There are some things in life that cannot be learned if you are not taught. Or, I guess in my case, told. These are the sorts of things that are not always vital, but really help you along in life. You get a small sense of satisfaction from knowing them, even though they do not necessarily put you that much ahead in the world or deem you to be talented. They are humble skills and tricks. These sorts of things were mostly taught to me by my Dad.
My Dad knows lots of stuff. Sometimes I forget he does, but he does. It’s always the most random stuff. There are certain things you’d expect him to know, like how to bend a coat hanger into a hook to unclog the drain (learned: age 11) and stuff like “Don’t try to rescue a drowning cat unless you have a broom or pole handy.” (learned: age 7.) Then there’s the always famous “Wear a compass around your neck at night when you’re sleeping in the bush, (woods) because you never know when you’re gonna have to get up in the middle of the night to run away from a bear.” (learned: age 13.) These are all good suggestions, although the last one is a bit puzzling and will only be useful in a very specific context. It’s clear my Dad wants what’s best for us, you can tell by the way he says “you guys quit your yapping and just listen so you don’t grow up to be useless.” (I sometimes wonder what kind of people my Dad thinks children who don’t know his life hacks are going to grow up to be. Probably criminals, that seems to be a parental default.) In any case, my Dad’s a smart guy, and he can advise you on anything from physics equations to easy snacks (bananas, brown sugar and milk.) He can offer some advice that is redundant and overly paranoid at times (my brother and I suspect that in his spare time he is a writer for the “Final Destination” horror franchise) but still, the guy is full of useful advice.
Over the years I have learned how to forecast when my Dad is going to divulge such information. It usually starts with some exasperated noise followed by a “you guys.” To my father, incompetence is a group activity. We are never tried for a crime on an individual basis, mistakes are made by the collective (the collective of my brother and I, sometimes my Mom too.) For example, “You guys left your damn jockstrap in the middle of the floor!” I suppose this is his way of being inclusive. The phrase “just listen” also comes up a lot, but I think that’s mostly my fault because I always forget to “quit your yapping.” Over the years, ‘us guys’ have ‘just listened’ and have learned a great many useful things. One of my favorites is the golden rule of submarine sandwiches.
I don’t remember exactly when I learned the “golden rule” of submarine sandwich etiquette, but it was probably when I was around 8 or 9. I don’t remember having a submarine sandwich before that, and I don’t think my Dad ever stood for buying 6 inch sandwiches, so we probably didn’t have them until we were able to consume a good portion of a 12 inch sub, and whatever was left over my dad would get to eat for dessert. (A stratagem I’ll probably be taught when I have children.) Anyways, one day my father, brother and I were at Mr. Sub, probably after a hockey practice. I think I ordered a Pizza Sub. (I was not very imaginative/exploratory in the realm of food as a child.) Anyway, my brother and I eagerly grabbed our wrapped sandwiches and made for the door when our Dad called us to stop. “Now hold on a second…” (Ruh-roh) “you guys… you gotta carry the sandwich LIKE A FOOTBALL.” Unfortunately, I had no idea what the crap this meant. I didn’t play football. Luckily, my Dad was always quite illustrative when it came to lessons. “…see? Hold it horizontally.” My dad had the sandwich cradled along one of his forearms. “That way, the sauce doesn’t all drip to the end and make it all soggy, and the stuff doesn’t fall out.” (It’s a crime to let the stuff fall out.) We were copying him when we saw a guy walking out with his sandwich dangling out of his hand like a dog leash. “See that guy?” Our Dad pointed, “He’s useless. He’s ruining his sandwich!” We looked solemly at the poor soul. “You can always tell a wise person from the way that they hold their sandwich.” finished Dad, in a Confucian kind of way.
And you know, he’s right about that. I dunno about the whole sandwich wisdom meter, but the sandwich carrying method is foolproof. I have since taught this method to whoever I happen to be in a submarine sandwich shop with. It makes me smile every time I get to bring it up. “My Dad taught me that.”