Monday, August 5, 2013

Priceless Advice

Washington, D.C. - Nellie Junior, as he is known in this zip code and throughout the world, leaves for his first year of college in two weeks. Of course, American precedent would call for this to occasion a lot of obligatory fatherly advice about “growing up” and “the future” and "finding one’s path” and all that ridiculous gibberish. However, we’re way beyond that. In fact, Junior has been fortunate to receive sublime guidance for many years; indeed, almost every single day of his life since he was old enough to watch me deal a deck of cards with one hand.

“It’s all about getting A’s, my man,” I told him, as he listened eager-eyed and smiling, when he entered 1st grade. “Dad doesn’t care right now what you learn, for goodness sake. You’ll forget it by summer anyway. Just bring home the high marks and everything will be ok.” Start the habits early, I say, and there’ll be no deviation from an expected high norm. Sure, some might call this tough love, even intellectual primitivism; I prefer to call it wisdom.

In the 4th grade, when the requisite academic performance standards were locked in, I told Junior one afternoon on the turf field at Landon School, “Time to shift a few gears, pal. Time for you to select a sport.” His young face brightened. “Yes, it’s an exciting vista ahead. It’s just that you can’t choose soccer, football, ice hockey, wrestling, basketball, or swimming.” I paused for a moment in faux thought and suddenly said, “Hey, how about lacrosse?!”

You see, the aforementioned conventional sports lead nowhere. Yes, I said it. Size, driving and practice times, geographic location, and sheer numbers make these sports simply unreachable for truly stand-out play by the vast majority of kids. And stand-out play becomes is crucial at a later date.

Lacrosse is such a vastly tough sport early on – developing hand-eye coordination and athleticism, absorbing collisions, building speed and endurance and field sense – that if a kid can push past the initial difficulties, and be surrounded by good competition, he can get good. Very good. Junior obliged during the next several years and yes, became very good indeed.

During class registration for 6th grade, I observed, “You know, friend, we live in a big world, as far as your narrow-minded Dad can ascertain. You need to focus on a language so that you’re able to speak to all these folks you haven’t met. Your Dad was too narrow-minded to learn a language. And it sure didn’t help that he was passed through French I and II because your Grandfather Don was best pals with the French teacher since the days when they played in a jazz combo at UCLA. So just learn a language or two and I’ll be very pleased with you.”

In 9th grade, during national Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage month, I offhandedly told him one day, “Our Maori Indian great-grandmother once told me affectionately, ‘Attahua’ – that’s my name in Maori – ‘never forget your Maori ancestry!’ Now Junior, you’ve probably been wondering about your middle name.” “It’s Zealand,” he said brightly. ”Yes, you are correct. You are descended from the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. In fact, you’re descended from Parone KoiKoi, a revered Maori leader and the last chieftain to fight the white man, at the Battle of Gate Pa in 1864. The Maoris were also cannibals. You can look it up on Google.”

I shifted gears: “Top grades, lacrosse, language, ancestry – all will serve you well. Why, look at your father!” I had just worked as an advance man on a disastrous Presidential campaign, was unemployed, and in no mood to elaborate.

Hence, the outcome was that in paying close attention to this systemic wealth of advice, Nellie Junior was accepted at a decent college where he is going to play lacrosse and study Spanish and Chinese. All had gone according to plan.

Now settling in for the penultimate college chat, I could perceive his longing for a new round of advice. I clasped my hands in front of me in a posture of feigned gratitude. “Yes, you’ve done it all, son, every single thing that’s been asked of you. Great job, immensely proud of you, top-notch and all that. Now I’m going to give you some brand new advice, to replace the excellent advice that helped you get into the old man’s alma mater.” His eyes sparked with anticipation.

 "First, forget about getting good grades in college.” [To be Continued]

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