Five Things My Father Taught Me

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My father was an internal medicine physician in solo practice for 35 years in Providence, Rhode Island. A man of few words—yet recognized as a brilliant diagnostician—he passed on a few pearls that I would like to share with you.

1) Overlook it.

So many of the insults, errors, and odd things people do should simply be overlooked. Commenting on them or doing anything to try to change them is mostly unnecessary and only expands the problem.   

2) Listen carefully.  

The patient almost always knows their own diagnosis. Patients will tell you what is wrong if you ask enough questions and listen carefully. Being a good diagnostician means being well-informed, smart, intuitive, compassionate, and patient. If you let the information come to you, it will. You don’t need to do every test or engage every consultant. You need to listen and think. 

3) Quiet is best.

The louder you are, the harder it is to hear. Hold your peace between comments, let people speak, and let silence occur. Let others take meetings in the directions they want to go. My father believed that this applies to most business and medical settings as well as to interpersonal encounters.

4) It will be better by the time you are married. 

Almost all of our aches, pains, and complaints as children were met with, “Don’t worry; it will be better by the time you are married.” The message was patience: Most things heal on their own. Some take a lot longer than you would ever expect while others resolve overnight. But the confidence that things will get better, according to my Dad, is what matters most. 

5) It is good enough.

Leave some on the table for the other guy. Don’t get the last nickel. Don’t be seen as aggressive when grateful is good enough. Be satisfied with what you’ve done, and you will be happier. Unfortunately, the drive for excellence often overwhelms this advice.

How well do any of us put into practice the best of the lessons our fathers teach us? How much of this counsel do we now view as “old school,” confident that we can do better? In an age where we measure time as the nanoseconds between clicks, where does patience come in? When do we practice listening? When are we even quiet? And why do we often “forget” to apply these lessons in the moments of stress? 

Which lessons would you want to pass on to your own children? How would you ensure that they put them into practice?  

As I look at my personal success at adopting my Dad’s lessons— and my failure to adopt others—I wonder why so much of the wisdom of the ages is lost in practice. It is not which app, AI bot, or Alexa voice agent will become our virtual parent when we need them. It’s more about which of these childhood lessons become ingrained into our personalities, to the point where our first response to challenge reflects our best possible selves.  

When we can do this across the board, we become the truly better people our fathers wished us to be.

Posted by Kevin R. Stone, M.D on June 18th, 2017
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