Take My Advice...
But Don't Listen to Me

By Rick Epstein

Originally appeared in November 2011

A reader recently wrote in complaining about a column in which I expressed approval of my daughters choice in friends by giving her a dollar. My critic indicated our kids companions is a legitimate parental concern, and my silly bribe idea was not helpful advice.

Technically, it wasnt advice. But the criticism was fair because I really do like to give advice. It makes me feel so smart  while Im giving it, anyway.

One day in the company lunchroom, a co-worker named Ron told me his wife wanted to have a second child, and he didnt know what to do. To advise him would be foolish, but his best course of action was practically written on the ceiling in letters of flame. I merely read it aloud.

You SHOULD have a second child, I said.

How can you say that? Ron asked. You hardly know me.

Because Ive seen enough one-child families to know that kind of parenting experience is too intense, I told him. A second child takes the edge off parenting to where youre spread too thin to do much damage. If youre smart, youll negotiate. Agree to the additional child on the condition that your wife gets her tubes tied afterward.

Ron looked dubious until I said, Ignore my advice and youll end up with THREE children AND a vasectomy. Ron took my advice home that night.

The next day he was back at work, hunched over his desk looking grayer. I stopped by and asked, Hey, whats wrong?

He gave me a poisonous look. I followed your advice. Then my wife told me shes ALREADY pregnant and she stopped speaking to me, he said bitterly.

She shouldnt blame you for not knowing something she hadnt told you, I said. On the other hand, a pregnant woman is automatically one-up on her husband, and he is automatically one-down.

Im not listening, he said, putting his hands over his ears. Go away.

Most times when I get asked for advice, its because theres no one else available.

When my daughter Marie was 12, she had a big problem and her mom wasnt home. So she laid it out for me. Roxanne, a friend of hers since their preschool days, had moved back into town. Maries friends  the social elite of her school  shunned Roxanne as being uncool and they demanded that Marie choose sides. Whatll I do? she asked.

Again, answer blazed above our heads in fiery orange letters. I said, It seems like your friends are not real friends, and your old pal Roxanne really needs you now.

She nodded and said no more. As the week progressed, she sided with Roxanne and was threatened and ostracized from the social mainstream. I was proud of her. But a couple months later, the girls in Maries old crowd changed their minds about Roxanne and accepted her into their circle. Roxanne jumped aboard like she was catching the last helicopter out of Saigon, and left Marie standing there friendless. While Marie continues trying to piece together the shards of her social life, Im thinking about going out of the advice business. But it would be a sin to curtail my cutting-edge research and to withhold my findings. Take this little experiment for example:

One morning my 10-year-old daughter Sally was feeling queasy, so I handed her a dollar bill. Whats this for? she asked.

Well, I always feel good when someone gives me money, I said, Did it work?

No, she said.

Maybe I didnt give you enough, I said. Heres another buck. Hows that?

Her reply was to dart into the bathroom.

Rick is a newspaper editor whose editorial judgment is often questioned.

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