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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Sayings of Robert Whaley

Dad had memorable ways of expressing things, and I thought I might expose you to some (but certainly not all) of them. Here goes:

1. “Budget the Luxuries First”
Dad taught me that it’s important to enjoy life now while it’s still going on. Think about it. You don’t want to be lying on your death bed and slap your forehead while moaning over all the things you should have done but never got around to actually doing. In making financial plans he suggested that (when possible) we should all remember that the luxuries of life are themselves worthy of serious attention, lest we never garner our share. Of course, one can carry this idea too far (which is true of almost everything), but done sensibly it is good advice. Looking back on the times I’ve applied it, I don’t regret a single one (well, that night in Chicago—but never mind).

Having said that, a story:
Two of the members of my chosen family are Art and Lorri, who I’ve loved dearly since 1980 when we first met and bonded. Somewhere in the early 80s they were faced with a financial decision: spend money on a vacation to California or use that money to hire someone to strip and repaint their front porch. Which to do? Budget the luxuries first, I quoted to them, attributing it to Bob Whaley. Damn right, they agreed, and promptly went to California and had a wonderful time. However, they were cursing old Bob pretty good weeks later as they labored on their front porch, tools and paint brushes in hand, sweating in the 90° weather.

2. “Let’s Avoid Pooling Our Ignorance”
Ever find yourself debating something and then realizing that neither one of you knows what he/she is talking about, it being obvious that more expertise is needed to solve the problem? In such a situation Dad would suddenly stop and comment “We’re just pooling our ignorance,” and then he’d suggest we stop talking about it and hunt up a source of wisdom. Remembering this, and saying it out loud when appropriate, avoids lots of wheel-spinning.

3. “Be Worth More Than Your Salary”
This one is good advice to anyone who wants to get ahead professionally. Be worth more to the business than the salary they’re paying you, and things will go much better for everybody. But this advice only works if your boss is aware of the superiority of your efforts. As Gilbert and Sullivan say in their comic opera Ruddigore, “You must stir it and stump it, and blow your own trumpet, or trust me you haven’t a chance!” When my son Clayton, working for an aviation company in Seattle, came up with a new software program that could save millions, I urged him to make certain the credit for this advancement came to him. Who wouldn’t want an employee working wonders like that? I should mention that Dad himself was bad at following this latter advice. The Air Force often used him as a trouble-shooter, giving him duty assignments to take over squadrons that were under-performing and filled with tension and bad blood. He’d come in, take over firmly, and use his organizational genius and winning personality to put things right again. The squadron would then go on to win awards, but by the time this happened the superior officer who’d sent him on this difficult assignment would have moved on, and the new superior would have the understandable attitude that any officer could run a squadron so trouble-free. Late in his Air Force career, Dad confessed that he regretted not having made sure that when upper command changed personnel, the very grateful officer who was leaving informed his replacement as to who had worked the transformation of this squadron. “If I’d have done that,” Dad said ruefully, “I’d be a general now.”

4. “One More and Quit Forever”
This saying is more or less the Whaley family motto (Dad being its inventor), and perhaps it’s best forgotten, but, alas, it does come up quite a bit. Say, for example, the question is whether to have another drink. “One more and quit forever,” would be the standard Whaley reply (from Dad, from me, from my sister, my ex-wife, and even, I believe, my son)—the damn thing is catchy and an easy temptation to someone already inclined to have that drink (or dessert, or cigarette or, say, sky dive). Well, you might comment, what harm is there really in having one more (fill in blank) if you’re going to quit forever? That would be right except the motto is immediately renewable (say in twenty minutes when another round is in the offing).

Another story:
Jerry and I were together for twelve years, and like almost everyone in my life he took repeating the Whaley motto on appropriate occasions (by then all of our friends were using it too). One January, years after Dad had died, we went to New Orleans for a law professors’ convention, and Jerry, for the first time, got to meet my sister Mary Beth and her husband, Rich, who were then living in that grand city. We all met at a fine restaurant in the French Quarter, ordered drinks, and had a splendid meal. When dinner was winding down, the waiter appeared at Rich’s elbow and asked him if he’d like another drink, pointing to Rich’s empty glass. Rich smiled. “Why not?” he asked rhetorically. “One more and quit forever.” Both Jerry and I later agreed that on hearing this we felt a chill. Everyone we knew who said this motto had learned it directly from me. But Rich wasn’t one of those people. Ah, but Rich had certainly spent much time in the company of Robert Whaley, and that ghost was suddenly at the table with us all.
Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011

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