Lessons from a Candy Bar Con Man

When the time came for “the birds and the bees” talk, my father’s message to me and my brother was very brief. It set aside birds and bees altogether and focused on flies instead. “Boys,” he said, clearing his throat, “keep it in your pants.”

To this day Dad laughs about that line and protests that he told us much more. Could be, but not that we remember (and Mom conspicuously never comes to his defense on the matter, so I rest my case). My father has a perfectly healthy outlook on sex, and, as a pastor, he could preach articulately from the pulpit about sexuality when need be, but if my hazy memory serves me at all, when it came to tackling the subject with his own two sons, face to face, he much preferred-- like most dads-- to call in Mom from the bullpen.

But, hey, it’s Father’s Day this weekend, so I ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, it’s from him that I’ve learned the most about how to be a man of integrity, humor, generosity, and joyful faith in God. Plus a few other things…

1)  Know When to Play Dead

As a teen in the ‘80s, I took out a membership with Columbia House Records & Tapes. The deal seemed a good one: Get 10 albums for a penny each, then buy a specified few more at regular (i.e., inflated) prices. Once you’d completed your obligation, you could end your membership. What I discovered, though, was that Columbia House did not want me to end the relationship. It was like an entire company was channeling Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction. For months and months after fulfilling my end of the bargain, I received fliers and mailings several times a week, imploring me to buy more, buy more!

One day I complained about this relentlessness to my father. “Ah, yes,” he said. “I’ve had the same issue with various groups. Here’s what I learned to do to get them off my back… forever.” I was all ears. “Next time you get a mailing from one of them, write the word “deceased” on the front of the envelope and send it back. You’ll never hear from them again.”

It worked. There are now some companies that think I died many years ago. If not for my dad’s advice, I would, tragically, still be alive.

2) If At Fish You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

On the other hand, persistence can be an admirable character trait, and I learned from my father the value of not giving up. One time during an evening worship service, he took a moment to pay tribute to a retired pastor in attendance. His last name was Jardine, which rhymes with sardine. Which is exactly what Dad called him. “A delight to see Cecil Sardine here with us.” Quickly recognizing his trip of the tongue, my father corrected himself. “I’m sorry, I meant Cecil Sardine.” By now, the crowd, including good-natured Cecil, was laughing loudly. Care to try a third time, Dad? “What’s the matter with me?” he chuckled with embarrassment. “I’m trying to say Cecil SARDINE.”

Fourth time was the charm and the congregation erupted in applause. Thanks for the lesson in perseverance, Pop, even if it wasn’t given on porpoise. I mean, on porpoise. Oh, forget it.

3) If Your Wife’s On a Diet, Don’t Dessert Her

My mother would often be attempting different diets to shed a stubborn pound or two, and Dad would be recruited to endure these cheerless chow times with her. After one dinner they shared which consisted of, if I recall, lettuce and balsa wood, he declared himself satisfied with the half a green apple for dessert. “You know, that’s not bad. I’m actually full. This is going to be okay, this diet.” Ten minutes later Mom ambled into the bedroom, and there was Dad sitting in the dark eating a chocolate bar. Busted.

I learned that day never to undermine your spouse like that. Instead, go to the garage where she’s much less likely to walk in on you.

So here’s to you, Dad. You’re top of the pops. You’ve got a great sense of humor so I know my poking fun will slide off you like a fried egg off Teflon. And speaking of Teflon, no doubt you’d have some advice about its use:

“Keep it in your pans.”

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

Cuyler Black