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Father Knows How. When Will I?

My daughter’s texts woke me out of a deep sleep. I usually sleep through cell phone vibrations, but on some cosmic level my subconscious brain knew that she needed me. She needed guidance about how to handle the flat tire she got… on the other side of the country.

So thumbs flying across the iPhone keyboard, I counseled her on contacting AAA, talking with her employer about being late to work, and calmly kept her company while she waited.

Hours later she called to thank me, wondering when she would ever know how to do this kind of thing herself.

Later that week, my middle son called, seeking my guidance on signing up for his company’s cafeteria plan. How much should I designate, he asked?

So I advised him, as best I could, knowing full well that it was at best an educated guess. He wondered when he would know how to handle this all this all by himself.

My third child had me reviewing a lease for a house a group of them were renting at college. We read through the lease and as best I could I pointed out the salient issues and counseled him on how to approach their landlord. I wondered, when did I become so comfortable advising others on such matters?

My wife Michelle reminded me that many times in our relationship, when I was still in my twenties and thirties, I would call my father for advice.

When I got that flat tire while the two of us went away together overnight. Worried about driving too long on the spare tire, I called him. My dad told me just how long I could go before getting a new tire.

When Michelle and I were driving up the California coast during our first trip out west to meet her family. During Passover, we approached Anderson’s Pea Soup restaurant in Bulton and I couldn’t remember if we could eat peas during the holiday. My dad knew the answer: peas were kitniyot and therefore could not to be eaten during Passover.

When I was leaving my first job, I could not imagine how we would ever make it through. My dad told me about his first significant job loss, and how, afraid for their future, he nevertheless marshaled his courage and developed a new plan.

I realize now that at crucial moments in my life when I needed to figure out how to do something, my dad always seemed to know. Just like he knew how to make a pinewood derby racing car, fill out college scholarship forms, and cash U.S. savings bonds. Just like, until very recently, he was the one to call when one of the kids needed to fill out a W-4 tax form.

I am now in my early fifties and my dad recently celebrated his 83rd birthday. I always wondered how he gained all that wisdom and I wondered if I would ever gain that depth of wisdom to be able to help my children when they needed to navigate their lives. I suppose that like me, when he needed to know, he just somehow figured it out or knew who to ask for the insight.

Now, when my kids ask when will they know how to do this “all by themselves,” I tell them: you will know how to do all this when you have to. It may not be until you have kids of your own who call you for guidance. At that point, you wil listen to the issue, try to figure out what needs to be done, decide who can help you think it through, and – like me right now – do your best.

If all else fails, do what I sometimes still do: just try to imagine what your own dad would.

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