Fourteen “Pocket Truths” Our Dads Taught Us

Father’s Day is the perfect time to remember the life-shaping wisdom and advice we received from our fathers and father figures.

Father’s Day is almost here, and dads across the country will soon be celebrated by their families with cookouts, cards, and gifts ranging from homemade artwork to the classic choice: a new tie. As we enjoy the festivities, though, it’s good to take a few moments to reflect on why we’re celebrating in the first place. To put it simply, our fathers are instrumental in shaping our lives—and they deserve our recognition and thanks for their guidance and love!

“It’s easy to take family members for granted, so it’s especially important that children of all ages remind themselves of what makes their fathers great,” says Dr. Justin B. Short, coauthor along with Ben Newman of the new book Pocket Truths for Success. “When you look back on your dad’s influence, you’ll probably be reminded of some tried-and-true truths he passed on to you that are still leading you in a positive direction to this day.”

While every dad is different, Dr. Short and Newman believe that there are certain pieces of wisdom that most patriarchs, along with other father figures, tend to share with their children. These “pocket truths” have stuck around and proliferated for a reason: They’ve withstood the test of time. And since that’s the case, they’re sure bets for current (and future!) fathers to pass on to the newest generation, too.

Dads can be crucial when it comes to establishing the fundamentals for success in their children’s lives,” Dr. Short points out. “While some fathers may not express these things explicitly (by and large, moms tend to be more verbal about instruction), they teach us a lot by modeling good behaviors and attitudes.”

If you’d like a refresher course on fatherly wisdom, or if you’d like some guidance regarding how to instruct your own kids, then read on for fourteen truths our dads taught us, taken from Pocket Truths for Success:

The first impression is made in the first 90 seconds. You may remember your father straightening his collar, squaring his shoulders, and putting on a smile before he entered a room. Chances are, he knew that each time you encounter a new person, he or she forms an opinion of you that’s surprisingly difficult to change as time goes by. So don’t underestimate the value of a well-groomed appearance, a firm handshake, a friendly smile, and a genuine demeanor—they’ll help you start relationships off on the right foot every time.

Dress the part. Younger people have gotten a bad rap for regularly wearing pajamas and sweat pants in public—but the fact is, our society as a whole has gotten into a casual routine, and we’ve moved away from dressing our best. (With the exception of many dads who scrupulously tuck in their shirts each day regardless of what activities are on the docket!) Yes, it’s important to express yourself and to be fairly comfortable, but so is wearing appropriate clothing. When you dress as though you’re already in the position you’d like to have, you’re one step closer to being there.

Be the plow horse, not the show horse. As kids, many of us wondered how our fathers were able to put up with doing the same job every day, especially since they didn’t get gold stars on their report cards and rewards for acing tests! We eventually learned what our dads already knew: It’s better to focus on doing diligent, reliable, honest work, not on receiving accolades. If you put in the hours and truly earn the respect you want, your time in the spotlight will last longer and will be much more fulfilling.

Cheaper isn’t always better. Many of us have felt a financial pinch on and off throughout the years, and yes, there are times when it’s fine—even smart—to get by with a secondhand kitchen table. However, realize that, if there’s any way you can afford it, there are some things that are worth the money. For example, a quality suit that fits will look better and last longer. (Ask your dad how long he’s owned his.) And eating frozen dinners or ramen noodles for every meal might not cost much—but your body will perform much better on a healthy diet.

Be humble. In our reality-show culture, it’s not surprising that people are more than eager to toot their own horns, especially if they think it will win them recognition or a spot in the limelight. So when you let your actions and character speak for themselves, people notice. The truth is, humility doesn’t mean being a meek, weak pushover…it just means you’re not a showboat. When you let humility govern your decisions and actions, you’ll be vulnerable in a good way—others will feel comfortable approaching you and connecting with you.

Own great suits and learn to tie a good knot. If your job doesn’t require you to dress up every day, you’ll still need a classy, good-quality suit to wear to interviews and various formal events. (And guys, make sure you can tie a tie well…sloppy knots and clip-ons won’t do you any favors. If this is a skill you haven’t learned from a father figure yet, get on it!) While inner character is important, never forget that what people see forms a large part of their opinion of you. Plus, when you wear clothes that you know look great, you’ll feel and act more confident.

Do not burn bridges. Do you remember your father ever walking away from a fraught situation when you thought nasty words, insults, or even fists might have been more appropriate? If so, you can bet Dad knew that when a word is spoken in anger, frustration, or even disgust, it might come back to haunt you. Remember that people change, and realize that treating everyone with respect, in spite of negative circumstances, will give you a reputation for fairness and integrity.

If you must choose between wealth and character: Choose character. Our culture seems to value success—in other words, money, power, and status—more and more highly. However, this kind of “wealth” all too often comes at the expense of integrity, balance, and healthy relationships. When you choose to preserve and develop your character over your bank account, you’ll be making the far wiser investment in your future—and you’ll attract the sorts of people and opportunities that you really want.

Be on time. You’ve heard this one from your father practically since birth—and it’s still great advice today. Punctuality is a good trait to have for many reasons: Being late makes you seem less responsible to others, and it makes you a nervous wreck. When you’re running behind schedule, it’s also more difficult to roll with the punches and accommodate life’s little deviations from “the plan.” Just remember that whatever you’re doing will always take longer than you think—so budget your time accordingly!

Send handwritten thank-you notes. Even if your mother had to prompt him to do it, chances are your father signed and sent thank-you cards. And in an increasingly digital age, this is one tradition that is best left in its original form. Writing out your appreciation by hand shows true gratitude—and receiving a personalized note will always have a more profound effect than an email. Send thank-you cards to coworkers who have helped you, to clients who have been loyal, to mentors who have guided you, and much, much more.

Let your YES mean YES and your NO mean NO. These days, plain speaking seems to have been left behind in our parents’ era. And that’s a shame. Be a person of your word. Period. Don’t give in to the temptation to tell white lies, to engage in double talk, or to renege on a promise. Gaining a reputation for reliability will set you apart, will help you build genuine relationships, and will make others want to partner with you.

Putting others down is the quickest way to lower oneself. When you were a kid, your father probably told you not to pick on other kids and call them names. The same principle still applies. In business and in your personal life, make this your mantra. Saying negative things about other people in a non-constructive way only showcases your own insecurities. And on top of that, “mudslinging” does nothing to show people why you yourself are valuable.

Be the best at treating others well. This goes back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you treat others well—better, in fact, than anyone else treats them—you will see your honesty and kindness reflected back into your own life. More people will seek you out, more people will respect you, and more people will be willing to put in a good word (or action) on your behalf.

You will have your share of good and bad luck. Your success is determined by how you handle the bad. No matter how much you plan, how well you prepare, or how good your intentions, you’ll experience failures amongst your successes. That’s what it means to be human. You can’t always control what happens to you, but remember that you can control how you react to bad circumstances. You can choose to get up and keep going, or you can choose to stay knocked down.

While you may have ignored your dad’s advice in your teenage years, chances are that as an adult you can see why these pieces of wisdom are true home runs,” concludes Dr. Short. “If any of these pocket truths are things that your father taught you, tell him thanks if you can…and make sure you’re passing the same fundamentals on to your own kids.”

About the Authors:

Dr. Justin Short owns a dental practice and is a personal and business coach for other dentists. He and his wife, Rebekah, are also successful internet and real estate entrepreneurs. Justin’s passion lies in helping others succeed in the midst of adversity. He helped institute his community’s first dental program for drug rehabilitation patients and is active in providing dental treatment to underprivileged children.

Ben Newman’s unique story of adversity and triumph has enabled him to choose a clear path of success rather than follow a destructive path of hardship. As a financial professional, Ben qualifies for the Million Dollar Round Table each year, and has been recognized twice as a Wealth Manager of the Year in St. Louis Magazine. Ben is also a professional speaker whose goal is to help individuals uncover their true potential and natural talents, and in this capacity he has impacted organizations including the Minnesota Vikings and Mars Snack Foods. Ben is also the author of Pocket Principles for the Insurance Business (2008) and Fight the Good Fight: A Mother’s Legacy Lives On (2009).