When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years—Mark Twain
This is my absolute favorite quote. I recall the first time I read it laughing and laughing. Then each occasion when an incident would tweak my memory and Twain’s words popped up, I’d laugh again—not as jubilantly when I was the old man hearing my own boy similarly reference me.
So convincing was my son in establishing the grounds for my stupidity that there were moments when he inclined me toward believing him. In fact, there were one or two instances when I thought of crowning myself with the Dumbest Man In The World hat—I might have but by then I hadn’t the confidence left to believe I could earn such an esteemed title.
It wasn’t only my son that reveled in the belief I was a dolt. My daughter, three years his senior, preceded him with the same perception. I can site an example to prove the wise intellect both of my children shared—and must have inherited from a distant relative.
One afternoon when she was only fourteen my little darling came home from school and announced that she and “all” of her friends were going out to a party the next evening. Then she added that “Aaron” was picking them up. Maturely she went on to inform me that she’d be staying out late and I needn’t wait up.
“I’m sorry, my love. Your friends are free to decide with their parents what they can and can’t do but I’m not having you go out…”
“What are you talking about?” she countered disdainfully.
“You heard me. I won’t…”
“Everyone is going,” she proclaimed emphatically. “How can you do this? I’m fourteen,” she aimed at me like a bullet.
“Yes. When you’re sixteen we’ll talk about it.”
“So I’ll be the only one not going. You’re ruining my life.”
“Believe me, I’m sure your friends won’t be going either; and if they are, you need to rethink who you’re hanging around with.”
“Dad, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re really out of it.”
That was the last I heard about the party. I found out from one of the other parents that of the total of six girls, all with an itch to grow up, only one was present at the affair. That young lady ended up calling her parents at two in the morning after her ride had disappeared. Lord was I dumb.
For sure, analyzing Twain’s statement I instinctively understood the clever elements of his words that made it comical. In his example, a twenty-one year old man seemed to be puzzled how in seven years his father had become so much smarter. Yet he hadn’t stopped to realize that the father was no more or less intelligent than he’d been all along. Rather, it was he who had matured to the point he could see it—and respect the old man.
Yet there was more to the wit, something that stretched what he said beyond humor to brilliance. If the young man reaches the point in his growth that he can compute how mistaken he was in accessing his father an idiot all those years, then he can laugh at himself. Then his bafflement becomes insight, a way for him to chuckle at his own capacity for ignorance…and appreciate it.
I recall once having a therapy session with a father and his teenage son. The boy was irate that the father was arguing that the son would have to apologize to his football coach for missing several practices. The son’s retort was that the coach stunk, adding that he didn’t need the practice because he was already the best player on the team. The father explained that discipline was critical and that he’d not be respected by his fellow teammates if he set that type of example. The son shrugged, letting the old man know what a fool he was; he employed the identical sentence my children had thrown at me a hundred times: “Dad, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The assaultive tone of his words seemed to not register on the father. He never flinched. Instead, he was smiling. He wasn’t mocking the son; simply he seemed entertained. I asked him if it bothered him to have his son speak scornfully to him. He clowned, “Not at all. He’s got seven older siblings, so he’s witnessed what a dumbbell his dad is.”
At a later date the seasoned “old man” told me that he’d learned from lots of experience with his older ones that a frequent cocktails of guffaws, giggles and sniggers is the best remedy to lighten up moments that in the past had rankled him. He also humored that the process of appreciating, accepting and delighting over our idiocy is best begun as early in life as possible, though he understood that in most cases wisdom is wasted on the elderly. “It took a long while, but I learned to laugh at my ignorance; then life was a lot more pleasurable,” he summarized.
It really didn’t sound so bad. A good hurrah, hurrah when confronting our ignorance is life giving. In fact, it might be that without the ability to lighten up on oneself, the prospect of surviving diminishes—laughter at oneself might be the elixir the medieval alchemists sought for extending life.
My children, for that matter anyone, want to call me dumb? I’m already laughing.
Hah, hah, hah, hah, hah!!!!
I’m the winner of the Dumbest Man In The World contest. I’m so proud.
Hah, hah, hah, hah, hah!!!!!!
Well, I’ll give this a 94% True rating—it still peeves me every so often to face up to how little I really do know.