A couple of years ago I sent out a smoke signal (well, OK, the emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter shout-outs) to everyone I knew -- and then they sent it on to everybody they knew -- to start collecting quips and anecdotes and advice they all remembered receiving from their mothers. It was both a fun and bittersweet adventure. Many of our mothers were gone, and the recounting of these stories brought back memories for all of us, and even the tales that weren't our own had a familiar ring. But readers loved the trip - it was like a visit with your mom, and the other mothers you knew, all over again.
It became a book called LIKE MY MOTHER ALWAYS SAID: Wise Words, Witty Warnings, and Odd Advice We Never Forget, and I wrote about it here last year, telling the story of how an afternoon's conversation with a friend about funny, charming, and poignant maternal remembrances made me start the project that, happily, became such a favorite conversation starter with mothers and their offspring everywhere.
But then of course the inevitable happened. There were all these folks who wrote to me and said, "Well, wait - don't you want to know what my father always said?
Well, sure I did! So, I asked everybody all over again, because now I just had to know. I wasn't even sure moms and dads would sound that different from each other -- but boy, did they ever! What I started to hear from sons and daughters about their fathers was altogether different than what I had begun to call the "Momisms." So now, there's LIKE MY FATHER ALWAYS SAID: Gruff Advice, Sweet Wisdom, and Half-Baked Instructions on How to Fix Your Stuff and Your Life. But how is it different than the "Moms Version?"
If I had to make a sweeping generalization? I'd say mothers more often are watching out that you don't run with scissors, eat too much candy, or fall off the roof. And while all that's going on, your dad is busy thinking about a firm handshake, your 401K, and the worthiness of your future spouse. Mothers' love is out there for all to see; dad is gruff, but with a soft spot you could drive a truck through. And lots of the "Dadisms" I heard are a product of the times. The replies I received were for the most part from adults, and lots of them grew up when mothers - even if they were also working outside the home - were in charge of the house and most of the childrearing; fathers were working in the world, bringing home the bacon, and observing (and worrying) about what the changes would be like out there when their children grew up and set out on their own.
So are each parent's observations different? Well, I heard more about changing your oil and checking the tires from fathers -- but also, interestingly enough, more about ambition, and job equality for sons and daughters.
Of course, everyone always wants to know what are the funniest things I heard. Some of them are just classic, old-fashioned dad stuff. Like these:
"Give me another drink, I can still hear the kids."
On the occasion he was asked how frequently he had sex, my father always said, "How many times a week is semi-annual?"
"If you haven't done what you're going to do by midnight, you shouldn't be doing it."
"Drink only one beer at a time."
Anytime I'd go out to a party, when I'd come home my dad would say, "Did you meet anyone you like better than yourself?"
Some things never change, right?
Then there are the wise things your dad says that you keep with you for life:
"Manners go a long way and they don't cost a dime."
"There is only one thing that you can both keep and give: your word."
"Just don't be that kid. Whatever the situation, you never want to be the one everyone else refers to as, 'Oh yeah, I know that kid.' It's never good."
"The only bad mistake is one you stick by."
And some dads say stuff that's nothing short of just plain genius:
"Between the hell of my kids' living and the fear of their dying, there's never a dull moment."
And this list of "Life Lessons" just kills me:
- All you have to do in life is be this much smarter than an a**hole
- Only bums don't wear undershirts
- Regarding eating well: There are a finite amount of meals in this life
- Stupid and lazy is a bad combination
- The amount of money you steal determines whether they build you a monument or throw you in jail
- Tuesday's the only day anyone does any work. Maybe, Wednesday morning.
Oh, and what did my father always say, people invariably ask? Well, plenty of stuff. But I think my favorite was something he said to me my whole life, whatever I did, big or small.
"You're a champion!"
And for any kid to hear that from their father - or any grownup, for that matter - well, that makes all the difference.