From Liver to Life by
(194 Stories)

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I recently wrote about how authoritarian my parents were in “Gap-and-a-Half,” and it’s true that my dad could be stern. He was dark haired and large, often scaring my young friends when he got home from work. However, I was never scared, and he never hit us. While very strict, he was always consistent (well, almost), so we knew the rules and consequences for breaking them. My dad was quiet, so he didn’t tell me a lot, but taught largely by his actions. Here is a list of “mosts,” and what I learned from him.

"You don't have to eat the liver."

Most humorous message: “You don’t have to eat the liver.” I could tolerate liver, but my dad hated it. He insisted we try all foods and eat at least a small portion of them, but liver and other organ meats were the exception. This exception came in handy when my mom, for an unfathomable reason, made calves’ brains one evening. My brother, my dad, and I went hungry, gladly.

Most stern message: In eighth grade, I was in an advanced French class where many of the kids were disruptive, and the first semester I lost focus. My French skills were very good and I did well on all the tests. Back then the school gave effort marks (1 for best, 2 for OK, 3 for didn’t try), and I received an A2. While he didn’t punish me, my dad gave me a rare lecture, saying that a C grade with a 1 effort was better to him than an A grade with a 2 effort. That advice helped me always put in best efforts and taught me to dig deep, be persistent, and always aim to improve.

What I most wished he’d told me: That he was extremely claustrophobic. For years I’d had no idea that my dad was terrified of closed, small places. I don’t know how he survived service in the Navy on an aircraft carrier, with tiny bunks and small rooms. It would have helped us to know, not only to accommodate him, but it would have explained where I got my thankfully much milder claustrophobic behavior.

Most balanced action: In 1981 I got a big promotion at work, and my dad suggested that it was time to give up my beloved 1969 Toyota Corona for something more suitable and reliable. However, my salary was still low due to “working while female,” and inflation was really high, so interest rates on car loans were through the roof. My dad used his VA loan at 5% to lend me the money. We wrote a promissory note and I paid him back. Win-win.

Most touching comment: “I never could have done what you did.” I was so moved by my dad’s take on my entrepreneurial skills, when, in the 1990s, he said that he could not have had the fortitude to start and remain in an independent business. I felt completely validated.

Most valuable career advice by someone other than my father: “Go where you are wanted, not where you are needed.” This advice came too late in my career for me, but a delightful senior colleague at my last full-time job said this in a presentation to younger workers. Great advice, and I say it to grandkids, nieces, and other Gen Z folks.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. Susan Bennet says:

    Your story is heartwarming, Marian. I can see your dad in my mind. As children we often think our parents (and the world, for that matter) revolve around us and our needs. When we get the rare glimpse of our parents as people and gain an appreciation for them and their guidance, it’s special, isn’t it? You portray this perfectly.

    I had to laugh about the liver. My experience was 180 degrees apart from yours. My dad, the man who could barely open a soup can, targeted me as a picky and poor eater. He would cheerily come out of the kitchen on Saturday mornings with a homemade eggnog that would trigger my gag reflex. Liver was a miracle food, he believed, and cod liver oil (please no) was the elixir of health–“you are what you eat” before it was cool!

    • Marian says:

      Yuck, Susan, that’s pretty horrible about the eggnog, and I’m sorry you went through it. One great point about adulthood is that you do gain an appreciation of your parents, as you say.

  2. Thanx for sharing your father’s words Mare, the liver comment was funny, but the others seriously good advice.

    Could it be his Naval experience actually brought on the claustrophobia? And worse than the small quarters on that aircraft carrier, I’ve always wondered how anyone could survive time on a submarine!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wonderful advice from your father, particularly as you learned more about him. I really like the thought about putting in the effort rather than just getting a good grade. And lending you the money to secure a good rate for a car loan (as we watch interest rates on the rise again due to high inflation). Your last piece of advice is spot on. It takes fortitude, but it true! A great list, all around.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Truly heartwarming, Marian, as has been noted. And what amazingly wise advise he dispensed on a broad range of topics. That said, I have to admit that I most loved his advice on liver — I absolutely hate it, too.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John. I’m sure many people would have appreciated the permission not to eat liver. My father died the same year as yours, 2001, and I remember his messages, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  5. Your Dad was remarkable in his wisdom and how he shared it with you. His admiration on your willingness to take risks in your work where he could not said a lot about his openness with you. Does every family have a liver story?? When my mother served her semi-annual meal of calves liver (“We all need the iron”) my father took it as a teachable moment, as a former pathologist dissecting it on the plate to show us kids the bile ducts. Nobody felt like eating it after that, even my mother. Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    This is a terrific list of advice, some of which made me smile (the liver of course) and some of which I had to think about (the last one). You mention that he taught you as much by his actions as his words, which seems to be a common theme for dads. But actions speak louder than words anyway.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Must looking at your featured image reminds me of my youngest brother’s hatred for liver and onions. Sadly, it appeared frequently because my father liked it, so he had to eat some of it until we got a dog. Your father gave you some great advice about going where you are wanted. I was touched by him saying, “I never could have done what you did.” What a special complement.

  8. Suzy says:

    My family did NOT have a liver story, thankfully. I do remember my parents ordering liver and onions at a restaurant, but they didn’t make me try it, and we never had it at home.

    I love the way you divide your memories of him into categories. Interesting about the French grade – I don’t think my father would have ever said a C was better than an A, regardless of the effort marks. In fact, I think he would have been proud of the fact that I could get an A with only an OK effort! But that’s just speculation on my part.

    Great story, Mare! Thanks for this vivid portrait of your father.

  9. Loved the liver comment, as have others, but it was your validation comment that looms largest. I fully understand. I suspect that many of us, probably most of us, endeavor to measure up to the standards of our parents, particularly our dads. You did, and he had the grace and wisdom to let you know that. Bravo.

  10. Kathy Porter says:

    What a perceptive collection of fatherly advice. It seems that he really did teach you a lot, verbally or not.

  11. Dave Ventre says:

    Like Dana, I wonder if your father’s claustrophobia stemmed from his navy days. Warships have so many tiny nooks and crannies that the crew needs must enter!

    And I am SO much with your Dad on the subject of liver. I can’t even stay in a house where it’s being cooked lest I gag.

    • Marian says:

      I agree, Dave, that’s all I can think of as the source of the claustrophobia. However, I’m wondering if there is a genetic component, since I have it, although less severely, but didn’t know about my dad being afflicted until much after mine manifested.

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