…that have become my personal set of commandments.
My father perceived life as a grand adventure. He packed each night with ice cream runs, backyard baseball games and sunset swims. To him, it was never the size or scope of the adventure that mattered, but the fact that we got to do it together, with him at the helm, navigating the choppy waters life blows our way.
Print the Legend
My dad knows a lot of random stuff – geographic trivia, sports stats for the 1981 Yankees, and the elements of an automobile engine. I recall sitting in the back seat, questioning how our car moved forward with just the press of a pedal. He said, “Let me tell you” and began driving with his knee, while using both hands to show how the piston moves up and down inside each cylinder, my tiny brain attempting to absorb it all and eat my twist cone at the same time.
What he didn’t know, he made up for in a convincing explanation that led me to reiterate incorrect, but grandiose stories about what occurred on that certain land formation hundreds of years ago. Most would call it bullshitting, but we called it Scott talking, as it sounded more eloquent.
If you say something with confidence, most of the time, people will believe you. This can help with getting better seats at sporting events, spur of the moment city tours, and entertaining guests at a dinner party. Most importantly, though, he taught me how to tell a good story – one that connects and engages the people around me. Telling an impressive tale is so much better than saying “I don’t know,” or, for this generation, googling it, only to forget that morsel of info after the screen goes black. If our legend is convincing enough, we may even encourage our audience to tell their own story, however they see fit.
Jesus Loves Pie
In most homes, Mom is the baker. All sexism aside, moms are just patient and detailed – the two most important ingredients in baking. In my home, it was my dad. I have specific memories of him bent over the counter top, flour up to his arms, kneading dough while listening to Jackson Browne. He took time to carefully braid the piecrust and coat every apple slice in a lemon juice and sugar concoction that I always licked out of the bowl when he was finished.
Any significant event is touched with the scent of fresh baked pies — birthday parties, potlucks, funerals, homecomings, etc. My dad didn’t teach that food was comfort, but the effort that went in to the food was consoling and celebratory in and of itself. Basically, pie heals all. It takes just a little extra time and attention to detail to show those in your life that you love them and that you care. At the end of the day, life is comprised of the people with whom we share it and we should treat them to homemade pie, attention, and love as often as we can.
Wear Whatever you Want, Whenever you Want, And own it
Dad was a master at coordinating stripes and plaids and wearing loafers with any ensemble. His Home Depot outfit was a thing of beauty — paint-stained, ripped jean shorts from his college days, and a tissue thin, bright orange Turkey Trot T-shirt from many Thanksgivings ago. My mom would roll her eyes as he walked out the door, but I think she always knew that the clothes didn’t make the man.
Inspired by his fashion forward thinking, I learned that they don’t make the woman either. We feel pressured to show more skin, wear designer brands, or partake in this high-waisted short phase that needs to die. However, when it comes down to it, being a slave to the latest trend is exhausting and expensive.
You want someone to like you for what’s beyond the clothes, someone who will like you dressed in a potato sack, or slightly different shades of orange ensemble. Clothing is really just a legality. Your personality is constant so wear whatever the hell you want.
Duct Tape Fixes Everything
Refrigerator doors, remote controls, warts, shoes, you name it – there’s probably a piece of duct tape on it somewhere in my father’s home. It wasn’t like my dad didn’t know how to fix things, but why spend additional time and money replacing something when a little patch of silver tape would do just fine? Function over form remains my father’s motto to this day.
Dad didn’t just throw something away when it broke, even if it was a $5 can of bug spray. He valued our stuff because he worked so hard to earn it. If my brother or I carelessly busted something, duct tape was dad’s way of saying “be more careful if you don’t want your car to have a big piece of shiny tape holding up your bumper.” Dad taught us to treat our material possessions with respect, to value hard work, and appreciate what we had but not to get too caught up in the aesthetics of these tangible objects. Most things can be fixed with a little love, and duct tape.
Whole ass it the first time and there won’t be a second
Some friends and I went to build a tree fort when we were 12 years old. We succeeded in nailing two steps into the thick trunk of an old oak when my dad decided to step in. He spent the entire weekend running back and forth to Home Depot (in the outfit) for supplies, cajoled my neighbor into helping, and built a solid structure, 20 feet off the ground, that still stands 12 years later, the edges of our carved initials just beginning to soften in the humid Florida air.
If you’re going to do something, you might as well give it your all so you don’t have to redo it. Also, to ensure it doesn’t come crashing down around you a short while later. This rule applies to everything — from childhood tree houses to college degrees to marriage to life entirely. From big things to small things, why waste your time half-assing it when you’ll just have to do it all over again.
Not all who wander are lost
My dad finished school (almost) back East and drove to Denver in a Dodge Dart hatchback with Royal Prestige Cookware prototypes in the trunk. He spent his days cold calling newlyweds, standing on china cups to test their durability, and drinking at a bar that offered free tacos with a drink purchase. This westward expansion lasted a few years, made him little money, and left him sleeping on a Salvation Army mattress on the floor. Maybe when he was in it, he viewed it as a step backwards, a failure, or just a waste of time. But now, it’s an adventure story, a life lesson, the reason he is where he is today.
Dad has always encouraged us to “Go West Young Man” figuratively or literally or whatever strikes our fancy. Because, it’s just life, and we only get a little of it. Better to live large and make mistakes than stay put in the assuredness of comfortable social circles and stable incomes. At times, it may feel like you messed up or you’re falling behind your peer group, or if you’re lucky, just nipping at their heels. Rest assured. Their path is not yours. You’re right where you ought to be so remain calm, buckle your helmet, and enjoy the ride.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
We spent many summer vacations on a lake in Maine, at a house with a tremendously tall rope swing, or at least, that’s how I remember it. I would climb up to the very last rickety step, held precariously by two rusting nails, grip the frayed knot at the end of the rope in my pruney, trembling hands, and not jump. I was scared of losing my grip or losing my stomach or landing on something terrible that lurked just underneath the cold North Eastern water. But when I looked down, my dad was always there, treading water, shouting encouragements and jokes, waiting to cheer me on when I finally did decide to take the plunge.
So much in life causes fear, anxiety and stress. While these emotions are often deemed useless and we’re encouraged to dispel them from our thoughts immediately, they’re actually the spark plugs that get us going. My dad would constantly remind us that fear is a good feeling. While the butterflies in our stomachs don’t necessarily instill confidence, they prompt us to make moves to do things, to jump already. The most self-assured people feel fear all the time. They just do it anyways.
From breaking up with your first love, to moving across the country, life is chock-full of leaps into the unknown. It’s comforting to imagine staying put — in your home, in your job, in your relationship. We are fearful of things because we view them as dangerous and likely to cause pain. So much of life is pain, but by experiencing that pain, we will learn the capacity for joy. It’s worth it to take the plunge. Something or someone will eventually catch you, butterflies and all.
Always Pee Before Leaving the House
Everyone’s parents preached this but we fail to continue the practice past childhood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on a weird stretch of road, driving with my legs crossed or on the look out for a nice pile of rocks to nonchalantly crouch between on a populated bike trail.
In reality, the lesson is larger than bladder precautions. It’s about getting ready for what lies ahead and it may seem like a stretch to relate it to urinary precautions, but it’s not. Life can twist or turn at the drop of a hat. Peeing before you leave becomes a ritual preparation for a journey, which will encompass larger, significant events. Responsible decision-making isn’t just ready, fire, aim. It’s taking in all possible outcomes, looking at the bigger picture, and emptying your bladder before accepting the adventure ahead.
Better Out than In
Referring to all things that shouldn’t be kept inside of our bodies — most importantly flatulence and philosophies. My dad didn’t really carry the “don’t talk politics or religion with friends” mantra around daily. He was more of a “let’s discuss religion and politics” type to better understand one another in the long run. Is a friend really a friend if you can’t voice your opinion and have them love you even if they disagree?
Same thing with bodily functions. If you can’t fart in front of your family and friends, who can you fart in front of? Not saying my father was one to pass gas at the Pope’s dinner table. But in a crowded elevator, packed train car, or walking down the street? Let ‘er rip.
This “pull my finger” attitude has helped me in a myriad of ways – from expressing my beliefs, righting a wrong, and using public bathrooms. Holding stuff inside our minds and bodies is a good way to die young and a bad way to connect with one another. Might as well let it all out.
It’s Okay to Be You
This last one’s an amalgamation of all of Eric’s greatest hits, but it’s by far the most important and can easily be reiterated. In my nursery there hung a framed picture of a cartoon rabbit, in a disco pose, wearing colorful shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, standing in front of a crowd of gray-pants suit clad dogs, very clearly not dancing. The bottom of the poster read, “It’s Okay To Be You!” I loved this poster. I still have it actually. An updated, reframed version, but with the same message and the same crazy rabbit.
People are going to ask you to compromise throughout your entire existence. Compromise is good, it’s healthy, and it’s the way we all work together to make our lives mean something on this spinning, little ball. In all the commotion, sometimes the line gets blurred and it’s hard to tell if, within the act of compromise, we are losing ourselves. Are we are compromising the thing that makes us totally unique and wholly ourselves? Remember that no one wants you to be someone else, so you shouldn’t either. Don’t forget that. Don’t hide your off key singing voice or your weird bowling shirt collection, or your dream to be a Hollywood director. It is always okay to be you.