AJ Jacobs Braved the Internet to Bolster His Daddy Wisdom
Guest Post by A.J. Jacobs, Writer and New York Times Best-Selling Author
As the father of three sons in this mind-bogglingly complicated era, I’m always interested in what wisdom I can try to teach my kids. My own dad gave me lots of great advice, but the one that sticks out is this: “Try to enjoy every moment.” I keep that thought with me always.
What advice do other dads impart to their children? I could ask other dads, one by one. Or, I could learn from several thousand in one long sitting.
A few weeks ago, I discovered a fascinating thread on Reddit about the following question:
For those who grew up with a good father, what was the most important thing you learned from him?
I decided to read all 11,700 comments and compile and arrange my favorite by theme. It’s been an enlightening experience that I hope will make me a better dad. I already learned one lesson: the Internet isn’t always a cesspool of vitriol.
Sometimes it can be lovely and wise!
The best from Reddit:
LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS
"Be quick to listen and slow to speak."
"Two ears, one mouth."
"Don’t speak unless it improves upon silence." (This is a quote from Ghandi, but he was a dad too!)
"The 6 P’s of life are Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance."
"Always plan for 'plan C'...or maybe D."
"Measure twice, cut once."
"First of all, don't regret and don't look at things you didn't accomplish. Instead, look at what you managed to do and what to do next."
"The most important lesson he taught me was 'If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late.'"
"Every time I mess up he asks me, 'Okay, now, what can we do about it?'"
GET SOME GRIT
"Bite off more than you can chew, and chew like fuck."
"If it was easy, everyone would do it."
"Never do anything half-ass. Always do everything 100 percent ass."
"When facing a difficult problem that feels impossible, break it down and only worry about solving one step at a time."
"Always be the best at everything or just give it 100 percent and always try to do a damn fine job. If you are a garbage man, be the best garbage man in your entire crew."
"You don't have to be the best, but you must try your best."
"Done is better than perfect"
ALWAYS BE LEARNING, ALWAYS BE HUMBLE
"If you're the smartest person in the room go to another room."
"There will always be someone better than you that you can learn from no matter how good you get. The best doesn't exist."
"You don’t know what you don’t know."
"The most successful people in this world became that way because they continuously learned new ways to self-improve."
"You’re not as smart as you think you are."
"Being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake. I remember when I was 6, and him apologizing to me when he had punished me for taking something that belonged to him. Turns out he’d misplaced it after all! That changed my perception that adults were always right!"
"I learned from my dad that not having all the answers is OK. That some questions will never get answered, and it’s OK. The process of wonder and discovery and never-ending learning will suffice."
ANGER IS OFTEN COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
"Don't make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions."
"When you are arguing with someone you have to choose between being right and being happy."
"If someone is being totally unreasonable with you, sometimes you should just silently walk away."
"Being angry is meaningless, just fix it (or just leave) and move on."
"The squeaky wheel sometimes gets the grease, but sometimes gets the ax instead."
"Don't talk shit about your best friend's partner. Even if they are sitting there talking shit. Even if they just broke up. Even if it's been a long time since they broke up."
LIFE IS NOT BLACK AND WHITE
"Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity."
"There are no angels and no demons. No one is going to be perfectly moral all the time and no one is pure evil. We are all trying our best."
"He cheated on my mom but was always a great dad. So, I guess he taught me that good people can do bad things?"
"If you choose to look for the worst in things, you will find it with ease. If you choose to look for the good in things, you will also find them with ease."
"When something didn't go my way he always said, 'Life isn't fair, but try to make it fair.'"
"Laugh at your own jokes. Make them for yourself. You can never be sure a joke will land with others, but if you can make one person laugh, let it be yourself."
"Candy is dandy, but sex won't rot your teeth." (That one shocked me at first, but it speaks to a willingness to look past cultural norms and really examine whether something is bad for you, or just derided by society for reasons that may not apply.)
ON THE OTHER HAND, BE CAREFUL
"When your pecker gets hard, your brain gets soft."
"Always be kind to caterpillars."
"Don’t be an asshole.”
"If you open a gate, close it, always. If you borrow something, bring it back in the same or better condition. If you're wrong, admit it and apologize."
"Hug your mom (except during COVID)."
"Any time my dad dropped me off somewhere (school, soccer practice, etc.), he would always tell me he loved me and “make sure you’re kind to someone today!"
"My dad was a huge Beatles fan, and this is on his burial stone: 'And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.'"
"When he was in college, my dad was on the dive team. One day he was walking down the street and saw another person on his team. My dad yelled, 'Hey Dave!' and waved. Dave completely ignored him and kept walking. My dad looked at his roommate that he was walking with and said, 'Ya know, it doesn’t take much to say hi, but it sure takes an asshole not to.'"
COOKING AND DIET ADVICE
"Use more flour when you’re making pizza."
"Never eat anything bigger than your own head."
"If you don't brown the flour when making gravy, you're just making paste."
"To open a jar that's too hard to open by hand, heat the lid on a stove so it expands and loosens.”
"When you're putting away the dishes, put the knives away first."
"Don't drink your calories except for beer."
"Don’t cook everything on high."
"Drink more water."
"Lottery tickets are a tax on people who are bad at math."
"You can use old kitchen knives as throwing knives at your fence."
"Need to drain a pool with no pump? Stick a water hose in it, turn on the water, then turn off the water, disconnect the hose and clamp it shut, run it downhill, and let go. It will siphon the whole pool empty."
"Never use a nylon rope with a chain when pulling someone's car out of the ditch. The nylon can break and send the chain flying into you."
DON’T DO WHAT I DID ADVICE
"I grew up with a not-so-good father. The only advice he ever gave me was, 'Don’t ever get married, but if you do, don’t have any kids.'"
"Well, my dad was shit. But I sure as hell never touched meth now did I? Thanks, pop.”
BE A FROG...OR MAYBE A DUCK
"Be a frog. Two frogs had fallen into a bucket of milk and could not jump out, so they began swimming frantically. After a while, one of the frogs got exhausted and said to his friend, 'What is the point? We'll never escape this. Just let fate set in.' And he gave up (and drowned). The other frog, however, was determined to find a way to live. Eventually, all the swimming the frog did had turned the milk into butter, and he was able to easily jump out."
"Be a duck. Whenever you come across something that is upsetting, tell yourself, 'Be a duck.' What happens when a duck gets water on its feathers? They just shake it off. So in the same vein, shake it off when you come across something that is upsetting because, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. It’s not gonna matter 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, or 10 years from now."
PARENTING / FAMILY ADVICE
"You don't have to be blood-related to someone to be family."
"If he wanted me to do something, he would take the time to explain to me why (especially if it was hard). He never once told me 'because I told you so' or 'because I’m the adult.' If I pushed back, he would walk me through his logic, and most of the time I’d agree with him. This was for everything – from doing yard work to apologizing to someone."
"Humiliating your child is not discipline."
"Presence over presents."
A.J. Jacobs lives in New York with his wife and three sons. He is an author, lecturer, and human guinea pig. He has written four New York Times bestsellers, including The Year of Living Biblically and Drop Dead Healthy. He is a contributor to NPR, Esquire, and the New York Times, among others. His most recent book is Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, which chronicled his quest to thank a thousand people who had even the smallest role in making his morning cup of coffee possible. He has given four TED talks that have more than 8 million views combined.