Jac Whatley is a lifelong Baptist from North Carolina now living in Washington, DC. He is progressive in life, faith and career transitions, having been a lawyer, college vice president, church administrator and non-profit director. His wife and two children prevent him from being the hermit his introverted nature demands, and he is sometimes seen in public, usually at church.
One of life’s ironies (or perhaps one of God’s little jokes) is that we spend the first half of our lives rejecting advice from older family members and friends and that we spend the second half of our lives trying to offer it. This isn’t to blame younger folks for not listening when we get up on our soapbox. Much of life is about finding your own path, and not everything that worked for me will work for you. Some things have to be learned through painful experience – but many things don’t!
In about six weeks Kathy and I will become grandparents for the first time. The shock at hearing oneself identified not as “Jac” but at “Katie’s Daddy” was considerable, and we expect a similar seismic jolt as we welcome “Bean”, a name of convenience taken based on the shape on the first ultrasound.
My own father died at about my age eight days after his only grandson was born. Our first “family trip” was to his funeral. Over the following thirty years I’ve often wondered what advice he might have given on different subjects. Based on his own successes and failures, I hope I know. But for my kids, I set down some advice and sent it to them, so they don’t have to wonder. Now I’ll offer it to you:
- God has a plan for your life, and will help you work it out, but it will be on His timetable, and it won’t always be clear to you.
- What you do isn’t as important as who you are. Know who you are, and don’t stray from that. Let’s say a guy who wants to make people happy and avoid conflict goes into trial law in Asheville, NC. Big Mistake.
- Don’t hesitate to correct your mistakes, even if it seems too hard or too expensive or too embarrassing or too late or too . . . . . .
- Do something for a living you enjoy that you think makes the world a better place, even in a small way.
- Marry the right person. Work hard at your marriage. Remain astounded someone loves you that much in spite of you. Show your kids you love each other.
- Love your kids at all times, let them grow up and stay out of their way.
- Your kids will remember 5% of what you say and 95% of what you do.
- Avoid credit cards and debt you can’t handle. You’ll want to give your kids everything they want, when what they need is to know how to be good stewards.
- Find a church where the members show you Jesus. If they don’t, go elsewhere.
- Pray often. Listen more often. God is trying to tell you things all the time, and He’s come a long way without your advice on what He must do.
- For what would you give up one day of your life? You’re doing it every morning whether you mean to or not. Make it count for something!
- Choose one older friend, mentor, or church friend of whom you can say “I want to be ___________ when I grow up.”
- Never stop growing up.
- Find the joy in life everywhere. If you don’t laugh at my funeral, I will have failed. If you’re not in the mood, think “Animal Crackers.”
“Animal Crackers” is an odd place to end, but that’s enough advice. For those of you wondering what that means, think of the one funny story that always cracks your family up, the handful of code words guaranteed to bring and smile, and plug it in there.
Getting old is tough. Humor some of us, and pretend to take our advice seriously. We’re struggling desperately to remain relevant at a time when young people buzz by us on escalators, take all the good jobs, and have adorable kids who have never given them a moment’s trouble. There are some cultures where the elderly are treasured as tremendous resources. If I could remember where they are I might even go there someday!