My two sisters and I were on a car trip with our mom and dad. I think we ranged in age from 6 to 10. We were driving home from an outing. It was 4 p.m. and Dad asked us, “Who wants to have an ice cream?”
Of course the three of us squealed with delight as our dad drove to the parking lot of the Friendly’s Ice Cream Shoppe. Instead of stopping, he drove right by. When we cried in disbelief he told us, “You’d better get used to it—life isn’t always fair.”
We were shocked and dumbfounded. It was years later that we learned our mother had leaned over to our dad and quietly told him we would not eat our dinner if we had an ice cream at 4 o’clock, vetoing his decision. So Dad drove on by and ad-libbed his wisdom.
Later in life, we used our dad’s quote over and over when things did not turn out our way. It was a sage piece of advice, albeit a hard one to digest at the time.
Around the same time, I was visiting my grandmother, my dad’s mom, in Plymouth, Mass. I will never forget her pulling me aside and telling me, “Never marry a man intending to change him.”
Great advice that went over my head as a 10-year-old, but you can bet that on my wedding day her words echoed in my head. I made sure I had considered long and hard whether I could live happily ever after with my husband-to-be without expecting him to change.
Every year between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I ask people what important piece of advice they received from their parents.
Some advice is comical: “Don’t let a man know you know how to do housework.” Some advice requires a bit of introspection: “The one thing you own in life that no one can take away from you is your name.”
My friend’s dad, an accountant, told him, “Two can live as cheaply as one, if one doesn’t eat.” Great advice, if not very realistic.
But if you don’t count the eating part, I can see how college dorms and senior co-housing are a good decision based upon limited incomes.
Back in the old days, when it was politically correct to let your 8-year-old daughter walk a half mile alone to the variety store to pick up a pound of hamburger meat, I happened upon a treasure. Right there on the ground in front of me was a $5 bill.
Never the shy and retiring type, I let everyone who came in my path on my way home know about my good fortune. When my dad arrived home, I shared the great news.
Shortly thereafter our paper boy, Lenny, came knocking on our door. My dad answered and Lenny explained that he had lost $5 on his paper route, and he heard that I had found $5.
My dad turned to me and pulled me aside as I began to cry.
“Daddy, how do we know it’s his money?” I asked, hoping my dad would say we don’t know and send Lenny away.
Instead my father looked down at my tear-stained face and told me, “There are only two people who know whose money it is, Lenny and God. You have to trust that Lenny is telling the truth and give him the money.”
I knew in my heart my dad was right, but boy did that hurt.
Later, in high school, Lenny died after being hit by a car. I thank my dad and my conscience that I did the right thing.
I’ve never been a parent, but I guess even the most benign things a parent says can become an important piece of advice as we age.
During this season of honoring our mothers and fathers, share with others—your kids, your friends, your relatives, your co-workers— the best piece of advice your parents imparted to you. Consider it their legacy and pay it forward.
Happy Mother’s and Father’s Day, Mom and Dad!