18: Getting Back to Abnormal

18: Getting Back to Abnormal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Getting Back to Abnormal

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

My father comes up with amusing yet surprisingly sensible aphorisms all the time. Because of their innate wisdom, I have begun compiling them over the years on yellow stickies. Usually said with a straight face, these paternal sayings never fail to make me smile — and ponder. “It’s getting back to abnormal,” he told me the other day on the phone after dealing with a large family holiday dinner.

“Getting back to abnormal?” I replied.

“Yeah, you know what I mean.”

One time, I was visiting him in Pamplin, Virginia, and we were having a father-son talk. He paused, sighed, looked into the distance and then said, “Well, you can’t live two days at once. That’s for sure.” Like some sort of southern Yogi Berra, Dad comes up with the right thing to say all on his own.

When I was younger, I somehow missed the essence of these maxims. Now, as an adult, I grab a stickie and jot them down. I even find myself using them when I give advice, echoing my father without realizing it.

Dad encouraged me to stay in the now with, “The past can kill you . . . if you let it.” Useful advice for not obsessing about things you can’t control anymore.

His admonition against drinking was not, “Hey, drinking’s bad for you,” but more along the lines of personal distaste. “I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “I just think beer tastes like horse pee.”

Perhaps his most valuable counsel to me came when I struggled as a teacher over the years. While loving writing and literature, and conveying it to my students, I felt inundated by superfluous meetings and stacks of heart-numbing grading. I called Dad one evening to tell him about my frustrations. He thought for a moment. “You know, son,” he offered, “you don’t always need to be in a classroom to teach.”

In fact, the best teachers carry their knowledge with them effortlessly and dole it out only when the student is ready. That is my father. He never lectures. A small phrase said kindly seems to be enough.

Over the years, he gave me twenty dollars every time I received straight A’s. He offered to buy me a car if I didn’t drink or smoke through high school. He vowed to send my two brothers and me to the college of our choice — and did (with my mother of course). During my time at college, he decided to go back to school and finish his own degree. We often compared grades at the end of our semesters. Not only did he put me through college, he himself returned to complete his BA as an example.

Polonius had a long list of advice when his son Laertes was leaving home in Hamlet “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” and so on. Here are a few of my other favorite phrases from Dad:

On religion: “Praying is someone else to talk to.”

On relationships: “If you are going to love somebody, you’ll need to learn to live with faults.”

On living together: “Some people just shouldn’t.”

On jobs: “Just about every job in the world is clerical to some degree.”

On secrets: “Not everybody has to know everything about you. It’s all right to keep some things to yourself.”

It is a father’s duty to offer such wisdom. When “son” is added, these mere words can endure a lifetime. “I’m real proud of you, son,” is the one I love to hear most. A father’s pride has a certain power.

Some people might hear his phrases and merely chuckle, but I have taken many of them to heart, as if they came from the Buddha himself.

The other day I was on the phone with a friend, listening to more about the Great Recession. After some chatting, I was asked how I was doing. “Getting back to abnormal,” I replied, smiling to myself.

~Mark Damon Puckett

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