Times Changing

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.

Dad actually agrees with his son for once: Society has changed. However, some things never vary, like how Dad is powerless against his wife and daughter.

Father Meets Son: Times Changing

A man and a woman talking
“Like most American men, I am the victim of a cunning conspiracy.”

Illustrated by Ralph Pallen Coleman

By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on November 14, 1936

Dear Son: Well, I am rather pleased with you this morning. Your letter came, and it fairly sizzled through the envelope. I am mighty glad that finally you got up enough nerve to answer me back. These loquacious fathers get to be something of a pest, and a little mauling from the cubs is good for them.

Allow me, then, to agree with practically everything you say. Things are different now than they were twenty years ago, when I was such a bear cat — to hear me tell it. They were also different twenty years before that — and another twenty, and so on. I vaguely recall that Benjamin Franklin once walked the streets of Philadelphia looking for a job, and there wasn’t a single opening for a crooner, an auto mechanic, a typist, a soda jerker, or even a mother’s helper. It seems that mothers helped themselves in those days or raised their own helpers. And yet there were many more opportunities in Philadelphia in Franklin’s day than there were in 1492, or 1206, or even 500 B.C.

Someday you may get a letter from a young man telling you what a cinch you had in your day and how tough it is for him. “Things were different back there in 1936, dad,” he will say, and you’ll be kind of floored, because you won’t be able to deny it, but you will probably lash out at him and tell him to get busy and go to work at anything he can find—that’s what you did — and keep on working at it — that’s what you’re doing — and stop squawking — which, come to think of it, is good advice.

I’ll grant you there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs available, but has it ever occurred to you that new jobs are being invented all the time by bright young men and women who realize the hopelessness of looking for jobs, many of which have disappeared forever? The blacksmith’s son is an auto mechanic. If his son discovers there are too many auto mechanics, he should realize that television is around the corner and start doing something about it. If there is one thing that is typically American, it is the desire for change. The paint is hardly dry on a building before we tear it down and put up a bigger one. Most of the time we don’t even stop to raise the mortgage on the first one — we just slip the other one under it. While the workmen are finishing a two-lane road, another gang is at the other end, tearing it up to make a four-lane one. In your own short lifetime you have lived through a complete revolution in transportation, communication, industrial and rural development, city planning, public welfare, medical science, mass entertainment and politics. Perhaps the last two are interchangeable, but there are many others.

Your complaint that you are in a blind alley interests me. You tell me your friends say you are foolish to be working in a filling station, when you were trained to be a lawyer. Their conclusion being, I take it, that a job in oil can never lead to law. The fact is that any kind of job can lead you into a law office these days. Someday as a lawyer you may be glad you know something about oil. It would be the same if you went to work in a real-estate office. In a bank. In a sardine fishery. There is maritime law too. Life is not a collection of air-tight compartments. All the rooms lead into one another, from the attic to the basement. And the whole place is run on the American Plan, which means you have the run of the house.

Start at anything and, while you are learning all about that, be preparing for something else. If the old opportunities are scarce, discover new ones. If you can’t discover any, invent them. Don’t be satisfied to read about the old pioneers. Be a new one. They were hardy; so can you be. They were fearless. And the principal thing they were not afraid of was work, hard work. They could take it. They could give it. So they got it.

Your last sentence, however, was the one which I am sure you felt would finish the old man.  “That was all very noble advice on how to handle women,” says you, “and I hope you will pardon me if I wonder why you don’t practice a little of it on our Dorothy. It seems I get all the lectures and she gets all the gravy. Yes, little sister does all right. Three manicures a week, and now she has a new car. It would be just like her to drive up one of these days and give me a lecture on industry while I wipe her windshield.”

Well, you got me there, pal. But you can’t say I haven’t tried to handle your sister. The spirit is willing, but weary. Like most American men, I am the victim of a cunning conspiracy. From babyhood I have been passed on from one feminine hand to the other — all gentle, to be sure, but each a hand of iron in a velvet glove. Mother passed me to teacher, who cowed me so that my first sweetheart had no trouble at all. From her I was batted like a volleyball from one little tyrant to another, until your mother stepped in and took all rights, titles and interests in and to what was left of me. Nominally, I was the party of the second part, but I lost even that favored position when your sister was born. I think she was about five when she took me over from her mother, and she has been taking me over ever since. I am now waiting with complete resignation for the day when what is left of me will be tossed into the nursery for my first granddaughter to play with.



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