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The Best Advice a Dad Can Give

Here are the most useful tips Next Avenue readers got from their fathers


Fathers seem to offer the best advice. Through their actions and words, dads often have a unique ability to put the complexities of life into sharp focus. At Next Avenue, we asked our readers to share the most meaningful and memorable advice they received from their dads. The result was a wave of eclectic submissions that made us think, laugh and even cry. A selection of them is below.

KEEPING THE FAITH

“My dad wasn’t big on ‘advice,’ but as I approached my graduation from Notre Dame majoring in theology in 1971, he gave me a plaque showing a row boat in a stormy sea with the caption: ‘Pray to God, but row toward shore!’ I’ve never forgotten the practical wisdom of that phrase.”

– Tom Hampson

ALL IN THE FAMILY

“When my children were young, Dad told me that I should never complain about paying tuition — I could be paying bail. He told me to accept the fact that if you have a family, you will pay — either at the beginning or at the end. If you educate them, they will be independent. If you don’t, you will be helping them throughout life. I educated my kids, at great cost. It was worth every penny. They are now amazing independent adults, giving me great joy.”

– Katherine Ryan

“My father made this self-absorbed teenager aware of the other people in the world. I was 18 during World War II and in the Navy. When I came home for boot leave, I spent all of my days and evenings with a girl that I was madly in love with. My father took me aside and said, ‘This girl will marry someone else if you are killed, but your mother will grieve the rest of her life. Spend some time with your mother.’ For an 18-year-old boy, this was a mortifying awakening. My father had always been an example of a strong spirit, and I admired him for that. He was an oak of a man, but he showed me that feelings for others was also part of being a man. That scene with my father is still a vivid memory to me 70 years later. I think his words and his example were a guide to me as a husband and a father.”

– Harold Sharlin

LIVING & LEARNING

“Dad told me to always remember someone’s name. When you call the person by name, it will make them feel that you value them. As a teacher, I studied the school yearbook pictures before the school year began. I called each student by name as they walked in the door the first day. The expressions on the children’s faces were priceless.”

– Patricia White Gable

“I’m 67 years old; my dad is 89. I graduated from high school in 1964. I remember my mid-Minnesota-farm-raised dad advising me when I was 16 or so regarding a possible husband: ‘I don’t care what color he is, but he has to be RESPONSIBLE.’ He was right, of course.”

– Rose Arends

“My father used expressions to convey his opinion and advice. My favorite one has always been: ‘The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s tail all the time.'”

– Mary Dell Harrington

“Always be true and honest and always be good to little children and widows. I have followed his advice as best I could, and I agree with him, and it has served me well for the 75 years I have been on this planet.”

– Willis Newsome

“When I was a young girl, my father told me that when he had been in the Army he had been told by his superiors to say ‘No’ to any special requests by recruits or their families unless there was ‘a darn good reason to say yes.’ He disobeyed that order and did the opposite — in the Army and throughout the rest of his life. That strategy served him well, and he passed that advice on to me. Following his advice, I now say ‘Yes,’ unless there’s a darn good reason to say ‘No’ — to opportunities, requests, ideas and anything new that comes my way. I have followed this advice throughout my life, and it has opened doors to many new experiences, without which I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

– Sara Gerber

“When you shake someone’s hand, be firm, but not too firm, and look them in the eye. That is how I do it today.”

– Curt Kittelson

“In the last weeks of my father’s life, he told me that he had wasted much of his life being angry. Remembering his words, it saddens me that his insight haunted him in his last days. So often, we’re angry at the silly and the small things in life. I try to remember his words and learn the lesson, but I often fail. And then, I try to remember his words again.”

– Denise McClenllan

“My father taught me to not be so, so sensitive and develop thicker skin. I hear his voice when I get in those sticky situations where I can either calm down or get resentful. It’s so much easier just let things go and not get riled up. It makes me realize how wise and logical my dad was — and still is.”

– Marion Breen

“My dad advised me to treat all people with respect. It doesn’t matter what their position in life is. All people deserve to be treated kindly and with humility. In turn, you will be treated kindly.”

– Irene Caccavallo

“My father was always prepared, and he wanted me to be so as well. Before I could get my driver’s license, I had to know how to change a tire, parallel park and change my own oil. He made me self- sufficient, and I still am. He was a man of few words, and his advice was always very plain and simple. He let me find my own way and could show his disapproval with only a raised eyebrow or ‘that look.’ Dad would advise by asking me questions and letting me make my own decisions. I will always miss that.”

– Janet Sloan

“From childhood until he passed in 2001, my dad’s motto was: ‘Everything in moderation.’ In other words, make sure you keep things in balance, whether diet, indulgences, overtime at work, etc. It pays off.”

– John Abott

DOLLARS & SENSE

“My dad suggested I get away from using credit cards because the interest rates often get out of hand, and when you run up too much money you have problems paying off the credit card. I finally paid off all my credit cards and cut them up. Life is a whole lot better today!”

– Martha Moyer

“Never buy a new car — buy a used, low mileage, older car outright. Also, save some money out of every paycheck.”

– Kelly Brown

ACTIONS, NOT WORDS

“The best ‘advice’ my dad ever gave me was to teach me basic home maintenance skills. When I was a child, little girls rarely learned how to use hammers, saws and screwdrivers. Thanks to my father, I can change a faucet washer, replace an old light fixture and paint or refinish just about anything. Not only has this training saved me thousands of dollars over my lifetime, but every time I’ve used it, I’ve felt a wonderful glow of competence. Watching me unjam a piece of office machinery recently, one of my co-workers said, ‘You can fix anything!’ Not quite — but thanks to my dad, I’m never afraid to try.”
– Beth

“Dad didn’t have to give me formalized advice — he advised by example. Living life honorably, in a straightforward, generous way was the advice my father acted out every day of our lives together. I’ll take that memory of my father with me everywhere I go.”

– Lisa Youngs

“It wasn’t as much what he said as how he lived. He treated me in a way that respected my competence even when I was a little kid. We used to play checkers every night. He always won because he didn’t cut me slack. I will never forget the first time I won because it was an honest win. Today, I do not give up in the face of defeat. I won my third election to school committee rather than giving up after losing twice. And now I’m in my ninth year.”

– Julia Hathaway

“I realize a lasting influence of my dad’s philosophy of life as seen in his actions, not necessarily his words. He was respectful, he enjoyed being of help to others, he appreciated knowledge and loved and valued his family.”

– Joan Smiley

THE PATH NOT TAKEN

“He told me I could call off my first wedding. I didn’t, unfortunately.”

– Carol Carrino

“[My dad told me that when] they offer typing shorthand in your high school, TAKE IT. Knowing those skills saved his butt during the Korean War because he was sent to Newfoundland instead of the front lines. I took typing class in 1986 in high school. And then the computer revolution hit, where those who did not know how to type were left behind.”

– Deb Woods

“My dad raised me to think I could do anything — at a time when women were not welcome in most professions. In 1960, I earned a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was accepted in the UW Law School with a half scholarship. When I surprised my dad, a patent attorney, with the announcement about my successful acceptance to law school, without missing a beat he said: ‘Women are not attorneys.’ He certainly thought it was good advice. And being a dutiful daughter, my life totally turned around. On his deathbed, my dad told me he always regretted stopping me from going to law school. But he was able to agree that I had a wonderful, joyful, fulfilled life in spite of that long-ago decision.”

– Edith Wagner

“Without a doubt, my father’s best advice was given to me the day I didn’t make the eighth grade cheerleading squad. We moved a lot, and I thought being a cheerleader would help me become popular. His question to me was: ‘Why would you want to go out and cheer for other people when you can go out and be the one they are cheering for?’ This has been my mantra since that day, some 41 years ago. He passed away 35 years ago, and I miss him every day.”

– Kate

“My father, who was a career Marine Corps officer, became concerned about my future after college. I was a member of the Navy ROTC program at Princeton, where I was majoring in aeronautical engineering. I fully intended to become a Naval aviator after graduation in 1966. Although he was a true Marine through and through and would have been very proud of my choice, he knew that Naval aviation was a very risky business during the Vietnam War, and he strongly advised me to seek a different path in the Navy. I am very happy that he did.”

– Ed Aiken

WORK & PURPOSE

“On a day I was supposed to be off from my high school job, I was asked to come into work. After saying ‘Yes’ and hanging up the phone, I grumbled, pouted and complained that I was supposed to be off. My father turned to me and said, ‘You should be happy to be given the opportunity to work. Never turn down an opportunity. Your boss will remember your efforts and you’ll be rewarded.’ I’ve followed that advice every day of my life, and I am certain that it has influenced my professional success. Every day I come to work, I appreciate the opportunity to do a good job and get paid for it. I have been fortunate to work for some wonderful companies and organizations and been successful. I remember my dad’s words of advice, and the impact they had on my career.”

– Gloria Vasquez

“You can multitask, but if you want to do something right, just do that. This allowed me to be successful at many things, one at a time.”

– John Marsh

“My father always impressed on me that any job worth doing is worth doing well. I would have to say that has been the cornerstone of my personal work ethic for my entire life.”

– Rick Swain

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