The Wisdom of a Father

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“When I was a boy of fourteen,” once wrote American humorist Mark Twain, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” If you are a father, this quotation brings a knowing smile to his face. Of course, only a parent knows that he hasn’t changed in seven years: rather, it is the child who come to understand — through actual life experience — that he should listen to and respect his father’s wisdom because he has lived longer, and with age comes wisdom. In many cases, those life lessons from a father form a firm foundation upon which the edifice of a child’s life is built — and his influence, however subtle, will last a lifetime.

Speaking of that ceaseless paternal influence, there is an insightful and touching essay by motivational speaker and author Mike Robbins titled “Trusting the Synchronicity of Life.” Upon turning 40, Robbins reflected on the the synchronicity of his life — connecting the dots of his life in hindsight. However, the celebration of his 40th birthday also presented an opportunity to honor the legacy of his deceased father, Ed Robbins, who instilled in Mike and his sisters, valuable and enduring life lessons. Mike recounted how one of his sisters presented him with a list of 40 life lessons, titled “Life According to Ed Robbins,” that Mike had written shortly after his father passed away in 2001. Shrouded by the inevitable “memory fog” of middle age, Mike had completely forgotten about this; he explained, “Amazingly, I had no memory of writing it. But, apparently after my dad died, I made a list of some of his key philosophies and lessons, as a way to remember, honor, and memorialize him. Even more amazing to me than the fact that I didn’t remember writing it… was the nature of what I wrote. So much of the advice on the list, which came from my father and what he taught me and all of us, is similar to the core themes of my work… However, reading this list of life advice and reflecting back on the lessons he did teach me, I’m not only struck by a deep sense of gratitude for what he taught me, but I’m also blown away by the way in which he influenced my life and my work, even more than I’d realized.” Robbins generously shares the life lessons of his father, and by doing so, not only honors his life, but keeps his memory alive. It is also a testimony to the enduring influence of a kind, giving, and wise father who continues to guide his children even after he shuffled off his mortal coil.

The Hebrew Bible, through the Ten Commandments (known as the Decalogue), reminds us to “honor thy father and thy mother (Exodus 20:12). As Father’s Day approaches, perhaps this list of important life lessons will inspire children — of any age — to take a moment and write down the important philosophies and lessons that their father (living or deceased) has taught them. If your father is still alive, then give him this list as a gift and say something along the lines of: “These are the lessons that you taught me, that live inside me — they are your gifts to me. My gift to you is to honor you by remembering these lessons, to use them to guide my life, and to pass them to another generation. Thank you for your wisdom, love, and guidance.” Undoubtedly, this will make a much more appreciated gift than another necktie.

Life Lessons From Ed Robbins

Speak from your heart

Wear your heart on your sleeve

Be passionate and outspoken — do not let anyone stifle your expression

Have love be your top priority

Give kind, positive feedback as often as you possibly can

Remember that you are not your accomplishments — you are you, and people love you for who you are, not what you do

Remember that it’s okay to cry, in fact it’s good to cry often

Hugs and kisses are beautiful and greatly appreciated

Be grateful for your family and always stay connected with them

Make sure you “kiss and make up” after a fight

Cheer loudly at baseball games and always stand up when someone hits one you think might go out of the park

Stand up for the people that you love and be willing to fight for them, if necessary

Root for all your local sports teams — even if you have more than one team from the same sport near where you live

Drive slowly and carefully

Wait for all lights to change before crossing the street

Talk to strangers

Appreciate the beauty of where you are

Never get off the phone with someone you love without saying “I love you.”

Before saying something rude or contradictory, first say “with all due respect…”

Laugh loudly and often

Do not be afraid to get fired up, passionate, and raise your voice when necessary (and even sometimes when not so necessary)

Take lots of photos of people you care about and keep them organized

Save things that are important to you

Be romantic and remember important dates, experiences, and events

Sing the words to songs that you love

Read the newspaper and know what is going on in the world, in sports, in entertainment, and more

Have an opinion on everything!

Be willing to admit when you made a mistake

Forgive yourself and others

Be kind and loving to yourself first

Tell the truth

Stay true to yourself

Appreciate people

It is okay to swear sometimes

It is what’s on the inside that counts

It’s okay to feel down and to feel scared

People are the most important things in life

There is no need to rush when you are eating, driving, or doing almost anything

Money is not that important

You can bounce back from anything

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Read related posts: The Wisdom on an Immigrant Father
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
What Valuable Lesson Has Life Taught You?

For further reading:
Bring Your Whole Self to Work by Mike Robbins
Nothing Changes Until You Do by Mike Robbins
Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Already Taken by Mike Robbins
Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation by Mike Robbins

The Wisdom of Parents

atkins-bookshelf-booksThe legendary Mark Twain once wrote one of the greatest testaments to the wisdom of parents: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” By 21, most people have completed their college education. Although they may have mastered their specific college curriculum, they are only kindergarteners in the grand classroom of life. If they have anything to learn from Twain it is this: now is the time to really listen to your parents — not as parents, but as teachers or mentors of life experience. This is a course that cannot be taught in any college, however prestigious or how many Nobel laureates teach there.

There have been over a hundred books published that collect the best college commencement speeches and advice to young adults, many of them titled “Things I wished someone told me at 20” or “Things I wished I learned when I was 20.” Karin Smithson, a psychotherapist and spirituality expert, recently wrote a very thoughtful and insightful article for the Huffington Post ruminating on exactly that topic: the things she wished someone told her at 20. Here is a summary of her life lessons that would certainly astonish the older — and wiser — Mark Twain:

1. Cherish your close friendships
2. Although you’re smart, you don’t have a lot of life experience — listen to your parents
3. Don’t lose the joy of being “in the moment”
4. Appreciate your youthful body — it won’t stay that way forever; take care of it
5. If someone puts you down, it says more about them than you — recall Elanor Roosevelt’s wise counsel: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
6. Learn to apologize sincerely
7. Education is extremely important
8. Don’t be pressured into sex — you have the power to say no
9. Whatever you post on the internet is permanent — think of the digital trail you leave
10. Follow your heart; pursue your passions
11. Spirituality/Religion will be what saves you when the world goes out
12. See the world
13. Don’t poison your body — avoid smoking, drugs, and junk food
14. There are always at least two sides of a story — consider the other side(s)
15. Learn to be comfortable with who you are and stop comparing yourself to others
16. Talk to your teachers, role models, and mentors; ask them for help; make yourself known
17. Love your parents and grandparents — they will stand behind when others don’t
18. Treat others the way you want to be treated
19. Pay attention to how those close to you treat their parents and their waiters — it is a window into how they will treat you in the future
20. Listen and trust your inner voice

Read related post: The Wisdom of a Grandparent
Letters to a Young Poet

For further reading: 30 Lessons for Living by Karl Pillemer, Hudson Street Press (2011)



The Wisdom of a Grandmother

atkins-bookshelf-booksEach year, Americans spend close to $1 billion on over 30,000 different self-help books, seeking guidance to life’s challenges or simply finding inspiration. But who are the wisest people, the real experts on life? As Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) and Karl Pillemer (30 Lessons for Living) have discovered, the best persons to ask about persevering through hard times, living a life with fulfillment and without regret, and learning to love authentically are the people who have already done it themselves. Invariably, those who have lived longer have learned longer — with age comes experience and the wisdom gained from reflecting on that experience.

A wonderful example of this is Marc Chernoff’s touching article about the wisdom that his grandmother, Zelda, shared with him from her “Inspiration Journal” before she passed away at the age of 90. Zelda’s journal is what is known as a commonplace book, introduced in Italy in the 15th century. It is a collection of  thoughts, ideas, quotations, poems, songs, and writings that are meaningful to a particular individual. By generously sharing Zelda’s journal (summarized below), Chernoff reminds us of the profound love and wisdom of a grandmother — the quintessential self-help guru.

Life Lessons
1. Breathe in the future, breathe out the past.
2. Life can be simple again.
3. Let others take you as you are, or not at all.
4. You are not who you used to be, and that’s OK.
5. Everything that happens helps you grow, even if it’s hard to see right now.
6. Do not educate yourself to be rich, educate yourself to be happy.
7. Be determined to be positive.
8. Pay close attention to those you care about.
9. Sometimes you have to let a person go so they can grow.
10. Sometimes getting the results you crave means stripping yourself of people that don’t serve your best interests.
11. It’s better to look back on life and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” than to look back and say, “I wish I did that.”
12. If you’re looking for a happy ending and can’t seem to find one, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new beginning.

Questions you will ask at the end of your life
1. Am I proud of how I lived?
2. What did I discover?
3. How well did I play the hand I was dealt?
4. Did I take enough responsibility?
5. What struggles did I conquer?
6. How sincerely did I live through love?
7. How much of my story did I actually write?

As one reflects upon Zelda’s life lessons, it naturally invites the question: what will you write in your commonplace book?

Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

For further reading: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Doubleday (1997)
30 Lessons for Living by Karl Pillemer, Hudson Street Press (2011)