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.
Watching his son grow in his new job as a chauffeur, Dad gives his sage advice on how to study and deal with man’s most important problem: woman.
Father Meets Son: Second Job
By J.P. McEvoy
Originally published on January 30, 1937
Dear Son: First thing you know, I’m going to be mighty proud of you. Fired and hired again, all within a week. Remember how long it took you to get your first job? You were looking for a position then, remember? This time you started out looking for work, and you got it. Then you complained about being a filling-station attendant. Now you are quite matter-of-fact about being a chauffeur. You are growing up.
I gather the job is easy, but the people are difficult — especially the womenfolks. Well, you are going to hear a lot about how difficult it is to get along with women, and if you were a woman you would hear just as much about how difficult it is to get along with men. There must be something to it; it can’t be just a universal whim.
You don’t mind driving the boss, you tell me, but the boss’ wife is too bossy and the daughter is a spoiled brat. I can sympathize with your feelings about the daughter because I have often felt that way about you. Fortunately, a brat is not like an apple. You can’t do anything about a spoiled apple, but you can unspoil a spoiled brat. What you are learning about unspoiling yourself, you can try out on Gloria. There is no better way of learning something than teaching it. Schonberg’s masterly treatise on harmony opens with this simple statement of a profound truth: “Dieses buch habe ich von meinen schulern gelernt.” (This book I have learned from my pupils.)
I saw an interesting example of this process at work in a little mud village in China last summer. This was Ting Hsien, the center of Jimmy Yen’s famous mass-education movement. I visited one schoolroom full of children from 10 to 14 years of age. They were being taught to read and write Chinese characters. As you probably know, they have no alphabet in Chinese. Every one of these characters that look like firecrackers going off at both ends is really a word, and you have to know at least 5,000 of them before you can read a newspaper, and some 25 or 30 thousand before you can read the classics. When I visited the school, the teacher had six characters on the blackboard, in which she was drilling the children. They were all reciting out loud, the way we used to in the little red schoolhouses in our own country.
As soon as the children had learned the six characters, school was dismissed and each child scurried out and gathered a little class of eight or ten younger children, in an alley or under a mat shed, and proceeded to teach these same six characters to her own little class. Well, you never saw such authority and such dignity in your life as were shown by these little 10- and 12-year-old teachers who, only a few minutes earlier, were pupils. Once they were satisfied that their little classes had learned all they had to teach them, they scurried back to the schoolroom and learned six more characters. We like to think that the Chinese are inscrutable, but that is only because they have so many simple virtues. Patience is one, unfailing courtesy is another, and, best of all, they have what we in the West call the ability to take it and come up smiling.
When you were a filling-station attendant, you had to learn how to be patient with your customers, and courteous and pleasant. Now you can teach Gloria how to be patient with you, and courteous and pleasant. You will get a lot more fun out of changing her than you will out of going around muttering into your whiskers. Being young, she will be easier to change — much easier than her mother. I’m afraid there isn’t much to be done about her. If she is very bossy, just interest yourself in trying to find out why. The chances are that the opportunity to boss people came late in her life and she thinks she must be noisy to be effective. It’s the little boss with half a dozen employees who bustles around and makes all the racket. Henry Ford walks through his plant unseen and unheard. When I see a woman who, obviously, never had anything as a girl, and now has a big house and a few servants, and can’t forget it or let anyone else forget it, I think of a delightful old song my father used to sing about the woman in Ireland who had three cows — two cows more than her neighbors — which made her a tremendous figure, in her own opinion. When the boss’ wife gets on your nerves, just sing to yourself:
“Oh, woman of three cows agra,
Why let your tongue thus rattle?
And don’t be saucy, don’t be stiff,
Because you may have cattle.”
The hardest thing about your job, as I see it, is the fact that your boss is inclined to be easy. As you go along in life, you will learn that it is hard to work for an easy boss, because you have to supply all the initiative. That is why relatives and friends who get in on the ground floor usually wind up in the basement; pull can get jobs, but only push can hold them.
Your job is easy. You have a lot of time on your hands. While you are sitting in the car waiting for madame who is playing bridge, or Gloria who is sitting under a drier, you can either learn something about the boss’ business or any other business that interests you. One hour a day of intensive study for a year would teach you more bookkeeping than most bookkeepers know, more salesmanship than most salesmen know, more business law than most businessmen know. Three hundred and sixty-five hours of study is twice as much as any college student puts in on any subject, and most of them don’t want to learn it anyway. Only one hour a day sitting in your car and putting your mind to it, and at the end of a year you could juggle, play a saxophone, be the life of the party doing card tricks. Anything that you want to learn will be better than sitting around learning nothing, if only it teaches you the habit of learning.
Then when madame comes out and brusquely orders you to drive her home, or Gloria snippily sends you over to the country club for her racket, it will be easier for you to relax and study man’s most important problem — woman. You will learn that working for a woman doesn’t make it any easier for you to get along with her. It may even come to you as a bolt from the blue that you are going to be working for women all your life. And really it makes very little difference whether you are driving them around and getting a salary for it, or whether they are driving you around and you are getting nothing for it.
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What a fascinating, interesting column by J.P. McEvoy. I’ve never read anything quite like it. I bet Chinese children still learn their overwhelming characters in this manner, at least to some extent.
His advice on the ‘womenfolk’ including bosses, is something else. The other day in the ‘Being Fired’column I wrote I’d worked in the collections dept. of a high-end department store a number of years ago. My boss was a woman, and was the best one I’ve ever had in my life.