Are real-life dads as wise as Homer and Heathcliff and Ward?

Back in television’s prehistoric days, before even I was born, Robert Young played Jim Anderson, the serene and sage dad on “Father Knows Best.” He is the mother of all TV fathers. Since then, television has given us dads as different as Ward Cleaver and Homer Simpson, or Heathcliff Huxtable and Frank Costanza. What do they all have in common? Wisdom and counsel. They all offer advice.

Some of us were lucky enough to be raised by real-life Mike Bradys. Others had to settle for real-life Al Bundys. All of us, of course, had fathers who lacked a stable of writers to feed them brilliant lines. They had to come up with their own material. In honor of Father’s Day, here is the best advice that readers recall receiving from their dads.

• Lisa Schneider Lenkiewicz: “Don’t show the enemy weakness. Also, never get off the interstate.”

• Stacy Pierce Larsen: “You are not dating boys with vans.”

• Leigh Samuels: “Never let them see you cry.”

• Carolyn Tyler Knight: “Even a mosquito doesn’t get a pat on the back ‘til he starts working.”

• Susan Howard McRae: “After I failed my written driver’s exam, my father and I were driving home in total silence. Then he said to me very quietly, ‘Susan, do you think next time you could read the book first?’”

• Amanda Badeau: “’Do as I say, not as I do.’ He said this a lot after I learned to drive and was able to point out his traffic violations.”

• Wendy Whaples Scully: “Close the windows of the car if you have an ice cream cone in the summer.”

• Eileen Brunetto: “Don’t rush your days. You can’t have Friday and Saturday without Monday and Tuesday.”

• Courtney Schilling Wheeler: “When we were on car rides and asking how much longer, he’d say, ‘Just ten more minutes.’ It didn’t matter if we were ten minutes, half an hour, or three days from our destination. But he was always so convincing. Now I say the same stuff to my kids.”

• Jill Murphy: “My dad always told me to eat my vegetables because they’d put lead in my pencil. As a girl, I found this quite confusing.”

• Cynthia Nicola: “Whenever there was something we didn’t want to do or eat, my dad always said, ‘It puts hair on your chest.’ My sister and I never understood why we should be hoping to have hair on our chest.”

• Carrie Becker: “Your name will take you way farther than your feet ever will.”

• Jan Morse: “My dad showed me how to eat all the chocolates on the bottom layer of a chocolate box, put the top layer back on the paper frame, then eat one chocolate on top and look like a person of moderation.”

• Judy Merrill Moticka: “My dad’s standard advice for just about anything was either ‘walk it off’ (not great when what needed to be ‘walked off’ was a broken ankle) or ‘Put some Mentholatum on it’ ( also ineffective for a broken ankle).”

• Sarah Spencer: “After a graduation party, the whole lower quarter of our brand new Dodge truck had been side-swiped on the passenger’s side. As the ‘designated driver,’ I never saw it. The next morning, my dad saw how horrified I was that the truck had been damaged. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Trucks can be replaced. Daughters can’t.’”

• Diane Hebert Farrell: “Love many, trust few, always paddle your own canoe.”

Obviously some advice is better than others. As TV dad Homer Simpson once said, “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Happy Father’s Day.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 19, 2011. His next novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4, 2011.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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