With Father’s Day approaching, we asked some friends—from NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth to blogger Andrew Sullivan—to recall their dads’ best advice.
Fathers give advice. Sometimes the advice itself is forgettable; I don’t remember, for example, my dad’s words when he gave me The Talk. Instead, I remember that he was a little late—at 13, I’d already had sex ed—and that it happened in the car, at a gas station, in Indiana, on our way to a Notre Dame football game, between “Fill it up?” and “That’ll be $22.50.”
Big John Belanger is known for many things—his golf game (he’s 64, has two new hips, and he still has to spot me 18 strokes), his encyclopedic knowledge of lumber, his intimidating size. “Great communicator” is not one of those things. Still, he has distilled his accumulated life knowledge into a few memorable axioms so pithy and proverbial, so universally applicable, they deserve to be etched in stone somewhere—or at least, sewn onto a pillow (or maybe a headcover).
My favorite, the one that was so frequently repeated throughout my adolescence and young adulthood that it will ring in my ears for the rest of my life: “Don’t do anything stupid.” Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?
With Father’s Day approaching, we asked some friends to recall their dads’ best advice. And because fathers, like everyone else, sometimes swing and miss, we asked for their worst advice, too. Some of the respondents, understandably, balked at the latter request. Some, like GMP contributor Jim Higley, provided one answer and left it to us to guess: “Water ski once a year. Every year. No matter what.” That one could go both ways.
Good advice: “Try to enjoy every moment of your life.” Bad advice: “Take a listen to this Robert Goulet record.”
—A.J. Jacobs, journalist
“Don’t let other people do something for you that you can do for yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, ask for help, but don’t take help from someone if you can do it yourself.”
—Lou Holtz, football coach, ESPN analyst
Good advice: “Swing through the guy. Don’t stop at his chin. Swing through him!” Bad advice: “Never bet on fillies in spring.”
—Perry Glasser, writer, professor
Good advice: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Bad advice: “People marry people they know, so don’t expect Cinderella to climb through your window uninvited.”
—Alexander Shapiro, head of strategy, DMG Media
“There is nothing you cannot do. There is nothing you cannot become.”
—Hill Harper, actor, writer
“The sign of a really dull person is when you ask them how they are doing, they tell you.”
—Daphne Brogdon, vlogger
“Tell your son you’re proud of him.”
—Neil Chethik, speaker, writer
“Garbage in, Garbage out.” His gem from the early days of computing.
—Paul Malmont, author
I was 18 and refused to go on a family vacation; it broke my mother’s heart and I was trying earnestly to persuade her to understand. My father took me out onto the porch and said, “Michael, you’ve made your decision. Now, don’t try to make us like it.” It was grown-up advice: you can’t hurt someone’s feelings and then convince them not to be hurt.
—Michael Thompson, psychologist
“You only get one passage through life, so get a window seat.”
—Ron Liebman, author
Bad advice: “Take a computer class so you have some practical skills for the workplace.”
—Bruce Eric Kaplan (BEK), cartoonist, writer
“Take your tequila NFL: No Fucking Lime.”
—Ben Montgomery, writer
Good advice: “Never trust a man with too nice of a tan.” Bad advice: “Some days you get chicken salad and some days you get chicken shit, know the difference before you bite.”
—Tom Miller, 32, professional ombudsman for YourTango.com
The thing he always says in the midst of political arguments is, “Jonathan, stop being such a stupid fucking prick like you always are.”
—Jonathan Soroff, writer
“The bark of a tree is never bitter to a hungry squirrel.”
—Chris Jacobs, director, supplier, Local Motors
Dad’s advice has proven rather prescient of late, considering he proffered it in 1987: “Never send a photo of your genitalia on a social-networking platform.”
—Lance Gould, project editor, AOL
“There’s always the furniture business.” My father, Bill Revkin, said this any time I showed a lack of initiative or ambition. (We had a modest family furniture business, started by my dad’s dad.) I’m not in the furniture business.
—Andrew Revkin, journalist, author
“Skin color, language, and customs are never a good criteria to judge one’s neighbor; always treat them as you would want to treated.”
—Jonathan Waxman, author
Good advice: “You’re a pretty good writer for a 10-year-old. If the growing-up-to-be-an-NFL-quarterback thing doesn’t work out, you could always fall back on that.” Bad advice: “Listen to this Peter, Paul & Mary record.”
—Benoit Denizet-Lewis, author, contributing writer, The New York Times Magazine
“Honesty is always the best policy.”
—Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford, NASCAR
The best advice my dad gave me before he lost his battle to cancer was “where the willlingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.” It was simple, but that advice help me conquer my own battle with the disease.
—Tim Weber, cancer survivor, fundraiser
“Don’t be a mamaluke.”
—Max Lugavere, filmmaker, curator, musician
“Water ski once a year. Every year. No matter what.”
—Jim Higley, writer, speaker, cancer warrior
Good advice: “Never let your enemies know who they are.” Most perplexing advice: “Take the corner booth in the restaurant and sit with your back against the wall.”
—Candy Crowley, journalist, political correspondent
Dad: “Never be overly loyal to an employer, because they’d drop you in a second, never say goodbye, and never give it a second thought.”
Me: “But haven’t you worked the same job for 30 years?”
Dad: “More important advice: Love your job.”
—Will Leitch, journalist, author
“Life is an attitude.” I remind him of it when he’s in a bad mood, just to see the look on his face.
—Ryan Jones, author, former editor-in-chief, Slam
“He told me to kick a football with the side of my foot.”
—Andrew Sullivan, journalist, blogger
Good advice: “If you want to know the answer to something, don’t ask someone else. Look it up yourself.” That taught me the value of research and relying on myself. Bad advice: “Don’t be a writer.” (Or, looking at my bank account, maybe that was the best advice.)
—Kieran Mulvaney, writer
“Don’t fly into print.”
—Christopher Swain swimmer, environmental educator
Dad’s constant career advice is, “Boy, how is this preparing you for 20 years down the road? You always need to be thinking about that in what you choose to do today.” I always try to remember that in my daily choices. Some days I do better than others.
—Thomas Roberts, MSNBC host
“Always defend yourself.” Dad taught me how to fight. I beat the crap out of bullies who called me queer. They didn’t ever bother me again.
—Michelangelo Signorile, radio talk show host
1. Do one thing well.
2. Don’t fill up on salad at a buffet.
—Larry Smith, 42, editor of storytelling community SMITH Magazine
“Preparation and the proper tool are keys to success, but you can improvise your way out of anything.”
—Ken Denmead, Geek Dad, author