Category Archives: Advice To My Children

What’s Your Ikigai?

My children are young adults trying to figure out their place in the world. The Venn diagram below may be helpful. I’ve seen versions of this before, without reference to Japan. This one’s from World Economic Forum:

 

ATMC: Misfortune or Good Fortune? We’ll See…

Java

Java

ATMC = Advice to my children (a series)

The Parable of the Farmer, His Horse, and His Son 

Hundreds of years ago in a poor Chinese village there lived a wise farmer and his son. The farmer’s only significant possessions were his patch of land, his shack, and a sturdy horse that helped him work the land.

One day the horse ran away into the wilderness. His neighbor said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The farmer just said, “We’ll see.”

A week later the horse returned to its corral, with three wild horses following it back. His neighbor said, “Instead of one horse, now you have four. Congratulations on your good fortune! You must be so happy!” The farmer just said, “We’ll see.”

A month later the farmer’s son decided to break in one of the new horses. But the animal bucked wildly and threw the young man off. The son’s leg broke when he landed. This could cripple him for life.

His neighbor said, “I’m so sorry. What bad luck. You must be so upset.” The farmer just said, “We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, barbarians from the north invaded the province. Every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed nine out of every 10 warriors, but the farmer’s son was spared since his broken leg prevented him from being drafted. His neighbor said, “Congratulations! What good luck. You must be so happy!”

The farmer just said, “We’ll see.”

*  *  *

The moral of the story is that we don’t really know if an event is “good” or “bad” until passage of some time. Secondarily, it’s a reminder that things always change. So don’t go off the deep end emotionally right away, especially when something doesn’t go your way. It may seem like the end of the world when that cute girl you’ve had a crush on turns down your request for a date, when you make a C or a D in a class instead of an A, when your boyfriend breaks your heart, when you don’t get into vet school, when you get arrested for drunk driving, when you get divorced, or when you lose an eye to cancer. It may seem like the end of the world, but it’s not. Wait.

The parable above is from the East; it’s claimed by both Taoists and Buddhists. It reminded me of my first day of medical school, during which an East Asian professor told us, “Every day not sunny day.” His lecture was on Sir William Osler’s essay, Aequanimitas. Equanimity is a word you don’t hear much. It means mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Cultivate it.

—Dad

Romeo

Romeo

ATMC: Get the Best Bed You Can Afford

I slept in a sleeping bag on a 1-inch thick foam pad in this Eureka Solitaire 1-man tent.

I slept in a sleeping bag on a 1-inch thick foam pad in this Eureka Solitaire 1-man tent.

You spend a third of your life in bed. Make it a good bed.

When you’re a kid or young adult, you can sleep just fine on a couch or a pallet on the floor made from a few folded blankets. After the age of 25 or so, your body won’t appreciate that sort of treatment. You’ll sleep fitfully and wake up with scattered aches and pains. Sleep in a bed that gives you support, comfort, and peace. By no means is that the most expensive bed on the market.

Back in 1981, I graduated from medical school and moved to Austin, Texas, for three years of internship and residency. My starting pay was $14,400/year. If that doesn’t sound like much, you’re right. The low pay was a hold-over from ye olde days when interns and residents were mostly young single men who actually resided in the hospital. They didn’t need a house or apartment. $14,400/year was just enough for a single guy to survive. We were working 100-hr weeks—no time for a second job. By the third year of residency, I was making $16,000-sumpin’.

I was new to Austin and needed a bed, so I went to a cheap furniture store in the low-rent part of town and bought a crappy twin-size box spring and mattress, $40 I think. At least it was new—I didn’t have to worry about anybody else’s bedbugs, fleas, or germs. Good times.

I upgraded as soon as I could afford it.

—Dad

PS: Remember those cars back then that had a vinyl-like covering over the roof? I had one of those in 1981, probably a Chevrolet or Oldsmobile sedan. It was so old that the vinyl was half gone, rotted off. One of my pulmonology attending physicians said they shouldn’t let me park that embarrassing mess in the doctors’ lot at the hospital. I think he was only half-joking.

PPS: I graduated medical school with only $22,000 of educational debt. I made monthly payments for 10 years. Medical student debt these days averages $176,000. Consider that before you gripe that doctors make too much money.

 

Advice to My Children

"Listen up, son"

“Listen up, son.”

I think it was Hunter S. Thompson who gave avuncular advice in Rolling Stone magazine 40 years ago:

  • Never play cards with a man named Doc
  • Never eat at a place called “Mom’s”
  • Never get involved with a woman who has more problems than you do

I’m starting a new category of posts: Advice To My Children (ATMC).

My father died six years ago at the age of 83. I can’t remember a single specific piece of advice he ever gave me. Which may be a reflection more on me than him.

He was a good father. I would say he taught me through quotidian action rather then with words. Allan Edward Parker, Sr., was a great provider for the family. He respected and loved my mother. He was always available and always seemed to be in a good mood. We had some great camping, fishing, and sailing adventures.

My two children, a boy and a girl, will probably be leaving home in the next few years. Any ability I have to influence them will wane significantly then. For the last few years I’ve been thinking about core concepts I’d like them to remember, if not take entirely to heart. Maybe they’ll refer back to these posts when life throws them for a loop or after I’m dead and gone.

Life can be hard, and we don’t get an owner’s manual at birth. We build our own manual by trial and error, learning from our elders or other reasonable adults, reasoning, observation, and through literature.

Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from others’?

Steve Parker, M.D.