As your father I have certain responsibilities, which are by now no doubt familiar to you: to help house, feed and clothe you; to pace the hallway, repeatedly checking my watch and sighing when we’re running late for a family activity; and to lock myself in the bathroom and roar like a mountain lion if anyone approaches the door for the next half-hour.
There is one important paternal responsibility, however, with which you are probably unfamiliar — and no, it is not to nod benignly while you tell me yet another animal fact during the morning walk to school (Mathilda’s fact No. 527: dachshunds were first bred to fight badgers — no way!) or to hunch over a slice of pumpkin pie and eat it with such noisy delight that you will never want to invite friends over, for fear that witnessing the event will cause them to throw up. It is to dispense advice. Ever since I read the final passage of John Cheever’s “The Wapshot Chronicle” as a young man, where the titular patriarch hands out posthumous counsel on how to smoke a cigar, I have looked forward to this day.
It seems appropriate to begin by sharing the three central pieces of advice that my father gave me. As some background, your Papou, despite his playful-sounding name, was not an especially playful guy. He had his lighthearted moments, like singing along with the Rice-A-Roni jingle when the TV commercial came on, but by and large his demeanor was serious. He worked all the time at our family restaurant, from 8 in the morning until 11 at night, seven days a week, and so it’s no surprise that his advice stressed industry, dedication and persistence above all else.
If you’re going to do something, do it right. Had Papou been a robot, this would have been his prime directive. He repeated it at least once a week when I was a boy and until my early 30s I never questioned it. It possessed what seemed an unassailable moral quality. Righteousness was built into it like the helical groove in a gun barrel. I owe much of whatever professional and academic success I have achieved to the earnest exactitude stressed by this advice.
I also owe it most of my unhappiness…
To read the rest of my essay, published on salon.com, click here:
photo credit: LifeSupercharger via photopin cc