This business of giving advice, which is my business (I have written a book called Damage Control: How to Tiptoe Away From the Smoking Wreckage of Your Latest Screw-up With a Minimum of Harm to Your Reputation), can be a little nerve-wracking.
I have a (dystopian) fantasy of walking down the street and suddenly being confronted by a guy with tie askew, hair on end, holding a beer in one of those plastic O-ring six-packs blocking my path: “Hey, thanks a lot, Dave. You told me to come clean about my affair with the babysitter, now I’m divorced, living in a fleabag hotel, all my friends have turned their backs on me, and my kids won’t talk to me.” And then waking up in the hospital.
I kid, of course. But some of the problems people lay at my feet are pretty serious and the responsibility weighs heavily on my shoulders (and some, as Oscar Wilde might say, are “delightfully trivial”).
So this year I reached out to a few readers, and asked: Did you take my advice, and how did it work out?
One of the questions that weighed most heavily on me was from a woman whose friend was about to turn 65, seemed to be “committing career suicide” and felt like his life was “coming to an end.” I wrote that she should employ a “tough love” approach, and convince him life was not over but simply entering a new phase. I cited Colonel Sanders (who, at age 65, after his roadside restaurant failed, started peddling his recipe for so-called “Kentucky fried” chicken to other restaurants) and Winston Churchill (who, at age 65, and in his country’s darkest hour, became prime minister of Britain and helped save the free world).
So how’d that work out? She said she did indeed take a “tough love” approach and even mentioned the examples of Colonel Sanders and Winston Churchill to him: “Finally, though, after love and support and gentle persuasion, I simply had to grab him by the verbal lapels and basically say: ‘Snap out of it!’” She says he pulled out of his tailspin, and added: “Unbeknownst to him, he has a number of people looking out for him. I would say that’s another funny thing about being buried in your own drama. You fail to see all the good that’s going on around you and the people who are doing everything they can to help.”
I couldn’t have said it better. A great sentiment, particularly for the holidays. Thank you, my darling.
Another person wrote in with what might seem like a minor issue – until you learn (as I now reveal for the first time) he is a television personality (I won’t say which one). He had recently switched barbers and felt guilty for ditching his former barber. What should he do? I said don’t worry about it, in the matter of contractors or barbers or anyone we give our hard-earned shekels to, we have to be a bit ruthless and go with the one who does the best job.
So how’d that work out? Well, he wrote back, he is happy with his new barber, his hair looks great, even got a free straight-razor shave when his new barber saw the column. He did have one beef: “You failed to give me advice on how to deal with an accidental encounter” with his old barber. Because “it is a small town here, brother. Do I mention anything? Do I coolly pretend nothing has happened and ask about his child?” He adds: “You see, Dave, this is the great problem with you. Once poor saps like us learn to rely on you, we are stranded. You simply abandon us and move along to the next question.”
Not so, Evan – oops, I mean, Anonymous Reader – If you see your old barber in the street, be straight as a razor with him. It’s business, not personal. He’ll understand. You’re welcome and happy holidays.
Another one that resonated with me and many others was a woman who wrote in to say that since becoming parents her “formerly fun” friends had become “Healthier Than Thou” sancti-mommies and sancti-daddies. She hardly dared have them over unless she had all organic stuff in the kitchen. “God forbid the TV is on,” she wrote of their “no-screen” lifestyles. “Is this relationship worth saving?” she asked. I said friends are hard to find, all friendships are worth saving – and this was probably a phase, eventually they might get tired of it, and tired in general, especially if they had more kids. Ride it out!
So how’d that work out? She said, “I did take your great advice and we have made sure to keep our healthier than thou friends in our lives. There are some serious issues to avoid in our conversations, like vaccinations, vitamins and raw milk, however what you said about history and friends and holding on really resonated with me. I realize, like everyone else, they are just doing the best they can do … trying to be the best they can be. Parenting is just plain hard and it does wacky things to people.”
Amen, sister! “Hope you are well and thank you for being my favourite columnist of all time.” Just thought I’d throw that in there. I’m a very insecure person and need these compliments. But lest you think all these compliments go to my head, let me share one last response:
“David E, hi. I was not aware you responded to my query in the Globe. I do subscribe but may have missed it. In general, I find your advice fresh and sound.”
Ah, well, good enough. I’ll still take it! And thank you my beloved readers for your awesome questions. Keep ’em coming in 2014. I love your problems. You should learn to love them, too: They’re what give life colour, interest and meaning. I embrace you all and hope everything works out.
What am I supposed to do now?
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