My father spent his youth as a crossing guard, a Boy Scout, and a designated driver. I, on the other hand, squandered mine cutting gym class and hanging out at the mall. Back then, my father would deliver themed, Mike Brady–style lectures (one recurring favorite was the Importance of Being Honest), which I grudgingly tolerated and later dismissed. But as I’ve gotten older, a funny thing has come to pass: I’ve often found myself doing exactly what he told me to do, following even his most questionable advice—like renting the movie Pink Cadillac. Herewith, his greatest hits. (Caution: Some of these lessons may trigger flashbacks to your own father’s finest moments.)
1. Hold hands while you hash it out. My folks have been married for 47 years. One of my father’s rules for a happy marriage is that if a nasty argument erupts, hold hands as you fight. You’ll feel goofy doing this, but here’s the thing: It works. Recently my husband, Tom, forgot to pay a few bills that were buried under a pile of clutter. I was incandescent with rage. So we interlaced our fingers while we talked it out, and I felt my blood pressure plummet and my endorphins flow in spite of myself. It’s impossible to scream at someone who is giving your hand a gentle squeeze. It just is.
2. Pay attention to anyone who wears a tool belt... My father is practical, thrifty (or, put more accurately, cheap), and savvy about home improvements. He calls a repairman only as a last resort—and when he does, he hovers around the guy and asks tons of questions. “Carefully observe anyone with a skill that you don’t have,” my father often said, “and then you can take care of the fill-in-the-blank yourself.” He was right: After shadowing a handyman for an hour, I later fixed my own dishwasher, to the perpetual amazement of friends who call their super to change a lightbulb.
3. ...Or a uniform. It has always annoyed my dad that a waiter gets a 20 percent tip for serving a crème brûlée, while a hotel maid who disposes of used dental floss often winds up with bubkes. My father routinely told our sanitation men and the crew who cleaned his office that they were doing a good job and made sure to compensate them at holidays. As a child, I used to writhe with embarrassment when he did this. Now I do the same for the sanitation workers in my neighborhood. One guy once told me, with a catch in his voice, that in 10 years, it was the first time he had ever been thanked.