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December 2, 2023
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Situations My Dad Pictured Me in While Giving Advice

It was simple—the hospital wouldn’t admit me unless I could start a fire without a match. I was bleeding profusely after having tried and failed to use a power tool. I wish I knew the name of the tool or what I did wrong. When my dad taught me about power tools, I didn’t pay attention. Instead, I watched videos of people carving bars of soap.

“Please,” I begged the admitting officer. “I feel faint—”

“Ma’am, we provided the flint and steel. Assuming you listened to your dad when he gave invaluable advice and taught essential life skills, you should be fine.”

I bled to death on the waiting-room floor.

The proctors observed my behavior in the replica back yard complete with an AstroTurf lawn, an artificial patio, and fluorescent lighting simulating the sun. In this new society, a person’s worth boiled down to one thing: how fun they were at barbecues.

Luckily, I was crushing the exam.

“Holy schnikes! I love Yuengling!” I said, invoking a classic “Tommy Boy” quote to express my affection for a beer popular among men born between 1946 and 1964. That’d get me some points. “Nice one,” a proctor said, taking notes. “Now, grill up some ribs.”

“G-g-grill?” I gulped. Between memorizing “Tommy Boy” quotes, Mike Ditka trivia, and the origin story of the Tommy Bahama brand, I’d completely forgotten to learn how to grill.

“Hey,” I said, praying another “Tommy Boy” quote would make them forget about grilling altogether. “If I wanted a kiss, I’d call your mother!”

The proctors were silent.

“Remember?” I said. “From ‘Tommy Boy?’ ” That year, my family nearly starved to death.

I stood, stranded, after having repeatedly tried and failed to change my flat tire in the middle of the desert. The wolves circled, jeering in human English, somehow.

“Had you been able to change your tire, we would’ve left you alone,” a wolf in a stylish Under Armour polo said while gnawing on my one tire-changer-device-thingy. “We don’t eat contributing members of society who enjoy being alive. And, if you enjoyed being alive, wouldn’t you have learned how to change a tire?”

“We’ll spare you under one condition,” a wolf who worked for the same company for fifty years and didn’t complain about his lack of self-actualization added. “Explain the difference between a pipe wrench and a lug wrench. It’s remarkably simple, and your dad’s walked you through it a thousand times. If you can’t, we’ll pounce.”

I couldn’t. They pounced.

“Thank you for agreeing to discuss the Dad Genius Grant with me,” I said, still unsure about why this prestigious research grant had such a silly, random name.

“Of course,” Ted Danson replied. “Allow me to skip to the good news. Your work is very impressive, and I’m ninety-nine-per-cent sure you deserve the grant, which entails you to a million dollars to research whatever you want. I will fast-forward to the final question. Humor me—what did you think of my work in ‘Cheers’?”

“Wait,” I said. “You were in ‘Cheers’?”

Mr. Danson’s eyes grew wide.

“This has . . . never happened before,” Mr. Danson said. “But your application is so strong that I’m willing to overlook that egregious offense. Just—” he sighed. “Just name Rodney Dangerfield’s character in the 1980 classic ‘Caddyshack’—something you should know if you paid attention to your dad’s rants about film.”

A chill ran down my spine.

“I haven’t seen ‘Caddyshack,’ ” I said.

“For God’s sake,” Mr. Danson said. “Just describe how 1993’s ‘Tombstone’ ends in the director’s cut.”

“Is that a movie?” I asked.

“Come on!” Ted yelled. “And I suppose you’d expect me to believe that you haven’t seen ‘Field of Dreams,’ either? Now, either recite the most famous line from that seminal cinematic work, or get the hell out of my house!”

When I think back on that day, I’m reminded of a place where everybody knows my shame.

The couch salesman looked at me with eyes the color of the oil I absolutely knew how to put into my vehicle.

“Funny,” I noted. “My dad told me not to spend all of my money in one place.”

“Oh, did he?” the salesman said, softening. “In that case, name your price! I respect fiscal responsibility above all else.”

Right where I wanted him. Now, I could teach him my dad’s next lesson: how to negotiate. “I’ll pay one penny,” I said.

I flipped a penny in the air. He dived for it. It was hard getting the couch home on my own, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My dad always said paying for furniture movers was a racket.

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