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Things my father told me

Like many of you, I will be honoring my dad with memories this Sunday. He died in 1999, a tragically ironic year, as he was intensely fascinated by the whole Y2K thing. As you probably recall, the entire world feared a technological Armageddon when the clock rolled around to 2000, since most computers hadn’t been programmed to accommodate dates that would fall in a new century.

My parents discussed endlessly where they should be when the year 2000 was born, with all its anticipated catastrophic glitches (elevators would crash, markets tumble). They decided on a ship in the middle of the Caribbean, although my dad would always say, “Doesn’t matter where we are, as long as we’re here to see it.” Sadly, he wasn’t.

We called him Chief, a nickname my husband gave him early in our courtship. He was the patriarch, the leader of his tribe, in every way that mattered. He was the sage we turned to when budgets wouldn’t balance, a ceiling fan needed hanging, job options were being weighed. Our own Solomon, wise and impartial. And a talented handyman to boot.

Chief was a man of order and detail. We used to tease him about arranging the kitchen spices in alphabetical order, or his propensity for reading phone books and maps. But we savored his guidance, even though I grew up listening carelessly to his wisdom. He was a master of the one-liner, which we laughed about then, but appreciate with better insight now.

So I give you some of my father’s sayings, because I have come to learn that they often contained broad and important truths. Thank you, Chief.

Chief with three of his granddaughters

Chief with three of his granddaughters in 1990.

10 Things My Father Told Me

1. A year from now, this will just be a memory.

I’ve often thought about what mattered so much to me a year ago, or five years ago, and realized how often the big things of the past have shrunk drastically in the present.

2. Math is like a window shade: You can’t see a thing, and then suddenly it goes up.

Chief was the family homework helper, but a lot of life is like this. Patience, pondering, bewilderment, and then … you get it.

3. That just earned you one McDonald’s.

Whenever the grandkids did something worthwhile – from remembering to say please to acing a test – they got a fictional McDonald’s franchise from Chief. (What fun to own 47 McDonald’s, with all those imaginary Happy Meals.) The lesson lay in the implicit praise, with words instead of goods.

4. If your mother can cook it, you can eat it.

OK, this one did not produce good habits; I know there’s something in there about appreciating what people do for us, but to this day I can’t walk away from a half-eaten entrée.

5. You never laugh on a golf course.

My sister once started giggling when Chief couldn’t swing his way out of a sand trap. He made her walk all the way back to the clubhouse. We teased him unmercifully about this phrase for years. But it taught us that, in a family that likes to tease, there are boundaries.

6. QYB.

Chief mastered – and cherished – acronym-speak long before net lingo gave us LOL, G2G or BFN. His favorite: This shorthand for Quit Your Bitching. It’s a highly used – and highly useful — part of the family lexicon. (A related summer vacation quip from my dad: Only one bitch per person on this car trip.)

7. Don’t gripe about paying taxes. The more you’re paying, the more money you’re making.

Chief was a glass-half-full type, and so often the rest of us aren’t – but need reminding.

8. Never eat at a restaurant that has pictures of food on the menu, plastic food in the window, or high chairs.

What can I say? We Louisianans are critical about the dining experience.

9. I wonder what the other half are doing.

I suppose the modern translation would be, “I wonder what the other 99 percent are doing.” Chief lived and loved the pleasures of life – good meals, exotic trips, a fine cigar. But unlike so many of us, he knew to savor those things while they happened.

10. Never look back. Regret is the most useless thing in the world.

This is the one I try to live by most completely, and that I hope my children will take most to heart.





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