My Dads Advice
I took my annual pilgrimage to visit my folks in
Minnesota this summer. My father is eighty,
and we are not sure how long he has to live.
To the collective horror of his wife and children
he repeatedly expresses his hope that his next
stroke will be the big one. He would much
rather get life over with than become an
invalid. The rest of us prefer not to face
such options for the time being. To be
supportive, though, we listen to him for as long as
One afternoon I took a break from cleaning up
his garage with him and walked around the old
neighborhood. Memories of my childhood lay in
the rolling contours of the grassy lawns, the
familiar rustling of elm leaves in the wind, and
the old houses full now of new families.
Years ago, I would run inside these homes without
knocking and ask if Tomy, or Jeff, or Char, or
could come out and play. Now I keep to the
sidewalk so as not to arouse suspicion or appear to
A sunny hillside, though, recognised me from
thirty years ago. It invited me to sit for a
while and I was happy to oblige. I leaned
back on the grass, my hands cradling the back of my
head, my elbows spreading out. The same
clouds I used to watch floated across the sky once
more, making the blue of the sky beyond them look
so deep in contrast.
It was on this same spot that I had once sat
thinking about my life, with just thirteen years
under my belt. I remember having heard my dad
call me in for dinner, and I fully intended to go,
but I wanted to figure something out first.
One thought had then led to another without any
resolution. Suddenly I was surprised to find that
my father was sitting beside me. He had found
me lost in thought and suspected that something
might be more important than dinner right then.
I remember taking my eyes off the clouds and
looking up at him.
Dad, what should I be when I grow
I think we were both surprised by the
question. Even at thirteen I had already made
it clear that my parents were not the authority on
my life. I was my own man. So why was I
suddenly so vulnerably seeking advice? I must
have felt very confused.
But what a golden opportunity for my dad!
It is rare that teenagers will even listen to their
fathers advice, let alone ask for it.
All the wisdom of his years in the workforce could
now be applied to help his son not repeat his
mistakes. Any unfulfilled dreams of his could
now find a channel into this extension of his
self. Law school or Medical
school, for example, might have been choicely
placed words that could have guided me into a
He paused to gather himself and execute this
moment to the greatest advantage. Then
finally he said, I dont know,
Tim. And then after some thought he
added, But whatever you do, let it be
something you really enjoy.
We stood up and walked back home. I still
had no idea what career to plan for, but somehow
that didnt matter so much any more. I
was free of whatever invisible weight had been
pressing on me. Life was going to be
Thirty years later I was now sitting on the site
of this profound advice. Grateful to the man who
gave it, for all the joy it has brought me, and for
sparing me all the pain that some other answer
might have inflicted. Thanks dad.
© 2007, Tim
Other Father Issues,
* * *
Your children need your presence more than your
presents. - Jesse Jackson
Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family
Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He
specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples
Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached
at 831.464.2922 or through his website:
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