My Father’s Advice, In Brief by
(150 Stories)

Prompted By Father's Day

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My father was a brilliant and pretty complicated guy, and I could go on at length about him.  Although a doctor, he was at least as much a writer (starting with journals he kept when he was in China during WW II) and did not suffer from a lack of opinions, or a desire to share them.  But, as I think about it, what he rarely offered — at least to me; I believe my brother got a ton of it — was fatherly advice.  (So I can limit myself to that topic and keep this brief.)  With all due modesty aside, I attribute that to the fact that I was always a pretty good kid and high achiever and he felt that he didn’t need to offer much up.  Why mess with a good thing, right?

In fact, I can recall only two pieces of advice he ever gave me, neither of which is terribly profound, but both of which I listened to:

  1. When you go off to college, go somewhere so you have a fireplace in your room.    (Check; though I think his romantic expectations for me vastly exceeded my accomplishments.)
  2. All through life, people who are not as smart as you but in positions of authority over you — he was thinking of cops and being in the Army – – will tell you what to do; almost without exception, just do it. (Check; though, as anyone who had read my Group W Bench posting can attest, I was less than perfect in following this one.)

Lesson over.

I also realize I don’t have any pictures of my father, who died in 2001, on-line to share.  But, if you want to know what I remember him looking like, just look at my photo.  It’s a little weird.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Nice story, John. Maybe another time you can go on at length about him, I’m sure it would be fascinating! I love your description that he “did not suffer from a lack of opinions, or a desire to share them” – that perfectly describes my father as well. Maybe it’s all doctors?

    Love the two pieces of advice, and your desire to comply with them.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so much, Suzy. And yes; maybe we should share our observations — at the risk of over-generalizing — about doctors. Then let someone else have at us lawyers.

      And I give my father credit for not presuming to pass on “big” advice to me. I have tried to do the same with my daughters; my main advice to them has been which Scotch to drink and to always carry an AAA card with them even though they barely drive. The latter has actually been helpful to them on several occasions; as to the former, they have now far bypassed me with some esoteric single malts.

  2. John Zussman says:

    Your father’s advice seems sound. I too had a dorm room with a fireplace, although I can’t recall ever having a fire. Did they even work? Where would one get firewood?

    I had a pediatrician uncle who liked to debate like that—but also a lawyer father. Put them in a room together and it was like a death match.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Brief but pungent bits of advise, I’d say. Sort of life lessons. Why do you think your father gave your brother all the advise and spared you? Anyway, good to hear you weigh in on this topic, John.

  4. Caught up with this as a Missed story John.
    What an honest and pretty darn complete picture of your father you give us in just few words!

    I actually can’t remember my dad sitting me down and giving me advise, maybe we got it by osmosis! My mother, on the hand, had lots to give – wish I had taken more of it!

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