My father is probably the smartest man I know, and I’m about to share some of his advice with you — so strap yourself in and get ready for some dad truths! But first, the story of how I came to hear said dad truths:
A few years ago, my dad was in Austin visiting my brother Haydon and I, when a drunken frat boy approached us on Guadalupe and invited himself into our lives.
We’d been walking down the drag on the way to the car, minding our own. Haydon had just played a gig at Hole in the Wall and we were off to continue the merriment at a friend of dad’s place in south Austin.
I’d noticed the gaggle of shit-housed frat guys behind us a few blocks back, but hadn’t thought much about it. They were as a natural part of the scenery as the scantily clad coeds crossing the street ahead of us. It was Saturday night in Austin and the students of UT were out to get schwasted. All was as it should be in the universe.
Only this kid had decided to take his Saturday night up a notch by accosting a group of innocent bystanders (us) with his slovenliness. On first glance, he appeared to be the drunkest of the group of testosterone-ridden drunks he ran with. And upon opening his mouth, he convicted himself guilty as charged.
Fratty stumbled up to us in his designer jeans and obnoxious pastel button-down, put his arm around my father, and said, “Hey old man. You’ve lived a long time — prolly learned a lot. Got any advice for me?”
My father is not an old man. He doesn’t look it. He doesn’t act it. He was undeserving of this uninvited insult and would have been every bit justified in giving this whippersnapper his answer in the form of a stiff right hook. But, my father also isn’t a man of violence.
He’s a meditator and a reader of books like Elson Quick’s Baddha and Stuart Wilde’s Weight Loss for the Mind. Books about positivity and unconventional but witty, all-too-true wisdoms that he often enjoys referencing to me and anyone else within earshot. At the time, he was the dean of students at a law school, and students were his very favorite standing audience for these pearls of wisdom. He’s also something of a storyteller, and now he had what every storyteller craves: an invitation.
In other words, this kid had hit the jackpot of people to drunkenly barge into of an evening. My father seized on his opportunity to shape this young, wasted mind.
Without missing a beat, Dad turned to him and said, “There are only two things you have control over in the world. Do you know what they are?”
To which the frat boy immediately replied, “your females and your finances!”
“No,” Dad answered. “That’s not it.” Undeterred by the revelation that he was dealing with an egotistical asshat of epic proportions, he pressed on.
“It’s your actions, and your attitude.”
We’d stopped walking at this point. The drunk guy’s friends had hung back, waiting to see what would happened next. I saw a look come over Fratty’s face, a glimmer in his eyes that suggested what was left of his brain might be telling him he’d better pay attention to this crazy old man, because he was on the cusp of learning something of value.
Dad went on to explain:
“You can’t control what happens to you. Circumstances can and will be less than ideal. The weather or a fire might destroy your possessions. People you love might get sick, or die. You also can’t control how other people act toward you. People might be cruel, or neglectful, or selfish, or just plain thoughtless. And you can’t do anything to change their actions.
“The past is the past, the future will be, and people are who they are. You get to ask the question ‘why?’ once. Then it’s time to ask the only question that really matters, which is, ‘what am I going to do about this now?’ In action, we have power — you are never powerless when you can control of how you frame life’s road bumps to yourself, and what actions you take to move forward.”
The drunk guy was speechless. The glimmer was still there, but fading as the mistress alcohol did her best to soothe his discomfort. His friends pulled him away shortly thereafter, and the moment passed.
As we continued our walk toward the car, my brother shook his head and said, “Jesus. ‘Your females and your finances!’ Those are the two things I have the least control over.”
Laughing, we headed off to south Austin for fun by a fire with a handful of fine folks who then got the chance to enjoy a recap of our discouraging encounter with the youth of America.
I don’t know if Fratty remembered it even having happened through his inevitable epic hangover when he woke up the next day on the floor of the party they were headed to.
But I remember it well, and have referred to that bit of advice often. I tell that story as a segue to talking about the latest new, scary thing I’ve tried.
I’ve taken on a freelance client that has me entering the world of public relations. It’s an exciting challenge, but it’s definitely a challenge as I adjust to writing professionally in a different style from the one I’m most familiar with, which is marketing. Instead of creating product pages and blog posts and brochures and sales sheets and things that, well, sell, I’m writing articles that aren’t meant to sell but to inform. Which is pretty cool and interesting, but there’s that same pesky learning curve that’s involved whenever you try something new. And I’m hugging the turn.
I know I’ll eventually make it to the open road — as long as I maintain control over the two things I can: my actions and my attitude.
Sharing this dad truth for those of you who, like me, can sometimes use a bit of extra help to take situations into your own hands and make them what you want them to be!
Try something new lately? Leave your story in the comments, plz. I’d love to read ’em.
And to be the first to hear about my next post, subscribe to the email list.