Politics & Policy

Paternal Pearls

NRO dispenses fatherly wisdom.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of Father’s Day, National Review Online asked a mix of fathers, sons, and daughters to share either the best advice their fathers ever gave them, or, if it applied, the best fatherly advice they ever gave their own children. Their replies are below. NRO encourages you to share fatherly wisdom from your family, too: Send e-mails to thecorner@nationalreview.com, and check our weblog, The Corner, throughout the weekend to read some highlights from our inbox.

And, Happy Father’s Day!

David Asman

Best advice my father gave me before going off into the world of journalism: “Much better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond.”

So I started off as editor of a tiny magazine in Princeton, N.J., and always held senior editorial jobs up the chain to bigger and bigger organizations, through the Wall Street Journal into Fox News…

David Asman is a Fox News Channel host and anchor.

Adam Bellow

My father was not long on advice–he was too busy cracking jokes–and when you asked him a question his answer was often elliptical. Once, when I asked him for advice about writing a story, he said, “Why, it’s like dancing with a beautiful woman. You take her in your arms, lead her onto the floor, and off you go.” A lovely image, to be sure, but not very helpful. Years later, when I told him that I was struggling to finish a book, he spun me no fancy analogies but spoke bluntly and in a way that clearly arose from long experience as a writer. “Keep your legs under the desk.” Now that was advice I could use, and I gladly share it with the writers in your audience.

Adam Bellow is the author of In Praise of Nepotism: A History of Family Enterprise from King David to George W. Bush.

Colleen Carroll Campbell

My father has always been a man of wisdom and Irish wit. But Alzheimer’s disease has ravaged his memory and scrambled his thoughts. Now his wisdom comes in smaller doses–pithy phrases sprinkled into otherwise nonsensical conversations. His favorite phrase is one I’ve been hearing all my life: “We’re all in God’s hands.”

My father says this every time we talk, and repeats it like a mantra. Recently, he said this to my husband and me on our wedding day, as he joined my mother in toasting us at our reception. This man who once kept his friends in stitches with his off-the-cuff poems and elaborate jokes could barely find his table that night. He had forgotten nearly all of his favorite lines. But this phrase survived.

Recently, I asked my father what this phrase means to him. In a moment of unusual clarity, his blue eyes widened and he leaned forward in his chair.

“It means we can trust God. We’re in good shape.”

In the eight years since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I have seen my father lose nearly everything that once defined him. But he has not lost his faith. And even in the darkness of his dementia, he is reaching out to me, reminding me that no problem of mine is greater than God’s grace.

As much as I miss my father’s Irish wit, no words of his have ever taught me more.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. She is currently working on a book about her father and the spirituality of dementia.

John Derbyshire

Not having been a father for long, I don’t know that I have been called on to give advice above the elementary level.

In that vein, I think the sagest thing I have ever said to a child of my own was: “When you meet people, smile, put out your hand to be shaken, look them straight in the eye, and say ‘How do you do?’”

It’s not much, but it’s surprising how far it’ll get ya.

John Derbyshire is an NR contributing editor and NRO columnist. His latest book, Prime Obsession, has recently been released in paperback.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

My father was the most rational person I have ever known. He was taken from our family prematurely, but, mercifully, he left us with a multitude of blessings. It is rare–if ever–that a day goes by when I am not aided by something he told me, guided by the example of something he did, or reined in by his eternal cautions. (When I’m goofing, for the record, that’s an example of not remembering what Dad said, so no blaming him.) Anyway, it’s hard to pick one thing, but probably the most practical advice he gave me was the crucial importance of prioritizing.

Dad would make lists galore. At the start of the morning, there he would be, at school (JPL was a Catholic-school teacher, then principal) or at home, plotting his agenda, taking humble pride in each cross-out, happy to explain his strategy if you were interested, and enthusiastic to show you how it is done, step-by-step, if you were eager to learn. And, an essential component to prioritization for him was knowing when to stop. His devotion to Catholic education could have easily made him work 24/7, but he knew better. His devotion to his family, love for his wife and their children, had him planning exciting vacations and going above and beyond to help with the homework (I would not have passed algebra without him–the rational genes weren’t all passed on) and the most delicious dinners. (And the list goes on.)

I haven’t fully incorporated all of the advice yet, for sure–especially the walking-away principle–but I know he’ll keep reminding me.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of NRO.

Jonah Goldberg

My father is the wisest man I’ve ever known. Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been twisted into a knot of anxiety or fear or simple confusion, he’s been able to cut through it with an insightfulness whose edge was not dulled by its compassion and decency. When the world seemed blurry, he could always make it clear without ever resorting to clichés.

Still, the first instance of fatherly advice I can remember receiving may not be the best example of what I’m talking about.

We were walking up Broadway as “bagel-lancers” (the term my mom used for the contingent, always led by my father, charged with retrieving the provisions for our traditional lox-and-bagels Sunday breakfast.

I couldn’t have been much older than five or six. Around 88th street, my dad stopped, still holding my hand. He turned to me with an expression of sincere but stern concern and said:

“If you’re ever pulled over by a policeman in South America, you must say something like: ‘I’m sorry officer, I didn’t realize I was breaking the law. Is there any way I can pay the fine in cash right here?’”

I said, “Okay Dad.”

We started walking again and got the bagels.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of NRO.

Jana Novak

One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me was, “never trust a man who doesn’t drink”… No, seriously, the best piece of advice was something he learned from his father: “Prepare every day as if you’re going to live forever; but live every day as if you’re going to die tomorrow.” This has been a hallmark of my father’s life–one which I strive on a daily basis to live up to, as he is my role model.

Jana Novak is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She co-authored Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter’s Questions About God with her father, NRO contributor Michael Novak.

John Podhoretz

When I was 14, I spent two weeks in a car with my father. We drove from New York down South, through Texas and then up to Denver, where we met my mother. To be honest, I’ve had more relaxing trips. My dad insisted on driving 400 miles a day, which meant that we stopped for lunch and took in maybe a single sight while going and going and going and never pulling over. This was when I learned the truth about manhood: that is, that men are always interested in getting someplace in the fastest possible way. I’m sure that if murderers were required to drive themselves to Sing Sing for a life sentence without parole, they would brag about how it only took them 55 minutes from midtown.

So the car trip was kind of a trial. But it was also a revelation, because to curb my restlessness, my father began to tell me jokes. And not just any jokes, but Jewish jokes. As we passed by wondrous natural formations in our rented Dodge, my dad told me about the rich woman who asks the bellman at her Miami hotel to carry her grown son out of her limo and into her room. “My God, can’t he walk?” the bellman asks. “Yes,” says the woman, “but thank God he doesn’t have to.”

And on it went. He told me jokes as we drove near Laredo, Texas, where the only program we could pick up on the AM radio was called The Christian-Jew Hour. (Only they weren’t telling Jewish jokes, they were talking about the end of the world and the conversion of the Jews.) He told me jokes as we whizzed through New Mexico, where the only song that played on every radio station was Olivia Newton John’s “Please Mister Please (Don’t Play B-17).” And by the time the trip was through, a 14-year-old boy and a 45-year-old man had formed a bond we share to this day–a bond that requires a decent Yiddish accent and a crack sense of timing.

John Podhoretz is a columnist for the New York Post and author of Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane.

Nick Schulz

All through my adolescence, whenever someone in my family would become unhappy with some purchase we had made–a toy that would break, or an article of clothing that would fall apart–my father was quick to help put things in perspective for us.

“As my father used to say to me,” he told us in that deep, rich tenor voice, “You get what you pay for.”

As it turns out, that little sagebrush aphorism stuck. Indeed, my father was reminded of how well it stuck in the spring of 1994, when I graduated from college.

It will surprise no one who knows me that I was not much of a student in college. “To whom much has been given, much is expected,” I was told by my Jesuit taskmasters in high school. And I took that to heart. There was no denying I had been given much: a subsidized early adulthood at a fine college in the South, where the weather was warm, the students were friendly, and the school’s informal slogan was: “The party with one helluva cover charge.” As such, I planned to do much of what was expected–just maybe not in the way Fr. Woodward and the other Pope’s Marines had in mind when I left high school.

So thoroughly, um, uninspired was my academic performance–in everything other than my philosophy major (“I drink, therefore I am”)–that my mother later admitted to me that she did not think I would graduate on time. But I proved the doubters wrong and, sure enough, that bright day in May arrived, and I walked across the stage at the end of the university’s broad lawn and, grinning ear to ear, received my diploma–which dispatched me from my undergraduate cocoon into the “real world.”

After the graduation ceremony, with my diploma tucked under my arm, I meandered through the crowd looking to find my family. In the distance I saw my father with his trademark shock of white hair. As he approached me, I noticed a mischievous grin creeping up on his face. Having forked over approximately the GNP of a small Pacific island for the teeny privilege of hearing my name announced in the graduating-class roll call, he clearly felt entitled to put me in my proper place.

“Welcome to the ranks of the unemployed,” he said, happy as could be to be raining on my sunny-day parade.

Without missing a beat, however, I responded.

“Ah, that’s where you’re mistaken, Pop. As I learned in my Econ 101 class, in order to be considered technically unemployed, you have to be actively seeking work. And since I have no immediate plans to do that any time soon, I’m not actually unemployed.”

With that rejoinder, my father’s head tilted to the side and his nostrils flared slightly and his grin turned down in a manner which seemed to say, “Is this smart-ass really my son?”

Before he had a chance to verbalize his annoyance, I went straight for the jugular.

“Hey, don’t blame me,” I said. “I wouldn’t even know I wasn’t unemployed if you hadn’t paid for me to come to this college and take that Econ 101 class. So buck up. I’m just pointing out what I learned here. After all, as you always told us: You get what you pay for.”

Happy Father’s Day, Pop!

Nick Schulz is the editor of TechCentralStation.com. He wonders how much his father, William Schulz, is amused by this story.


I have four kids and my best fatherly advice is always rejected. Your body grows when you sleep; your brother is your best friend; candy and cookies will make you fat like Daddy; you can tell me anything; all your actions have consequences–it’s nonsense to them, although I sense it is somehow being filed away. This week, I was walking with my ten year old, who is going through a sarcastic, defiant, and independent phase, and I told him I loved him. He rolled his eyes. “Tell me something I don’t know,” he said. Then he held my hand. Just for a minute, though. I think the best advice is to lead by example and always be there so they can make fun of you.

Bruce Stockler is a media-relations consultant and humorist. He is author of I Sleep At Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets.

Andrew Stuttaford

The best advice my father ever gave me? Impossible to pick one piece, but there have been years of good stuff, normally combining encouragement, kindness, pessimism, and a decidedly bleak view of the world outside. On this occasion, however, I’ll just stick to some frequently repeated directives on the subject of food and drink:

On the London restaurant where he and I most often dine together:

“The sauces are a failure. They can’t do anything French. Order the lamb chops.”

On wine: “It’s good for you, you know. Now this looks like a splendid bottle…”

On restaurant discipline in any country he considers insufficiently civilized (not the shortest of lists): “Whatever you do, Andrew, never, ever, put ice in your drink.”

On lettuce: “Basically no nutritional value. A waste of time. Used by restaurants to cover up meager portions. Avoid.”

Sadly, he remains unaware of Dr. Pepper, but I know what he would say.

Andrew Stuttaford is an NRO contributing editor.

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