AMHERST, NEW YORK — Like most men who have a wrench-tight grasp on the English language, my father is neither loud nor outspoken. He has no need to be. Why be a blowhard when you can get your point across with cool efficiency?
As a father, he could (and still can) deliver one-liners that would make my three brothers and me shake with laughter or shake in our boots - depending on the situation. As kids, it was like having Bill Cosby as a dad when times called for rousing joy or Clint Eastwood when we deserved to be put in our place.
Over the years, my father developed a repertoire of these signature phrases. Classic dadisms, I call them. Take five minutes and I bet you can think of a dozen sayings your own father popularized in your household (keep it clean, now).
Recently, one of my brothers and I had a good chuckle over the fact that we now involuntarily blurt out some of those same lines to our own kids. It shows the real influence that fathers have on their children and that we were actually listening.
To have a little fun with this, I asked my brothers to help me catalog our "dadisms." It was like asking three wolves to help me count the sheep. And a litany of teachings, encouragements, confidence-builders, admonishments, and veiled threats burst forth. The whole gamut of fatherly wisdom; a philosophy of life.
First, he was the purveyor of practical advice:
"Get in and get out." This applied to an open back door or refrigerator. Just because you don't pay the gas and electric bills, that doesn't mean you should waste energy, he'd tell us as we alternately let the cold air into the house and out of the fridge deciding if we wanted to play football or have some milk. This sage advice applies to life in general: Make your choice, then move ahead.
"Quit talking about it and do it." It doesn't have quite the same ring as Nike's famed "Just Do It" campaign, but it's the same concept. Be smart and make an educated decision, yes - but once you've made the decision, act on it.
"Oh, those bases on balls." To this day, when we watch a game with my dad, we'll hear him utter this every time a pitcher walks a batter. He hates a free pass. You earn everything in life.
He was also the voice of discipline:
"You'd better stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about." This was his most effective way of discouraging tears, because I don't ever remember finding out what that "something" was.
"Don't make me turn this car around." With four boys crammed in the back seat, at least one child was always crossing into the imaginary DMZ between us and drawing retaliatory action by the offended party. Whether we were a block or 700 miles from home, we always took my dad's threat seriously. He would, in fact, turn this car around.
Finally, he was - and is - the guy who's always there to encourage you, no matter what:
"Keep on plugging." To this day, this is probably my favorite expression of his. Not only does it encourage me to keep working hard in my professional and personal life, but it also implies that he approves and is proud of what I'm doing. Nothing means more than that to a son.
"It never hurts to ask." My dad made this his motto in his job as a college fundraiser. He adopted it from my younger brother who once presented a detailed 12-page wish list to be mailed to Santa. The lesson is that nothing is impossible - not asking or not trying is the only thing you'll regret.
"Payback time, buddy!" This has emerged as his latest classic, now as a grandfather. If you tell him about sleepless nights with the baby, or about a kid who acted up in church, he's sure to ooze with delight, "Payback time, buddy!" As I say, he's there for you no matter what.
This Father's Day, salute your old man by rattling off some of his favorite sayings. Let him know you were listening. More important, take the wisdom of your father and live by it. Pass it on to the next generation. You'll soon see how your own children will benefit.
Happy Father's Day, Dad - and thanks for the wisdom.
• Brian Kantz is a stay-at-home dad and writer.