I don’t recall how or why the topic came up, however, I was a 9-year-old who had a crush on a boy at school and my friends and I acted very silly and stupid to get the boy’s attention. One day, after school, I candidly announced to my father that I intentionally acted stupid to make this boy like me. My father’s face got very still and he said, “Acting as though you are not intelligent will not make any worthwhile boy like you.” I was a very bratty 9-year-old and my flippant reply was, “Mom’s not smart and you like her!” [Note: my mother was, at that time, a stay at home mom and my 9-year-old brain equated not having a formal job with lack of intelligence – please forgive 9-year-old me. I have changed a lot since then!]. My father looked right at me and said slowly, “Jennifer, your mother is a very intelligent woman. Smart men like smart women. You can act stupid, but then you will only get stupid boys, so, if you want to hang out with smart boys, you better act smart.”
Fast forward to high school. Something terrible happened. It couldn’t have been that bad since, now, I can’t even remember anything about it, however, at the time, it seemed like the worst disaster imaginable. I went home and the only person there was my father. I had to talk to someone so I poured my heart out, weeping. He looked up from his work when I finally stopped for air and said simply, “This too will pass” and went back to work. It was stunning in its simplicity and absolutely correct. I have thought of that many times since when conflicts that seem awful arise, knowing that, as Margaret Mitchell wrote, “tomorrow is another day.”
MY IRISH GRANDMOTHER
I don’t recall how old I was – probably junior high – when my Irish grandmother gave me an envelope of money for a birthday or holiday, as she was wont to do. This time, however, it came with some words of advice. “Always have your own money,” she told me. “Even when you’re married. Always have money that is all your own.”
My elementary school best friend and I were playing "Hospital" with our younger siblings (they were the patients - poor kids). I announced to my mother, "I am the nurse because I am a girl and Daniel is the doctor because he is a boy." My mother said, "No, you be the doctor because you can be and he can be the nurse because that will be fun, don't you think?" We were like, "Ok, sure!" Later, she took me aside and said, "Never limit yourself for any reason. Any job that there is, you can have it. If you want to be a nurse, you can be a nurse. But don't think you can't also be a doctor because you're a girl. You can choose whatever you want to be."
MY CHINESE GRANDFATHER
My Chinese grandfather came from an extremely wealthy and privileged family. He told me a story about how one of his brothers worried the family because he was so free with his money – having wild parties and going on shopping sprees – and everyone disapproved. My grandfather, on the other hand, saved all his money and was very frugal. The Communist Revolution happened and my grandfather’s family lost pretty much every penny. My grandfather laughed when he told me this story and said the spendthrift brother might have been right after all, since at least he was able to enjoy his money while he had it. “Jenny, do save your money. I am not telling you to spend it unwisely, but also always remember to have fun,” he said. He advised me to be penny-wise so that I could be pound-foolish, to save on little daily things, but then to splurge on wonderful travel and experiences. I’ve never regretted taking his advice.
I’d love to hear other people’s family lessons if you want to share!