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This Was the Best Advice My Dad Ever Gave Me

Sixteen men and women share the best words of wisdom their fathers passed on.

Laura Thorne / Flickr

Giving good advice is one of the biggest parts of being a dad. Dads must advise their kids, counsel them, warn them not to do that thing they’re about to do, and offer them nuggets of lived-in wisdom that might prevent them from repeating their mistakes. Of course, so much of a father’s best advice falls on deaf ears and he is forced to repeat it 9746 times until he becomes a caricature of himself but his kid finally hears and understands what it is he’s trying to say. Such is the cycle. But, rest assured, kids do listen and, as they grow older, will remember those words. So, keep at it. Want proof or inspiration for what advice to pass down? Here, 16 men and women talk about the single best advice their dad gave them. 

“You Are the Average of Your Five Closest Friends”
“Something that stuck with me for years was when my dad and I were in the car coming back from somewhere. I was probably in high school and had a close group of friends. Most of my friends were good kids, but others took different routes as time went on. When my dad and I were chatting, he told me ‘you are the average of your five or so closest friends. If you have someone who weighs you down, they weigh down the group, like an anchor. So if you choose the right friend group- one that challenges you, makes good decisions, you shouldn’t have those problems.’ Since then, I have not only been picky about who I decide to spend my time with but also who I’ve let go over the years.” — Dan, 26, Illinois

Do What You Love
“My dad is a big dreamer, while my mom is more of the realist. It’s good to get advice from both of them depending on what season of life I’m in. I started off college intending to major in nursing, but hated every second of my pre-requisite classes. My second year in, I was dealing with major doubts and wanted to shift my future into a different career path that I would enjoy. When thinking about what majors would lead to better, more stable jobs, I found myself discouraged, as none of them were my strong suit. When I confided in my dad, he told me to start off by pursuing what I loved— and that was English. He told me, ‘Even if you start off with no money and reputation, your love for the subject will eventually lead you exactly where you need to be.’ I took a leap of faith and declared my major in English Literature shortly after our talk. And just as he promised, I find myself heading in a direction where I am called to be exactly who I was made to be.” Shiwon, 24, New York

How to Find the Truth
“My dad’s greatest piece of advice was to ‘Google it.’ When Google first came out, he decided that since we now had so much information at our fingertips, he would no longer be answering questions that we could find the answers to ourselves. He forced me to research answers for myself instead of take it at someone else’s word. He taught me the power of finding multiple sources and understanding that sometimes there are conflicting answers to the same question. Back then Google didn’t go on forever, and if the answers weren’t on Google yet, they were surely in a book. He followed up to hear the answer I found and my sources. It was really annoying at the time, but the lessons on how to research helped me through college, my career and life in general. I’m forever grateful.” — Arielle, 29, New Jersey

Eventually, People Forget About Mistakes
“My dad told me ‘If one out of ten jokes are funny, that just means you got to tell ten.’ In other words, don’t worry about the ‘success rate,’ just do what you like and eventually people forget about the mistakes. I used this advice throughout my life to never get discouraged, in everything from applying for jobs to asking people out (not the same person ten times, but to keep trying) to submitting my writings for publication — I’m an author now.” — Jim Wasserman, 57, Spain

Titles Are Important
“After graduating from college, ‘Get your doctorate. I don’t care if you get it in medicine, religion, or anything else. When people call you ‘Doctor,’ they do not know if you are a brain surgeon or a minister.’” — Elliott, 75, Virginia

Bad Things Are Good Things
“I was working in a jewelry store, where I had a young woman’s gold medal for engraving. The engraving came out wrong and I was so worried about breaking this girl’s heart. I called every medal manufacturer to hunt down another version of this medal so I could correct the mistake. I was ready to give up and told my dad how discouraged I was. He nonchalantly said, ‘bad things are good things.’ In that moment, I chose to see the situation differently (and now subsequently every situation ever since) and the next day not only did I track down a backup medal that was an exact replica, I found out that the young woman had given me the wrong date to engrave anyway! If I hadn’t made a mistake, we wouldn’t have had that backup medal I found for her. My dad’s words are even more impactful because, when I was just a child, he was pinned against a wall by a forklift and he lives with the daily physical consequences of having been in such a severe accident. When this man says bad things are good things, you listen. I remind myself that ‘bad things are good things’ every time something appears as if it’s ‘bad’ and it always positively changes my perspective.” — Marisa, 32, New Hampshire

Work Smarter, Not Harder
“The thing my dad always told us was to ‘Work smarter, not harder. Don’t waste your time working 70 hours a week at a job just to pay your bills, find something that allows you to put in less hours and still make the same amount.’ I applied this to my job as a Business Analyst when I started working. Why not automate something that was tedious to do? It’s called productive laziness and it’s a valuable trait in an employee.”  — Shelly, 39, Michigan

Never Ask Someone to Do Something You Wouldn’t Do Yourself.
“My dad said this all the time. he worked in every department of the company during his career, so he knew why and how each group was important to the overall success of the organization. I think his experience and strong moral compass gave him a lot of credibility throughout the company. His colleagues didn’t have to wonder where he stood on issues — he was consistent in doing the right thing for the right reasons. — Paige, 53, Massachusetts.

Be Kind. You Never Know What Anyone Else Is Going Through
“The best piece of advice I ever received from my dad? He’s a funny guy. Always cracking jokes. Bad dad jokes. It’s hard to have a serious conversation with him, I think because he has trouble expressing his feelings. So, he makes jokes to mask his insecurities. As a result, he never really gave me verbal advice. But he taught by example. And the one trait he consistently expressed was kindness. Kindness and understanding. I remember him saying that you never know what other people are going through, what hardships they’re dealing with. My lesson from that was to give people the benefit of the doubt and just be kind.” — Steve, 44, Colorado

Love Without Strings Attached
“I was raised in a loving home with a wonderful single mother who married when I was 12 years old.  So I had the pleasure of being influenced by the actions of a thoughtful, responsible man for part of my upbringing.  The best advice I got actually came from the man who was never around, broke all’”promises’ and made me feel as if I would never be worthy of true love.  What’s funny is that this ‘advice’ did not come in his words, but rather in his actions. My biological father’s best advice for me would ultimately end up being, ‘take care of your heart.  Protect it from those who do not understand the beauty and value of it.’” — Shelley, 46, California

Always Tip Well
“The best piece of advice my Dad ever gave me is to tip handily. He always showed this, as well as told me that it was essential, because you could one day be a service person and a few dollars wouldn’t collapse your world. I do it to this day, and it has made life a lot easier in my part of New York City.” — Chris, 24, New York

Be Open to Everything; Be Attached to Nothing
“The best piece of advice my dad ever gave me was ‘be open to everything, be attached to nothing.’ Pretty philosophical to teach a seven year old, right? Even if I was too young to understand what he meant, as an adult I can fully appreciate his words of wisdom. When our egos get attached to outcomes, we inevitably feel disappointment. He has always taught me to live in a way that I don’t expect anything from anyone, and this has helped me in job searches, in work with my clients, in relationships, and life in general.” — Melisa, 30, California

Ask Questions
“The best advice my dad ever gave me was to ‘question things.’ He said, ‘if something doesn’t make sense to you, don’t be afraid to ask why and determine for yourself what you believe.’ I think that advice and support to make up my own mind has led me to have a healthy thirst for knowledge, and remove some of society’s limits and expectations because I only have to decide what works for me.” — Matt, 39, Texas

Live Your Life By Your Own Rules
“I have always been really lucky to be close to my dad, especially after losing my mom to cancer when I was 17. In the midst of that hardship, I was leaving for college to pursue a scholarship to play on the women’s division one soccer team, but I was very apprehensive about leaving him. From then, and even still do this day, he told me, ‘My job as a parent was to make sure that by the time you are an adult, you are completely independent to live your life and make your own decisions without considering me. I will always be here for support or guidance, but I will never tell you what to do.’ In this way, he pushed me to grow up and make all my decisions independently. I firmly believe that is how I got to be the ambitious risk taker I am today. Three years ago, I made a major leap and moved to Budapest, Hungary, and about nine months ago I relocated to Warsaw, Poland. I know I would not be brave enough to make such huge life changes if my dad had not always pushed me to take risks and rely on myself to navigate new or difficult situations on my own.” — Laura, 28, Poland

Live in the Present
“The best advice my dad gave me was a quote by Allen Saunders: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,’ which has stuck with me since I was a teenager. This has encouraged me to live in the present and not constantly be worried about the future. It has certainly had a lasting impact on me and has become a philosophy by which I live my life by. — Patricia, 32, New York

Always Think About My Impact on the World
“The best advice my dad ever gave me was ‘Make the world a better place.’ Every day when my father got home from work, he would ask me, ‘How did you make the world a better place today?’ This mattered to me then, and matters to me even more now, because it implied that I was important and powerful enough to impact the whole world. Dad’s advice also instilled in me the value of public service and contributing to the greater good. His daily question was so much more expansive than ‘How are you?’ or ‘What’s for dinner?’ — Nikki, 42, Massachusetts

Choose Your Own Friends
“The best advice I got from my dad was, ‘Choose your friends; don’t let your friends choose you.’ It was something he’d say to me in middle through high school and, honestly, I didn’t really get it until college. Finally it hit me: choose the people you want to be in your life, don’t just let it happen. If you’re selective in your circle, you’ll have healthier, happier relationships and you can make sure to choose those that challenge you in positive ways to be a better human being. I think the advice is relevant for younger people who struggle to fit in and are happy to be adopted into whatever crowd takes them in, which is not always for the best.” — Kelly, 41, North Carolina