My dad, Wally, was a very wise man. He had a nontraditional way of teaching me the important stuff. Here are a few of the most memorable lessons:
Don't wear sandals to the bar. Wally thought that the quickest way to get your ass kicked at a bar, was to show up wearing sandals. It wasn’t only that he thought sandals on a man displayed weakness; there was a real bar-brawl technique to worry about. “They’ll smash your feet first”, he assured me.
Always give a firm handshake. "What is that, a dead fish?” goes through my head almost every time I give a handshake. Wally never let you get away with a weak one. Dads have been preaching this forever, but my dad was neurotic about it.
"You don't wear pants to the oochie-coochie dance". Thanks for the "birds and the bees" talk, Dad.
Give flowers, randomly. I don’t know if there were problems in my parents’ marriage; there might of been. Maybe Wally misread "the oochie-coochie dance" scenario, and the flowers were penance. We went so many times to get my mom flowers; there is no way he screwed up that often. The takeaway for me: giving flowers to people in your life says, “Today is the best day, and I’m the luckiest person because you’re in my life.”
Don't ever get out of the car. No matter how much road-rage you feel, never get out of the car to confront someone. The other person getting out their car, is probably crazier than you. Unless you want to be on the evening news, stay in the car. Wally also thought the easiest way to get murdered was to flip someone the bird while driving.
"Keep your legs together when the grass is tall". Wally said this to me almost every time I was leaving home for an extended period of time. It was his colorful way of reminding me to always be careful while navigating uncertain terrain -- and to pack lots of underwear.
You only have one family. One summer day when I was 14 or 15, two friends of mine ratted out my little brother for (allegedly) taking a dollar out of a tip jar, at the tourist-trap ice cream joint next door. The story got back to Wally, and he went ballistic. I can still see him in a primal rage chasing my friends -- who were on a moped -- into the street. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever witnessed. As he was walking back (out of breath) he yelled at me, “Don’t ever choose those f---ing little sh--s over your brother!” I guess he thought I should’ve been the one chasing them into the street. He was probably right.
There are more indians than chiefs. According to Wally, that is why governments and societies eventually do the right thing. As back-woodsy as my father could seem to people, he was really a progressive -- except for that brief period of time when he thought Ross Perot was a good idea.
People deserve second chances. I’ve broken bread with drug addicts, ex-cons, alcoholics, flea-market merchants from all over the world, and countless other folks who were down on their luck -- because Wally invited them home for dinner. It didn’t stop there. He gave people jobs, cars, and even places to live. Wally wholeheartedly believed, that sometimes people just needed a little help to get going in the right direction. It must’ve been so exhausting for my mom to be married to the used-car salesman version of Mother Theresa.
Get (or give) a dog. Two times in my life, when I was really struggling with depression, my father got me a dog. The dog acquisition was his go-to, fix everything move. Wally believed in companionship; it was his church. He believed you should always have someone by your side, who will love you unconditionally and not judge you during your lowest moments. Sorry cat people, dogs own this. The last time Wally tried to fix everything with a dog came in the final weeks of his life, before ALS took him away. He masterminded the purchase of a golden retriever puppy -- to be my mom’s companion, after he was gone.
Well played, Dad.