks. He told me he’s been a big fan of Tom Hanks his entire life!

Well… since he was three.

While looking around before the show a stagehand apparently asked him if he was a Shakespeare fan, or words to that effect, and Tyler said yes, but mostly he’s a Tom Hanks fan.

The guy said maybe he could arrange for Tyler to meet Tom Hanks after the show.  You can’t imagine how excited my grandson was.

And you also can’t imagine how disappointed he was when the show ended and they couldn’t find that stagehand. Tyler and his parents headed toward the parking lot but then the miracle happened:

A large, black SUV pulled up alongside my family. The driver rolled down the window and said, “Hey, Kid! Did you like the show?”

Tom Hanks had found him.

Tyler was over the moon!

They talked for a few minutes. Tyler told his superstar hero that he, too, was an actor. Tom told him to keep practicing and offered some funny suggestions about how to enunciate properly.

A personal autograph followed and then, a big hug.

Tyler will be walking on that cloud his entire life. And how much time did it take Tom Hanks to give a kid a thrill and maybe some lifelong inspiration?

Hanks hug

Five minutes, maybe.

When I was about Tyler’s age I had a chance to talk to my hero, too. I was the only kid there when Willie Mays left the San Francisco Giants clubhouse following a game.

“Mr. Mays,” I stammered breathlessly, “will you sign my glove?”

I looked at him as if he was a god. But he didn’t look at me, not even a glance. He ignored me as if I didn’t exist. Without breaking stride he walked straight to his car.

It took me a lot of years to forgive Willie for my crushing disappointment. As I got older I did forgive him but I never forgot the pain of thinking my hero was not a nice man. It shattered my feelings for him.

But now, more than 50 years later Tom Hanks has made up for it.

I guess you could argue that I learned a valuable lesson that day so many years ago. Maybe. All I know is it hurt real bad and some of that stayed with me for decades.

Tyler will never feel that way.

God bless you, Tom Hanks.

 

Above is the program that Tom Hanks autographed for Tyler. Kinda hard to read here. It says, “Tyler, speak the speech. – T. Hanks” It’s a line from Hamlet in which Shakespeare tells actors to speak as real people do, not with florid exagerration as actors frequently do, especially while reciting his works. That’s my interpretation, at least. It is an amazing gift from a wonderful actor to a greatful young fan.

My favorite corner

I have an office in our home that was originally a guest room. After we’d lived here for a couple of years it had only hosted two guests so CarolAnn decided I should put it to daily use. If anyone else comes to visit we’ll cross that bridge.

my favorite corner

My room has family pictures on the walls and one very special photo in its original 67-year-old cardboard frame parked weirdly in a desk paper organizer. We’ll get a frame for it sooner or later. For now I get a warm, secure feeling from having my dad and mom smiling at me as I sit at my computer still trying to make something of my future.

They’d like that future planning, even at my age. They taught it to me.

Don & Nancy Williams
August 6, 1950

It’s their wedding picture, taken August 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later. As a young child unacquainted with the social implications of the times I always proudly told people I was born the same day they got married.

Our 30th year together

The Valentine’s Day card is from my CarolAnn from this past February as we started our 30th year together. It’s one of those just-perfect cards that seems like it was written specifically for the two of us. It allows me to be with her even when I’m alone in my room.

The smaller photo is our youngest grandson Tyler in a Christmas pose from a couple of years ago. He reminds me of why I want to keep learning and growing.

Tyler Goold Williams

Oh, and the Snow White lamp? It used to reside in our Disney themed room in Southern California. We don’t have one of those here so it stays with me. I love the warm light, the bright colors and the constant reminder that we’ve invested a good portion of our time and fortune to the Disney Corporation. We feel it has been time and money well spent.

I love our home, every bit of it, but this is my favorite corner. It’s a snapshot of a small piece of my happy life.

 

Survival

The world can be a brutal place especially for the very young and helpless. Occasionally such a life is delivered to us. We do what we can.

 

This baby bunny was taken from its nest in our yard by one of our beloved pets, probably Cora, the cat.

Cora is a predator. She can’t help it, she’s a cat.

 

There were two babies to begin with. One was convinced to drink kitten formula in CarolAnn’s hands. In this very short video you can hear us cooing and worrying as if we were its parents.

When the feeding was finished the babies were put in a soft bed we made in a small box. The box was placed in our backyard flower garden with hope that the mother rabbit would retrieve them during the night. She did not. By the following morning one had died. CarolAnn took the other to a professional wildlife rescuer who specializes in rabbits.

Seems like a lot of effort to save a tiny wild animal, doesn’t it? Especially by people who routinely celebrate when our pets kill a rat in the same yard.

I can’t make sense of that. I just know I’m still worried about that bunny.