Monday, June 19, 2006

"You look funny to him, too, Son..."

It wasn't precisely the golden rule, but I learned it from my dad. I might have been 4 or 8 years old, somewhere in that range, and I saw an earthworm or caterpillar or something. You can guess what I said, based on the title above: "What a funny-looking worm (caterpillar, etc.)!"

That's the first lesson that I can remember on empathy.

Here's another valuable lesson from my dad: "The people that made this thing weren't magicians. They made it; we can take it apart (and maybe fix it)." A variant on this concept, which I've heard elsewhere, is "This didn't grow from a seed."

Something related Dad used to say was, "It's cheaper to fix it than to buy a new one."

Since those days, though, manufacturers have conspired against this ethic. They build something, and rather than putting it in a box, they pot it in plastic. "Try taking that apart," they seemed to be saying. Gaaa. Even when they don't do that, sometimes a required part has a higher retail price than a brand-new item. It costs somebody, probably an overworked underpaid sweatshop worker, more to make the new _______ than it would cost for the part, but from my wallet's point of view....

Markets, and marketing have managed to contradict some things my dad told me about machines and devices. But what he taught me about people and relationships endures.

Once he told us about two colleagues. One of them had bought something -- a bell, maybe a bell for a burglar alarm or something like this. My dad's other colleague ridiculed the purchase, saying he had paid way too much -- "You wuz robbed!" -- that sort of thing. Dad was annoyed with this second colleague. What's the point in making the first one feel bad, was his comment.

What's the point indeed. I should keep this idea in mind more often.

Another time he told me about someone who wanted him to fix his TV set. Take it to a shop, my dad said. "I can't -- I think it's hot!" the fellow told him. This was the wrong thing to say to my dad. He was disgusted. "This guy makes $35,000 a year! He can afford a TV set! Why did he support the TV thief?" That was a lot of money in those days.

Dad had no patience for mean people or criminals, or people who support them financially.

There's a lot more he taught me, but I'll close today's essay with this important lesson, which has served me well, particularly since I am the only human male in our household:

"Always put the seat back down."

Happy Fathers' Day, Dad!

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