Rookie Dad: You Said It, Dad

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 I 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 (“Dad is great, he gives us chocolate cake!”) or Clint Eastwood when we deserved to be put in our place (“Go ahead, make my day.”).

Over the years, my father developed a repertoire of these signature phrases. Classic dadisms, I call them. Take five minutes now and I bet you can think of a dozen sayings your own father popularized (keep it clean!).
Recently, one of my older 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 — more to the point — it proves that we were actually listening back then.

To have a little fun with this, I asked my brothers to help me catalog our dad’s “dadisms.” What burst forth was a litany of teachings, encouragements, confidence-builders, admonishments and veiled threats.

First, he was the purveyor of practical advice:
“Get in and get out.” This applied to an open back door and an open 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. As I realized later, this sage advice applies to life in general. Make your choice, and 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. My father likes accomplishment and action. Be smart and make an educated decision, yes — but once you’ve made the decision, act on it.

He was also the voice of discipline:
“You better stop crying … or I’ll give you something to cry about.” My dad sure had the market covered on phrases that discouraged tears. I think this one was the most effective. I don’t ever remember finding out what that “something” was that he was going to “give” us, so I guess the line worked.

“Quit” and “Knockitoff!” As you can imagine, raising four active boys may have been trying at times. Between our bouts of wrestling on the floor and games of verbal one-upmanship, my brothers and I rarely gave my father a moment’s rest when he got home from work. An unambiguous “Quit” or “Knockitoff!” usually bought him enough time to glance at the sports page.

Finally, he was — and is — the guy who’s always there to encourage you, no matter what:
“Keep on plugging.” To this day, most telephone conversations with my father end with this phrase. It’s probably my favorite expression. Not only does it encourage you to keep working hard in your professional and personal life, but it also implies that he approves and is proud of what you’re doing. Nothing means more than that to a son.

“It never hurts to ask.” My dad made his living as a college fund-raiser. His working motto was “It never hurts to ask,” a saying he adopted from my younger brother who, as a child, once presented a detailed, 12-page wish list to be mailed to Santa. The lesson here is that nothing is impossible. If you have an idea, go for it. Not asking or not trying is the only thing you’ll regret.

“Payback time, buddy!” As a grandfather, this has emerged as his latest classic. If you tell him about sleepless nights with the baby or a kid who threw a tantrum in public, he’s sure to ooze with delight, “Payback time, buddy!” Like I say, old dad’s there for you no matter what.

This Father’s Day, I hope you’ll salute your old man by rattling off some of his favorite sayings. Let him know you were listening. More importantly, 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.

After nearly fours years of fatherhood, Brian Kantz is still trying to come up with a really dynamite signature dad phrase. His new book, “Stay-at-Home Dad. Stay. Good Boy.,” is available at www.briankantz.com.