Dad's Wisdom: What I Wish I'd Said

More of Dad's Wisdom

On Reading Great Books

I know that right now this might be hard to believe, but the pleasures of the imagination extend well beyond watching the same episode of The Backyardigans over and over. I hope that as you grow older you will discover that you share my love for literature. Books can—and should—be entertaining, but literature is about much more than entertainment. The greatness of a great story is in the way it reveals the thoughts and emotions that make us who we are. If you turn out to be anything like me, you'll probably feel really alone sometimes. And books are the best reminders we have that we're not alone, that on the inside almost everyone has the same crazy and scary feelings. And please don't be afraid to challenge yourself with difficult books. Probably you won't understand some books even after reading them five times, and that's perfectly okay. You will still seem smart when you talk about them at parties, and, because no one else understands these books either, no one will be able to tell you that you're not making the least bit of sense.

On Being a Kind Person

I've told you to stay away from strangers many times, and you should keep doing that. But, get this: Once you're older, you're actually supposed to be nice to strangers. This might seem hard to believe at a time when you won't even share a granola bar with a hungry member of your immediate family, but I think you'll find that what you do for others will matter more to you than what you do for yourself. I'm sure that you will grow up and accomplish all sorts of amazing things, but please remember that nothing could make me more proud of you than the simple knowledge that you're nice.

On How to be Happy

Life is full of many ups and downs. One day, you're the line leader; the next day, Miss Debbie has you sitting in the time-out chair because you took Jane's pudding during lunch. I'm sorry to report that these highs and lows never really go away. It absolutely kills me to think about it, but you will go through some very sad moments in your life. But that doesn't mean you won't be happy. Scientists who study happiness have found that most of us are very good at recovering from tragic events. The key to happiness, surprisingly, is to not overreact to the small everyday annoyances that leave you wanting to stick your head in a fan. To take a completely random example: If your spouse makes unusually loud slurping noises while eating cereal, it's probably better to leave the room than to make a point by getting your own bowl and eating so loudly that you start choking and your spouse has to slap you on the back and bring you a glass of water.

On Memories that Last

If you're reading this, it means that your papa is no longer around to clean up the shocking amount of food that amasses under your feet during every meal. But I think you'll find that memories can be a wonderful way to keep loved ones in your life, and regularly thinking about the long list of wonderful things I did for you can only be healthy. But, all joking aside, please don't let your mourning get in the way of your life or feel bad if you forget to think of me sometimes. What I want is for you to move forward. I'm sure you'll miss me sometimes, but you've still got the best mother in the entire world, so I know you'll be okay. And though I don't yet know how it will end, I know I've had a good life. After all, I've had the extraordinary pleasure of being your father. There is nothing more I could have asked for.

Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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