Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

All of that pales in light of the way I have come to treat doors, however—I’m so careful with doors and the things they are attached to that sometimes my dad would get a little frustrated with my gentle approach to, say, working on a Jeep. One summer we undertook to replace in the engine in my Cherokee. I was fussing with the bolts that held the transmission to the engine block. The two upper bolts were hidden from view; I could only feel the bolt heads with my fingers. I had put a 6-point socket on one bolt that felt like it fit and was trying to no avail to loosen it. “C’mon,” dad said, “put some elbow grease into it,” as he reached for a pipe to place over the handle of the wrench for more leverage. He had a lifetime of experience working on Navy aircraft and wasn’t going to let a stuck bolt on a Jeep hold things up. So he gave his extended wrench a hearty pull and promptly rounded off the head of the bolt, which, it turned out, wasn’t a hex after all but an external torx—thanks for nothing, finger tips!

Anyway, I was reminded of my dad’s advice while reading this article on the search for the USS Wasp, a WWII aircraft carrier that was sunk in 1942. The article features a letter one of the crewmen who perished in the conflagration had written to his 5-year-old son a few months before the torpedo attack:

Dear Jackie,

In the meantime, take good care of Mother. Be a good boy and grow up to be a good young man. Study hard when you go to school. Be a leader in everything good in life. Be a good Catholic, and you can’t help being a good American. Play fair always. Strive to win but if you must lose, lose like a gentleman and a good sportsman. Don’t ever be a quitter either in sports or in your business or profession when you grow up. Get all the education you can. Stay close to Mother and follow her advice. Obey her in everything, no matter how you may at times disagree. She knows what is best and will never let you down or lead you away from the right and honorable things in life. If I don’t get back, you will have to be Mother’s protector because you will be the only one she has. You must grow up to take my place as well as your own in her life and heart. Don’t let her brood over me nor waste herself on anyone not worthy of her or you.
Love your grandmother and granddad as long as they live. They, too, will never let you down. Love your aunts and see them as often as you can. Last of all, don’t ever forget your daddy. Pray for him to come back and if it is God’s will that he does not, be the kind of a boy and man your daddy wants you to be.

Like the author of the article, “It was hard for me to read the Dear Jackie letter, with all its vulnerability and old-fashioned man-to-boy wisdom, and not feel a flare of anguished kinship.” I mean, my dad didn’t ship out and die young in war, but he’s gone now. And I’m nearly the same age as the letter’s author with a similar family situation.

As the last generation standing, so to speak, I sometimes reflect on what advice I would pass along to my descendants. Even if I’m not certain what value they might attach to any such advice, I kind of want to dispense it. I’m also not certain whether that impulse has anything to do with being raised a Mormon, but the emphasis on family history and the looming influence of The Book of Mormon, which characterizes itself as a compilation of advice from earlier generations to later generations, has probably left a mark.

I suspect that the consistent expression of love is more important than any particular nugget of wisdom, but I hope that my daughter will have the courage to adapt to and prosper among new and changing circumstances, retain her curiosity about the world to sustain a love of lifelong learning, and follow Christ’s example by being willing to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Oh, and learn how to play electric guitar. Actually, I’m a little conflicted about foisting my hobbies off on loved ones, but for music I’m willing to make an exception—you won’t regret it!

So what would you say—or do, for that matter—that you would like those who follow to remember? Is there much point in saying anything, or is it better to simply let actions speak louder than words? What role has the advice of your forebears played in your life?


  1. D Christian Harrison says:

    Crying in my cubicle. It’s the best way to start a day.

  2. Reminds one of Sullivan Ballou’s devastating Civil War letter.

  3. After hearing this idea in a General Conference, I asked my father what he would say to his posterity in 25 words. At his funeral we passed out cards with his photo on one side and his advice on the other. Our family is glad we did this.

    In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, Church member Jay Hess, an airman, was shot down over North Vietnam. For two years his family had no idea whether he was dead or alive. His captors in Hanoi eventually allowed him to write home but limited his message to less than 25 words. What would you and I say to our families if we were in the same situation—not having seen them for over two years and not knowing if we would ever see them again? (Joy in the Journey, President Monson 2008 General Conference)

  4. “You can handle anything but sin” was taught to me by my mother. My father would remind his children every so often that “Every generation should be better than the last”. I also have never forgotten my aunt counseling me to “Teach your children to love one another, I never knew I had to teach them that”.
    For some reason these three pieces of advice have stuck with me.

  5. John Mansfield says:

    My wife left letters to each of children and myself last year. The counsel therein is mostly particular and specific. More of her words were expressions of love, much of that also specific to the individuals, but the simple existence of the letters is for me an artifact of love apart from the words. I found that she had reached out to a friend who teaches writing for advice, and another friend spoke of her experience typing for my wife in the hospital.

    With my changing parental role, I find myself leaving in the morning trying to feel assured that a couple dozen things have been attended to, but many haven’t been, and ten more minutes won’t change that. I often find myself repeating as I go out the door, “Be good, children,” a desperate blanket to cover all the unfinished details. Sometimes it comes out more as “Be good children.”

  6. First, that post by peterllc, and then John Mansfield’s comment — whoah! So heartfelt. Thanks for sharing.

    Is there much point in giving advice, you ask? Yes and no. In my experience, I’ve retained certain bits of advice given to me by my parents and mentors. However, those bits of advice are so very few, so random, that I’m left with the strong belief that most advice we give is not actually retained. Mostly, I think the hearer needs to actually /want/ the advice. Hence, I try to dish out very little of it. Listening seems more productive.

  7. Thank you all for replying.

    “Be good, children,” a desperate blanket to cover all the unfinished details.

    I know the feeling—thank you for putting it into words!

  8. pamelaweste says:

    My dad said (and lived), “if you’re going to do a job, do it right.”. For some reason that sticks in my mind over everything else, and I rarely go very long without thinking of it. I don’t know if he said it a lot, or if it just liked it.

  9. Are those the Trona Pinnacles?

  10. Indeed they are, Amy.

  11. My parting comment as my children go out the door is, ‘Do good.’ Periodically I remind them that this is not poor grammar meaning ‘do well.’ I admonish them to Do Good.

  12. “There’s not much to see. I used to live here you know.”
    “You’re going to die here you know.”
    It’s that quote from Return of the Jedi that always came to my mind when I lived in the same “rural area.” That and the ST:TNG episode about Rana IV. Happily, I no longer have to worry about that. And yes wildflower season and the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen in that isolated little valley, but a weight definitely lifted when our time was done.

    I hope my advice for my kiddos/posterity go along the lines of don’t take yourself too seriously and mental healthcare is for everyone. A yearly physical should include plopping down on a couch and talking about feelings with a licensed, professional expert. Not because you “need” it, but because your kids might. Or their kids. Jesus heals… by inspiring some of us to study and sacrifice and work unseemly hours so that they can help us when we’re sitting on that couch and have no more answers and no more ideas.

  13. My dad would constantly tell us to not slam the car doors. Hated it. And of course I tell my kids that. And they hate it. I need to add in some of the other good words of advice. Thanks for the share.

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