In honor of Fathers Day, we reprint this essay, What You Do and Say That Theyll Remember, from Clyde Edgertons new book, Papadaddys Book For New Fathers: Advice to Dads of All Ages (Little, Brown & Company).
Your important pronouncements will most likely be forgotten, and apparently insignificant words remembered.
After somebody stole a sock full of silver dollars from my room when I was about sixteen, I was sitting on our front porch with my mother. We had just searched the house high and low. I was angry. I said, I dont know who took that money, but hes a damn son of a bitch. My mother, stunned, said, Son, I didnt even know you thought words like that. Her words have stayed with me. I cant begin to imagine all her moral guidance throughout my early life the directions for living that I dont remember. I do remember the Billy Graham tracts she sent me while I was in the Air Force, but not much about what they said. What was never discarded was the unspoken message from my mother: I care about you, who you have become.
I have friends who are brothers. While they remember a good bit their father said to them, one brother told me he clearly remembers a sentence spoken often in their childhood and adolescence by their banjo-picking, storytelling father even though the contexts now escape him: Son, have you lost your damn mind?
I remember sitting on the couch beside my father when I was about seven. He needed a shave, and I put my cheek to his cheek to feel his beard. I happened to look through the dining room window and saw some telephone poles and wires. I thought to myself, Ill never forget this, and I never have.
I remember Uncle Bob teaching me, when I was eight, to cast an open-faced spinning reel. A weight was tied to the end of the line. We were in his backyard. Hed just shown me the placement of the thumb, explained the mechanics of a backlash. I cast the weight, and as the line spun out, I watched a terrible backlash bunch up at the reel. I wondered what Uncle Bob would say. What he said was You sure ed that up. I had no idea what that strange word meant, but it seemed significant. Ive never forgotten the moment, in part because my blood told me that a significant word had been spoken.
Kristina remembers playing in a backyard with other children when she was six. She was shirtless. An uncle said, Put on a shirt, girl.
I guess its conceivable that if we say something too many times to our children, like Sit up straight, a little barrier is set up that begins blocking that particular message. Eventually, the child forgets forever what you say over and over. Thus, my children will never remember my saying, Where are your SHOES?
Heres a warning, though. Dont ever say to a child, Are you getting a little chubby? Many of you reading this have more sense than I do. And my thirty-year-old daughter, Catherine, has, reasonably never forgotten my saying that to her. Her college thesis was about adolescent girls body images.
Another of my uncles said these things to me:
Did you check the air in the tires? You never check the air in the tires, do you?
If you keep throwing curveballs, youll ruin your arm.
One day when I was fourteen, I walked into the general store near home. This uncle and several older men were sitting around. One of the men said, That boys about to be a man, aint he? and my uncle said, Not that one.
This uncle lived off and on with my mother, father, and me while I was growing up usually for six months at a time (Hed spend the next six months with another of his sisters) and surely we talked some, though not much, but if so, I dont remember what it was. And when he was very intoxicated, he called me by another nephews name.
What You Do and Say That Theyll Remember, by Clydge Edgerton, reprinted with permission from Papadaddys Book for New Fathers: Advice To Dads of All Ages. Little, Brown and Company, May 2013