Meeting Betty

Published: June 10, 2016

In 1930s, humorist J.P. McEvoy wrote the Post column “Father Meets Son” presented to readers in the form of letters filled with advice for navigating life’s rocky road. Employing a mix of wry humor and tough love, Dad doled out life lessons on everything from work to women. Readers loved it.

When his son raves about a girl, Dad attempts to explain true love to him, saying it’s like seeing 10-foot-tall daisies, or, even better, like stepping in front of a truck.

Meeting Betty

By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on October 31, 1936

Dear Son: So her name is Betty, is it? And she’s the most wonderful girl in the world, is she? Sounds quite possible, judging by the meager specifications submitted. Her eyes, her hair, her teeth — it all checks up. When I was young and charming, I met Betty too. Same eyes, same hair, same teeth, but a different name. You say in your letter: “Dad, you don’t know what it is to fall in love.” That’s what you think. Only I never waited to fall — I used to jump right in.

However, I won’t try to rationalize the sensation. In a general way, you can get the same result by casually stepping off the curb any day and being hit by a five-ton truck. Three days or three weeks or three months later you wake up surrounded by flowers. An angel in white is holding your hand and you are asking in an eerie voice: “Where am I?” Dimly you piece together impossible experiences — part of a delicious delirium — but as the fog lifts, you realize that the angel in white is a real flesh-and-blood female and you are engaged to be married to her, or, even more astonishing, you are married to her.

I don’t know just where you and Betty are wandering now in this delirium. And if I did, I wouldn’t try to contact you, because long before Griffith discovered the fade-out and the dissolve in motion pictures, lovers were experts at it. However, if you can still hear my voice, I have a few words of wisdom for you, which needn’t disturb you, because you won’t pay any attention to them anyway. If each generation had cared to climb up on the shoulders of the preceding one, we would be up in the heavens now conversing with the angels instead of digging tunnels under each other’s frontiers.

One paragraph in your letter made me stop short and read it again. You tell me that Betty doesn’t approve of your admitting that you are only a filling station attendant. She is telling her friends that you are “connected with the sales organization,” leading them to believe, if they are saps enough, that you are at least first vice-president in charge of all the territory between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Well, that’s quite a bill of goods, and if you can sell that, you ought to be made head of the sales organization. But the fact is that you can’t sell it and make it stay sold. A lie has the habit of bouncing back and socking you right in the middle of your ecstasy.

You don’t need to tell a lie or try to live a lie just because Betty wants you to. It’s hard for you to say “no” to her now, but it won’t get any easier. You won’t lose her respect by showing character. If she has any to spare, she’ll lavish all the more on you. If she hasn’t any respect for you now, she won’t have any more for you later. A woman’s respect is not based on what you have, but on what you are. Someday you will have a wife, and if she doesn’t respect you in a cottage, she won’t respect you later in a mansion. And if she doesn’t respect you, your children won’t respect you. And when they go out into the world, they won’t respect anybody or anything, and the things that will happen to them will break your heart, if you have any left by that time.

Of course, you want Betty’s respect, don’t you? Then earn it. “None but the brave deserves the fair.” Like all old saws, this has teeth in it. Listen to what she has to say, weigh it carefully, then make up your own mind. Then stick to it. If she coaxes, be charmed but unyielding. If she pouts, be amused but firm. If she cries, don’t get frightened. This, too, will pass. Console her — but stick! If she gets angry, admire her spirit. Tell her she was never so attractive. She’ll hate you, but not for long. The compliment will remain in her mind long after the reason for it is forgotten. But if she dissolves and yields, then you are really in danger. Be alert. Stick. She will come back to the attack again as soon as your guard is down. If you are still at your guns, she will realize you are no ordinary adversary. Now she will turn on everything. She will smother you with charm. She will dazzle you with smiles. She will drown you with tears. Where are you, son? Courage! Stick! Hang on! Ah-h-h, the sun is breaking through. Look! A rainbow. Hark, the lark! The battle is over. You have fought the good fight and victory is yours. And what is the reward? Respect. The girl realizes for the first time that you mean what you say and stick to it.

Of course, in your present condition such fortitude would be nothing short of heroic. But punch-drunk as you are, you might just as well try to clear a little of this rose-colored fog out of your head and stop leading with your chin. Get your guard up or you won’t last out the first round. You’re seeing a lot of pretty stars now and hearing a lot of birds that never sang on land or sea. I close my eyes and recall it all. Butterflies as big as eagles. Daisies ten feet tall. And floating through this supernatural landscape like a cloud shadow on a summer day, a heavenly creature made of swan’s-down and peach fuzz. What a girl!

“Betty,” I hear you murmur. Perhaps! The most wonderful girl in the world is immortal. She comes back in every generation. But even if your Betty is not the most wonderful girl in the world, you can make her so if you wish. Girls are what men make them. Silly with stupid men, frivolous with playboys, extravagant with spendthrifts, frugal with the thrifty, lazy with the loafer, industrious with the worker. If — and that’s the point of this letter — if she loves the man, believes in him, trusts him, and respects him.

In this world of uncertainties there are two things you can bet on: A woman will fly to a man, and flee from a mouse.

Affectionately,

Dad

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