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.

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.

Great Minds

I don’t write as much as I used to. When I was young I was much smarter. Wisdom came to me so fast I couldn’t explain it all. But, over the years I’ve come to realize the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

Me, thinking deep thoughts.

That was an original thought when I thunk it. Nobody enlightened me. I had never heard or read anything like it. It was a brilliant and original epiphany. But now we have the Internet and ego crushing reality is just a search away.

A minute ago I typed “The more I learn…” into Google and here’s what popped up:

“The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the more you forget. The more you forget, the less you know. So why bother to learn? — George Bernard Shaw”

And…

“The more you know, the less you understand. — Lao-Tse”

And the real stunner…

“The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know. — Socrates”

Socrates had my original thought 2,400 years before I did and said it more crisply!

AND, in ancient Greek!

Socrates had nothing on me.

I suppose having an idea expressed by one of the great thinkers in history come to me all by itself is cool but there’s no point in my passing it along. It obviously occurs to everybody eventually.

Plus, if we all regurgitated every brilliantly mundane original thought we have what would become of the poor philosophy majors who have nothing else to do with their educations?

The other reason I don’t write much anymore is because Americans don’t read much anymore.

We Tweet. We text. We spend our days expressing every banal thought that crosses our mind in such a way that we don’t have to bother hearing or reading a response.

Maybe we don’t want response. We’re just spewin’.  Maybe we’re just trying to shut off the noise and hear ourselves think.

I could be wrong about this. Maybe, but how can I know?

I’ve learned so much, so fast, I’m rushing toward total ignorance.

Great Thinkers, Chapter 1: The Groz

The nice thing about growing older is growing wiser, of course, but sometimes we’re disappointed to learn that our epiphanies are not original.

“The more I learn the more I learn how little I know.” — Dave Williams, c. 2002

When I had that revelation I figured I was a genius. I thought it belonged in a book of quotations!

Every time I have thunk a great thought I soon learned that many other people with brains mightier than mine had the same thought long before me and they usually phrased it better.

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle, 350 B.C.

Socrates, who taught Plato who taught Aristotle. See how this works?

I still think we should take credit for our great thoughts. When an idea first occurs to us it marks our arrival at a new mile post in our life’s journey.

That’s significant no matter who arrived there first.

I’ve decided to honor my special friends and family members by noting the wise things they’ve told me that made a lasting impression, regardless of whether it was original to them or whether they heard or read it somewhere.

We are, after all, a combination of our life experiences and all the people we’ve loved and admired along the way.

In that spirit I will start here, with my dear friend and former colleague, Dave Grosby, who told me this when we were both young and single, shortly after my divorce in 1981.

I don’t remember where we were when Groz said this to me. I’m sure we were drinking hard and laughing our asses off. That’s how we rolled in the early 1980s.

But you know what? I never forgot it and it did guide me through seven years of my life as a newly single man.

Eventually this sage advice led me to Carolann, the love of my life, who treats waiters, babies and stray dogs with the same respect and dignity she still gives me.

Love you, Groz.

— Dave Williams, March 11, 2017