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.

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.

Photographic Treasure

This is the only picture I have of my entire family together. (I’m not in it because I was holding the camera.)

I’d like to say my family always looked this happy but that wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be true of any family. Old photos allow us to keep and embellish the good times when everyone was smiling because we were all really happy together, at least in that moment.

My old pictures invoke a nice warm feeling of a time when life was less complicated and when my family was together for everything including mealtimes at the table, visits with our relatives and family vacations.

This was our family vacation in McCann, Northern California, along the Eel River in August of 1964. We were there for a week which included my 13th birthday. My parents gave me a stamp collecting album and a wonderful variety pack of international postage stamps to study, sort and paste.

I also got a new, official National League baseball which my dad and I tossed back and forth for hours that week right in the middle of the dirt road outside our cabin’s front door.

McCann  was already a ghost town when we were there.

It was smack dab in the middle of no place, Humboldt County. It had been a stage coach station in 1881 and a post office soon after. It tried to be a town but stumbled and failed in the thirties and forties. By the time we got there in ’64 there were no living businesses, just the dirty old windows of store fronts that had been abandoned decades earlier.

As I remember it we were there for an entire week without seeing another soul. The only traffic we saw and heard were the Northwestern Pacific freight trains that rumbled and shrieked just a few feet past our cabin in the middle of each night. When that happened we all woke up and giggled in the dark, not just us kids, our parents too.

We had no TV in that cabin and couldn’t even get a radio signal. I know because I tried. Instead we just played together. We hiked down a steep river bank to get to the water’s edge. I held my little brother’s hand as we waded into the Eel. I held onto the blowup raft with my little sister aboard and grinning from ear to ear.

Dad and I fished with salmon eggs for bait and I saw beavers playing in the water not far from the lodge they had built from the branches of young fir and redwood trees along the shore.

My mom burned my birthday cake trying to bake it in an ancient wood burning oven in the cabin. It was edible, just toasty, and I loved it because it was mine and Mom made it for me.

On my birthday I wrote a note to the future, shoved it into an empty tin can and stuck it deep inside a hollowed chunk of a tree that was still very much alive. I imagined that the tree would grow over that hole and preserve my message. Someday, I thought, someone would cut that tree down and find my hello from the past.

Wouldn’t it be something if it was found now, in the 21st century?

I remember all of that from one picture taken 55 years ago. I probably have a lot of it wrong. I just remember it as I wish to.

This picture makes me happy.

Nothing special

This morning I took my almost-four-years-old grandson to school.

His parents are out of town and though he spent the night with his maternal grandparents they both leave for work very early. So, I had the pleasure of driving to their home at 4:30AM and being on hand when Tyler awoke around 7:00.

He was very pleased to see me.

“Oh, yeah!”

Still wiping the sleep from his eyes he suddenly remembered that I would be here for him this morning. He flashed a drowsy grin and ran to me, bare feet slapping the wood floor, his favorite soft baby blanket slung over one arm. His arms went up as mine went down and I lifted him high over my head. We hugged and smiled as is our habit and standard greeting.

I guess he thinks I’m sort of special and for that great honor I know he is right.

At first I just sat on the couch and held him on my lap, allowing him to wake up gently.

I don’t like brisk, lively beginnings to a day. I like slow, quiet starts and I think Tyler does, too. At least this morning he did. I held him in my big, bear-like grandpa arms and spoke to him softly.

“Did you sleep good?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you ready for a great day?”

“Yeah!”

We talked like that for maybe ten minutes, me asking leading questions designed to put him in a happy frame of mind, him responding affirmatively and with increasing animation. Finally, we decided it was time to get dressed and off to school with a stop at McDonalds for breakfast.

And that’s the way my day began. No big deal and yet quite remarkable.

As I look back on nearly sixty years of life I am always amazed at how little of it I remember with any degree of detail or certainty. I remember the big things but not much of the ordinary and that just makes sense, really.

On a cold, dazzling-bright February morning Tyler and I ate eggs and sausage at McDonalds surrounded by old men in ballcaps sipping coffee and solving the world’s problems.

He’s not going to remember this.

I will never forget it.