Not a day goes by that I don’t think about or even quote some of my dad’s best advice:

  • If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours: A sure-fire way to engage with loved ones or strangers.
  • Be on time and dressed to play: This served me well as a young reporter whether I was going out with oystermen on the Great South Bay in New York or interviewing CEOs of major corporations.
  • When in doubt, don’t: I could have skipped a marriage had I listened to my dad and my gut on this one, but sometimes we have to learn the hard way. And I certainly pay attention to “doubt” now.

 

There are at least two dozen other quips, questions (When someone asks a question you aren’t comfortable answering, simply say, “Why do you ask?” Conversation over!), and adages (Be bright, be brief and be gone!) I continue to live and learn by even though George Soper died 18 years ago this month – the week after Father’s Day.

 

I’ve often wondered what friends and family might remember most about what their dads said to them that left lasting impressions. When I sent emails around asking for input, it was like opening the floodgates: there were pithy sayings, short quips, meaty messages and, in one case, three pages of imparted knowledge that a devoted daughter hopes to publish. The wonderful offerings ran the gamut from fun and funny, to poignant and heartbreaking, particularly from dads of The Greatest Generation.

 

And many respondents said thank you for encouraging them to focus on their fathers -- “for including me in this opportunity to reflect back,” one said – by way of their advice of good standing, particularly this week.

 

Here is some of the input worth sharing, and I hope that you might be inspired to focus on something your dad said that you still carry around in your head and heart. Feel free to share them by responding to this blog or by emailing me at susanmsoper@gmail.com.

 

Things are never as good as they look or as bad as they seem.

If you can't afford it, don't buy it.

Stay curious.

No one will ever buy the cow if the milk is free!

Tennis shoes are for when you play tennis, not for going out in public.

Find joy in all you do. We have too many long faced, anxious, gloomy people trying to make the world a happy place for others.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

I’m so proud of you, Pie!

 

One friend from high school took about three seconds to shoot back these “pearls of wisdom”:

Money is not important unless you don't have enough.

Isn't your Mother the best looking woman?

Turn out the lights!

What are you going as tonight?

 

My husband and his brother offered these examples: Use your heads for something other than a hat rack!

During all discussions about his strict rules, he liked to remind them: I hold all the cards in this deck.

Finally, when they threatened to run away from home, he’d say: Stay right where you are. I want to pack your lunch for the trip.

 

A wonderful gentleman from Iran wrote me back: “I was very young when my father passed away so I grew up with my grandfather who could not read or write. He used to tell me all the time, ‘Do not open your mouth when you meet new people. Be quiet and just listen and build on what they say, and they will think you know a lot.’”

 

Others reminiscences that came back:

I always remember the little nuggets of wisdom from my father and try to follow his advice:

1. Never go into business with or loan money to a relative or friend (gifts are OK).

2. Your personality traits become stronger with age so correct the bad ones asap.

And, my personal favorite because he just wasn’t a morning person:

3. Nothing worthwhile ever happens before 10 a.m.

                                                * * *                                                                                                  

In a letter to the youngest of five but still savored by all the siblings, one dad wrote:

One thing I was sure of was that people were more important than things, that

hard work was satisfying and idleness very disappointing, that poverty could make lives wretched, that wealth and selfishness produced insecurity and wrecked lives, and that the most satisfying life was one which featured service for others based on love, respect and genuine concern for others. (Service without real love and respect is often self-service and is self-defeating.)

                                                * * *

The thing that was the greatest about my father was that he never forgot what it was like to be a kid. Almost always, if one of us was worried about something that we had said or done, he would say: “Hey, I know how you feel. I did that, too.” Or he’d say, “That happened to me, too. It happens to everyone when they are growing up.” Or, “That is just a lesson we all have to learn.” It was a terrific way to be and one of the main things that I tried to do myself as a mother.

                                                * * *

My dad was in a hurry: If you're waiting for me, you're backing up.

He worked hard: I'm busier than a one-armed paper hanger with an itch.

He admired women: She has a real hitch in her get-along.

When you tell your daughter, ‘If you do that one more time...’ do you realize that you just gave her permission to do 'that' one more time? (I never used that phrase again!)

                                                * * *

If the student hasn't learned then the teacher hasn't taught. (I am not sure that was true in my case but I always liked it when he said it! I guess he believed we could do no wrong and I liked that in him!)

                                                * * *

My dad always had a saying about things in life. Those I most remember are as follows:

 

1. If I took too much time to accomplish a task he would throw out the saying, "Procrastination is the thief of time."

2. When I would make a statement to him, he would sometimes respond, "’I see,’ said the blind man." (My children now say this all the time!)

3. When good things happened he would say "God is good to his children."

4. I loved this one when someone made an inane remark, "Talk to a fool soon as kick with a mule."

                                                * * *

At any rate, I have great memories of him, as well as my mom, and I have given my children the same advice as given to me by Mom and Dad. They will never be forgotten since I am sure they will do likewise with their children.

 

My dad, probably my favorite person on earth. He was the dearest, kindest wonderful person loved by all. Here are the two things I remember that really stuck: When I would be arguing in high school about something I wanted to do and the answer remained no – when Daddy finally said, “Donna, this subject does not warrant this much discussion”  I knew it was over. I told that story to a few husbands, etc. along the way and boy, it has come back to bite me.

From an age where I understood this, Dad constantly said to me, “A woman always needs to have her own money so can leave a bad situation if need be."  I have not forgotten that and lived by it and still do. You never know...

                                                * * *

From an accomplished attorney to his lawyer son:

First rule he laid down was "You must learn how to say NO (in a negotiation)" This was in response to the way in which I had conducted my first negotiation as an attorney. I had offered too many compromises. I never did very well at learning this lesson, particularly when addressing some of my own desires!

The second rule, which is far more important, was "Pick your partners very carefully." I have lived my life by this one, both professionally and personally.

The third was, "When the other guy agrees to your point, just shut up." Another one I am not so good at.

                                                * * *

My daddy loved people! He taught us to look people in the eye, be honest, respectful, hard working and to have fun. This is his story: he was 19 years old working in the tobacco fields (his family had a small tobacco farm – 10 boys and one girl!) and he thought to himself, there has got to be more to life than this. He literally threw down that hoe and walked away and became a very successful businessman and was always there to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. He’s  been gone for 46 years, and I miss him every day. 

                                                * * *

My dad's biggest message was go to college and get a career so that I can take care of myself. He thought education was the key to success and stability. Even in the mid-’60s he was progressive enough to want his daughter to be able to stand on her own and take care of herself.

                                                * * *

Dad was a member of The Greatest Generation, who fought WWII and then returned to build their families and America. He never talked about his war experiences, unless pressed. Instead, when asked about his heroism, he would typically start by saying "I think of those who didn't come back." The message to me was to be humble and grateful for life.

                                                * * *

My daddy lived by the following saying which is engraved on my grandfather's tombstone: Blessed is the man who careth not for worldly goods, but has a kind word for his fellow man. My father lived out those words every day. He treated everyone the same.

* * *

I have a memory of my dad taking new "Christmas wrapped" socks to each of the garbage men at Christmas. He made the best pimiento cheese, country ham, blackberry cobbler, fried green tomatoes and cornmeal batter cakes you've ever tasted! I miss his cooking so much. 

                                                * * *

I don't know why, but recently I find myself sharing this wisdom from my father, more and more frequently. It made such an impression on me. So here's the story:
One morning I sat down to breakfast with my father. He was in his late 80s at the time but still in pretty good shape physically with a sharp as a tack mind. I don't remember what we were chatting about but he put down his coffee cup and looked straight at me and said:
You know, there are no “golden years.” You are in them.
I really thought about that and later when I returned home, I repeated my dad's words of wisdom to my husband. Then I said...book the trip!

And we did – and have been traveling at every opportunity since…I truly think we would have still been putting things on a wish list until we were too old to enjoy ourselves if it hadn't been for those unforgettable words. Oh, how we miss our dads!

***

Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.

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