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A few words of advice about the giving of advice

My cellphone was vibrating on my desk. ¶ I looked down at the caller ID. It was the younger of my two sons, my 25-year-old who lives in Chicago. ¶ After we exchanged greetings, he got to the reason for the mid-day call. ¶ "Will they bounce a check for 41 cents?" he asked.

Hmmm. As with most conversations I have with my sons (my first-born is 30 and lives in Southern California) I try to figure out what they are talking about without having to ask a lot of questions lest I (1) irritate them or (2) appear stupid.

In this case, I was lucky. He realized how cryptic his question was seconds after it came out of his mouth.

"I mean," he said, "if I wrote a check for $625 and I have $624.59 in my account, will the check bounce?"

Hmmm. $6.25? $625? For a sandwich? For his rent?

It was for his rent. I know that because I gave him money toward it.

"I don't think they are allowed to charge overdraft fees if it's less than $5," I told him, realizing, as my words spilled into the phone, I hadn't a clue what his bank would or would not do.

So, I quickly added a sentence, "I'll go put $20 in your account later this afternoon just to be sure."

And another. "You know, you shouldn't cut it that close."

Ahh. There it was. The piece of motherly advice dispensed with a spoonful of money to a grown child. Maybe it'll sink in, maybe not. He has to make his own mistakes but it's difficult not to jump in and help.

I guess that's why they call it the circle of life. If we all listened to, and built upon, what our parents and grandparents told us, maybe they'd call it the great linear progression of life.

I was curious about what kind of advice the subjects featured in this month's issue — one a relatively new dad, the other a veteran — have given their own children.

Coincidentally, both Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida state director, and Robert Mellis, journalist-turned-goodwill ambassador, have daughters.

Betsy Johnson is only 8, but she already has gotten some sage advice from Dad:

• You are not what you do. You are great not because of what you accomplish but because of who you are.

• For everything you bring into your room, throw something else out.

• You can overwater plants.

• When you make a commitment, you need to keep it.

• Remember what you are saving up money for when you see something you want right now.

With all that wisdom, is there any doubt young Betsy has a clean room with healthy plants and a stuffed piggy bank?

Then there's Mellis, father of two grown daughters, married with their own children.

"We are not much into handing out advice," Mellis said. "The evidence is it usually isn't followed.

"We've always encouraged our kids to grow up, spread their wings and fly. And now we do that with our four grandkids. My lifelong belief always has been: Don't be afraid to fail. If you don't take a chance, life becomes too safe. And safe equals boring."

It probably is too late for me to pass along the advice Johnson gave to his daughter. I should have done it when I was climbing over mountains of clothes and dead plants to wake the boys for school.

But maybe I can use some of what worked for Mellis.

As long as a balanced checking account doesn't fall into the boring category.

And by the way, I put $40, not $20, in his account later that day.

Patti Ewald can be reached at or (727) 893-8746.

How about you?

Would you like to pass along some advice you gave your children -- or got from your parents? We'd like to hear it -- and print excerpts in next month's LifeTimes. And please be sure to mention if it was heeded. E-mail by April 6 to or mail to Patti Ewald, Tampa Bay Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. Include your full name and the city in which you live.

A few words of advice about the giving of advice 03/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 4:30am]
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