My dad was great for using time around the dinner table to teach to a captive audience. Sometimes his lessons were simple, like how to count change. Usually however, he would either ask us questions that had no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, or make a statement. He’d give us time to think, come up with our answer, and be prepared to debate our response. Because there was a lot of debate. Or arguments, depending on which side of semantics you stood.
He was equally good at lessons on other types of semantics. For instance, if you said ‘So can I!’ he’d invariably respond, ‘Which eye do you want soaked?’ That old chestnut still irritates me. But not as much as when I had a story to tell and his other common line came into play.
I’d rush home from school with a very important, very good story to share. Especially after I’d embellished it some and made it an even better story. Somewhere in the middle of the telling I’d say, ‘It was exactly like…except that…’
Can you hear the response?
He’d interrupt to say that whatever I talked about wasn’t, after all, exactly like something because I’d just pointed out a difference.
I’d stumble to a halt, the flow of my really good story blocked. There’d be a moment of silence while I gathered the threads of the tale together.
‘Well, okay, but see, it really was exactly like…except for…’
And here would come the interruption again.
Today I heard someone say, ‘He never talked! And when he did…’
Wow. Dad’s voice rang so loud and clear.
Now, thinking about it, I believe the true lesson I learned during those dinner table debates and the early story telling was this.
How to edit.
And with that, here’s one of his famous statements. He took a glass of milk, put it in front of us kids and told us we couldn’t touch it. Because to touch it we’d have to go half way. And then half way again. And again. And because there was always another ‘half way’ to go, we would never be able to touch the glass. I can remember saying ‘I’m touching it right now!’ Nope. There was still an infinitesimal half way to go. Someone once told me that he was actually teaching us some law of physics.
Sorry, but no. I felt that darn glass under my finger. And I’m still prepared to defend that with some rude semantics if need be.