Friday, February 12, 2010

"Parental Discretion"

Telling anecdotes about the departed – which is traditional at a shiva, a post-funeral mourning period, where you sit home and well-wishers to bring you cake – my brother recalled the time he announced to our mother that he was going to be a comedian. Her response to this announcement was immediate and unequivocal:

“Who do you think you are, Jerry Lewis?”

I had never heard that story before. It made me happy, and I’ll tell you why. A few years after that, my mother and I were involved in precisely the same conversation. I told her I was going to be a comedian. Her response, though equally immediate, was tellingly different.

She said,

“Who do you think you are, Jack Benny?”

You see the difference? Jack Benny, at least in our family’s opinion, was a lot funnier than Jerry Lewis.

That’s why I was happy. By making this distinction, my mother had openly declared that

I wasn’t a way better comedian than my brother wasn’t.

Of course, there’s a bigger – and less silly – message to take note of here. Though we fluttered around the edges – my brother more so than myself – neither he nor I ever became comedians.

“Achieving People” are a mystery to me. They want something and, in numbers far surpassing the laws of probability, they get it.

I don’t know how they do it. To the degree that I succeeded, I did so through stubbornness, good fortune, and a lot of outside help. I got no help from my attitude. My attitude always sucked.

And therein may lie a clue.

I suspect that some of the “Achieving People’s” success has to do with what their parents told them when they were growing up. I’m not talking about families that drummed into their kids that they're "special", or they're "from superior stock", or that “You can do anything you want” – those come with their own sets of pitfalls. I’m imagining, instead, families where the children were taught that, though failure may hurt, it’s nowhere near as painful as not trying.

The message is simple:

“You fell on your face? Get up. You took the wrong path? Go back and start again. They tell you you can’t do it. Maybe they’re right. But maybe, they’re wrong. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. But whatever it is, we’re always here, with a hug and a hot bowl of soup.”

My experience tells me that what parents say to their children is always remembered. “You’ll never make it”? Some people use that as motivation, as in, “I’ll show them!” The point is, whether encouraging or critical, it’s the parental pronouncement that played a significant role in propelling them to where they wanted to go.

It’s not my place to tell you what to say when your child announces they’re going to be a comedian. My only advice is, think before you say it.

Somebody’s gotta be the next Jack Benny. It could be your kid.

The writing is smart and funny, the memories evocative and on the money. Give it a read. It's well worth your time.


Dimension Skipper said...

"It’s not my place to tell you what to say when your child announces they’re going to be a comedian. My only advice is, think before you say it."

I wish this could become a life rule in general for everybody. One of the most irritating things to me is when anybody hear's about a ten-second snippet of what you say, gives the matter a split-second's thought (if that), and then blurts out something with such an air of certainty that they have THE ANSWER and here it is. Too often (usually?) they don't. Even if something worked for or was right for them doesn't make it right for me. But perhaps I digress into my own issues...

Anyway... could you please check that Tobi Gordon link. Even putting a dot after the www or eliminating the www. altogether it does not work for me (I copy'n'pasted it to try it). A quick Google of Tobi Gordon doesn't seem to turn the blog up either. There's a Twitter page, but her tweets are "protected." No sign of a (www.) either.

Oh, and personally I'm not familiar with Tobi Gordon, so I have no idea of anything about her at this point. I'm kind of assuming the "Twittering" Tobi Gordon must be the right one simply by the Toronto notation, but that's not doing me much good.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the plug!
The confusion over my blog address is legit...I am only slightly less technophobic than you.
(My previous comment to you didn't even register so what can I say)?
The blog address is
There is no period between the www's and the name because I screwed up setting up the address. I didn't know I didn't need the www's altogether. And even then, I forgot the dot.
Seek and ye shall find, I always say.
I would welcome comments from your esteemed readers since my fans are too shy and inept to figure out how to leave them. So they tell me.

growingupartists said...

Funny, I've always taken you as Coach from Cheers. If not Sam Malone himself, of course.