The Little Plaid Guide to Living a Better Life

Published in the Pawtucket Times, June 14, 2013

In just two days, millions of Americans will celebrate Father’s Day. As I penned this week’s commentary thinking of the approaching national holiday, I quickly began thinking of my Dad, who died of a heart attack over nine years ago at the ripe old age of 89. While he had recently been ailing and was well along in years, it was quite a shock to receive the long distance phone call from my sister that he had died.

For many, Father’s Day provides an opportunity to slow down and reflect on growing up with their father or step-father, fondly looking back to earlier times.

The Life and Times of Frank Weiss

There was one thing for sure that I know about my Dad, something I could literally take to the bank. Married for over 62 years, he passionately adored his wife, Sally, who he considered to be the most important person in his life. My twin brother, James, and two older sisters, Mickie and Nancy, and then ultimately his grandchildren, would also be very important to him throughout his long life, too.

As a youngster, I remember Dad’s work ethic, always working hard to support the family, oftentimes sitting, at the wrought iron and glass kitchen table, late into the evening hour working on his weekly reports. Although he worked long hours, Dad always found time to go to a ball game or just spend time with his kids.

Dad was like the Energizer rabbit – he kept working, working and working. There was no retirement for this man, who had worked for over 33 years at Colbert Volks, a well-known woman’s clothing store in Dallas, Texas. Two years after his bypass surgery, my 70-year old Dad wanted to chart a new career course, so he began a second job and worked at C’est Simone, a national manufacturer of women’s apparel, until the mid-80s. Amazingly, during his long career in woman’s retail, he could literally see a style or clothing trend well long before it happened, always predicting what new coat styles would sell in a particular season.

Looking Back Over the Years

I will always remember…

How we shot hoops in the backyard for ice cream. Dad always lost at the last moment– we always won, getting that double-dipped chocolate ice cream as a prize.

At restaurants, I remember Dad drinking cup after cup of black coffee at Luby’s Cafeteria, with the decaf coffee never being quite being hot enough for his taste.

In his later years, Dad would oftentimes reach out to strangers in very simple ways. He always carried that roll of Susan B. Anthony dollars, giving out the coins to the lucky ones who crossed his path. “Don’t spend them,” they’re lucky coins,” he would say. Just before his funeral we found his stash of coins, and everyone who attended the service got their “lucky coin.”

He was a practical joker, but at times a little too stubborn. As a very young child, sitting at a street curb he put his small leg in front of a truck, daring the vehicle to stop. This particular time the joke was on him – the truck moved, his leg didn’t, and bones in one leg were broken.

As a teenager, Dad would tip over outhouses throughout his neighborhood. He would assure me that nobody was in them. Always the practical joker, at his sister-in-law’s house in Pikesville, Maryland, Dad walked over to her neighbor’s house and with a straight face gave him advice on how to plant a tree. Heeding his authoritative advice, the neighbor kept digging the hole deeper, deeper, and deeper, until the ball of the tree was five feet from the top of the hole. Luckily, a local landscaper would come by and inform the gullible neighbor that the hole was too deep.

Throughout his long life, Dad cared about people. During his Army days, as an officer of the day, he ordered a cook to put cold cuts out for a group of soldiers who came by to eat after being out in the rain all day. The watery beef stew was not good enough for these guys, he would later tell me. While his superiors called him on the carpet for that act of kindness, he stood up to the military bureaucracy, demanding them to be accountable to their troops.

By tapping his business colleagues, Dad would successfully raise money for the AMC Cancer Society to help those battling this dreaded disease. Later, he would be recognized by the organization for his fund-raising efforts. I often think, perhaps that is where I get my skills in fundraising.

Life’s Little Lessons

I remember during the ups and downs in my brother and sisters personal and professional careers, Dad was always there giving us practical advice, encouragement, and support, often times through little gifts.

Last week, going through a cluttered desk drawer I found a small book given to me by Dad almost 15 years ago. The inspirational book, Life’s Little Instruction Book, penned by author, H. J. Brown, Jr., from Middle Tennessee, gave simple words of wisdom gleaned from his life experience, as well as others.

This small tome caught the attention of my Dad along with the American public, becoming the first book to ever occupy the number one spot on the New York Times best-seller list in both paperback and hard cover formats simultaneously. It has logged more than two years on this prestigious daily newspaper’s best-seller list, including more than a year at the number one spot. The little plaid book was written as a going-away present for Brown’s college-bound son, containing 511 simple suggestions, observations, and reminders on how to live a happy and rewarding life.

So as Father’s Day approaches, memories of my Dad come to me again, giving me his sage advice on how to have a fulfilling personal and professional life. All I have to do is go through the pages of this long lost book he gave me and read the following suggestions, observations and reminders, he marked, with a blue dot, the ones he liked the best.

Here is a sampling:

“When someone wants to hire you even if it’s a job you have little interest in, talk to them. Never close the door on an opportunity until you’ve had a chance to hear the offer in person.”

“Never deprive someone of hope because it might be all they have.”

“When starting out, don’t worry about not having enough money. Limited funds are a blessing and not a curse. Nothing encourages creative thinking in quite the same way.”

“Give yourself an hour to cool off before responding to someone who has provoked you. If it involves something really important, give yourself overnight.”

“Don’t waste time responding to your critics.”

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with the big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

“Give people a second change, but not a third.”

“Read carefully anything that requires your signature. Remember the big print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

“Don’t forget that a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.”

“Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.”

“Judge your success by the degree that you are enjoying peace, health, and love.”

“Seek opportunity, not security. A boat in a harbor is safe, but in time its bottom will rot out.”

“Just to see how it feels, for the next twenty-four hours refrain from criticizing anyone or anything.”

“Don’t be rushed into making an important decision. People will understand if you say, ‘I’d like a little more time to think it over. Can I get back to you tomorrow?”

“Send your loved one flowers. Think of a reason later.”

“Be prepared. You never get a second change to make a good first impression.”

“Select a doctor your own age so you can grow old together.”

“Get your priorities straight. No one ever said on his death bed, “Gee, if I’d only spent more time at the office.”

“Don’t flaunt your success, but don’t apologize for it either.”

“Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”

Most importantly, “Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.”

Brown’s book reminds us the importance of taking simple actions that can lead to a more fulfilling life. It’s a great gift for parent’s to give to their children. To purchase Life’s Little Instruction Book, go to http://www.amazon.com/Lifes-Little-Instruction-Book-Observations/dp/B002MAQSIO/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1370916533&sr=8-5&keywords=H.+Jackson+Brown.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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