For A Pretty Quiet Guy, My Dad Had Some Important Things To Say

Dads have endearing quirks, though my dad’s may be odder than many. (Does your dad have skulls and trays of glass eyeballs and, let’s go there, a shrunken head? No? Does he take the whole family for a Dirty Dancing weekend at the resort where the movie was filmed, then dress like Johnny Castle when you get there? No? Yeah, I win.) One of my dad’s small and charming quirks is that he loves quotes. He collects wisdom from great minds like Oscar Wilde and Johnny Castle, and every now and then sends out his top 13, 15, or 20 Favorite Sayings. Well, in honor of Father’s Day I’ve culled it down to my three favorite sayings from over the years, all from my dad himself because the great minds of history don’t have anything on Dr. Greenspan. Drumroll, please…

3. You’re a Greenspan, you can.

I hated hearing this as a kid. Hated it. It was usually said when I was asking for something, or complaining about something, or in whatever way starting a sentence with the whiny words, “Dad, I can’t…” When he cut me off with his favorite line he seemed so damned cheerful it was unholy.  I seethed. I seethed, and then I stopped opening sentences with “I can’t…” because it was ineffective.  And honestly, it’s totally ineffective! What a great habit to drop! Because the truth, of course, is that I can. Whatever it is, I can figure it out.  I can look it up, ask for help, find a manual, learn by trial and error. Of course I can.

Biting back the complaints and instead sticking with it until you find a way to get it done becomes a habit.  When you start from a place of wondering how you can do it rather than whether you can do it, you’re already through the most intimidating part of the job. And speaking of intimidation…

2. No one is as smart as you think they are.

He loves this one.  He told me once that when he was in medical school he was deeply intimidated by his professors, who seemed to live to make students feel stupid. Which he did, dutifully. Until years later when he’d been in practice for a while and realized that his teachers weren’t smarter, they just knew more. By that time he knew more too and could see the difference.

I’ve expanded on this idea considerably. I think you can swap out “smart” for just about any other trait that intimidates you. No one is as perfect as you think they are; no one is as confident as you think they are; no one is as together as you think they are; no one is as anything as you think they are. Everyone’s internal life is complicated and messy, everyone trades success in one area for success in another. What intimidates you says more about your insecurity, your ambivalence about how you choose to focus your energy, than it does about anyone else’s ability. Everyone, including you, has real strengths of an intensity that could leave others quaking in their boots while at the same time feeling miserably behind the ball in other ways. Don’t sweat it. No one is as smart as you think they are, so hold your head up high and remember that you’ve got game too.

1. I love you and I’m very proud of you.

This is my favorite of them all.  My dad has written this in texts, emails, and birthday cards for as long as I can remember. When I graduated from college with a Women’s Studies degree, he told me he loved me and was very proud of me. (Now he also mocked me, obviously. “Women’s Studies?  I majored in Women’s Studies. But you didn’t get a degree for it then.”) When I moved onto a mountain in Vermont to build Adirondack chairs with mentally ill adults he told me he loved me and was very proud of me. When I bought land, finished my house, started a business, had a birthday, for accomplishments big and small and in the devastating stretches of time in between, he told me he loved me and was very proud of me.

I’ve worked with clients and had close friends who spend their lives achieving on a massive and public scale. In the quiet space of their own panic they sometimes acknowledge that they’ll never be able do enough because of course they are doing everything to earn the approval of a parent who will just never, ever give it. It’s a quest without end that fuels a life of tremendous accomplishment and crushing loneliness. I have wondered whether I would be more conventionally successful if I had more drive, then I look at the abyss that drives so many others, that hole they will never fill, and remember how lucky I am to be loved solid. It gives me an invincibility that I carry with me in my blood, in my cells, through all the days (and darkest nights) of my life.

For that and so much more I wish you a happy Father’s Day, dad.  I love you and I am very, very proud of you.