Separated from Love

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.

While his son suffers under the terrible taskmaster that is his new supervisor, Dad reveals the two words that can win almost any argument with one’s boss.

Father Meets Son: Separated from Love

By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on June 26, 1937

Dear Son: Of course you are depressed that her father should separate you from your loved one by many miles of cruel distance and many weeks of cruel, cruel time. And why should it be necessary to start you at the bottom, with only a drawing account so small that it barely supplies you with the necessities of life? And why add insult to injury by putting you under a branch manager who is the legendary slave driver and man-killer of the entire sales force — an ogre who has never been known to say a kind word or do a good deed?

Well, I can’t do anything about your heartaches over your girl, but I can save you a lot of headaches over your boss — this one or any other one. For, rest assured, you will always have a boss over you, just as your boss will always have a boss over him, whether it is the president or the directors or the bankers. And that is the secret of getting along fine with him. Realizing that he has a boss who is probably riding him just as hard as he is riding you.

When your new hard-boiled bass is trying to get more sales out of you, just imagine you are sitting behind the desk and he is standing in front of it. The home office is hammering you for results and you can’t deliver them unless this fellow on the other side of the desk brings in his share. Get that picture in your mind and it will do you and the boss and the company a lot more good than grousing. There are at least two sides to every question. There are certainly two sides to every desk — your side and the boss.

When the boss jumps all over you with his boots on, you can be sure there is nothing personal in it. He isn’t doing it because he dislikes your taste in ties or because your hair is curly. And instead of thinking up snappy comebacks, say something to this effect: “You’re right. I haven’t come up to your expectations, but I have tried. I am going to keep on trying. I want to help you. You have a much harder job than I have. I appreciate the good advice you have given me, and I hope you will not become too discouraged to continue it.”

You can’t talk like that to your boss? Well, maybe you can’t at first, but think it, anyway. Let whatever you have to say come from that kind of thinking. It will govern what you say, it will mold it and give it the right tone. Later you will be able to say it simply, easily, naturally — and mean it. Note that the little speech started off with just two words: “You’re right.” Believe me, son, you can win more arguments with any kind of a boss by admitting, right off the bat that he’s right. Once you have taken the wind out of his sails, you can bring him about and steer him almost anywhere you like. Start right off and say, “You’re right.” Then you may go on and say, “But don’t you think that —” Not, “I think that —” Always “You.” Never “I.” All of us are egocentric, bosses nothing but. They think “ I, I, I.” They are not interested in you. But if you, too, think “I, I,” you’ll never get together.

Give your boss a lot of thought. Try to understand what makes him act that way. Is he grouchy? It may be a weak stomach or a strong wife. Does he fly off the handle and go into rages? His boss may be on his neck. Give your boss a break. He may not show his appreciation to you, but he can’t help but feel it. I have been on both sides of many desks and my experience has been that the boss is like the village maiden in the old song: “More to be pitied than censured, more to be helped than despised.”

Meanwhile, her father is giving you the chance to make good for him while you are making good for her. Learning to sell his customers will teach you to sell him. And you will discover no better way to learn what your fellow men are like than by trying to sell them something they don’t want. Which means trying to sell them almost anything, for people really don’t crave anything so much as to be let alone.

Fortunately, your father-in-law-elect is in a business that is rooted in a fundamental hunger. We are told that self-preservation and reproduction of our kind are the two basic instincts, but, surely, the deep desire for change is basic too. The peat migrations of history are too easily explained as quests for happier hunting grounds or greener pastures. It is just as likely the Huns were bored stiff with the same old scenery, and the Gauls were only trying to “get away from it all.” So your father-in-law-elect hitched a new wagon to an old star when he went into the business of building and selling trailers.

As a junior salesman in this field, you certainly have two strikes on most of the lads who roam the world trying to sell people ideas they heartily dislike. You’ll be paid to convince people that hills look green far away. They know it! That people who have to stay in one place are to be pitied, while people who are free to follow the sun are envied. They know that too. You have to bait them with the lure of the open road. They’ll take the bait, and the rod and the reel, too, if you don’t hang on.

Our country was settled by people who couldn’t stay at home. It was settled in the East by people who couldn’t stay put in Europe — and settled in the West by their children who couldn’t stay put in the East. It was no chore to sell covered wagons to our forefathers; it should be much simpler to sell trailers to their descendants.

Especially now that you will be making good not only for yourself but for her, I suspect it will put a new glint in your eye and new power in your elbow. Nothing like girlish cries of encouragement from the stands to rough up the game. History tells us the combats of the gladiators were mild affairs until the vestal virgins were the guests of honor. And we all know the stimulating effect of the dark-eyed senorita in the box on the dark-eyed matador in the bullring.

If men were left to themselves they would go right back to their caves and gnaw bones. It is the little woman who has prodded and goaded them to hunt trophies and gather booty, to fight for a place in the sun when they would rather sleep in the shade. Bringing home a new head from the neighboring tribe or a new icebox from the neighboring store, is equally arduous for the male, and, in his private opinion, equally uncalled for. But the little woman is more acquisitive, more ambitious, more concerned with keeping up with the Joneses in the next cave, or the next bungalow.

And a good thing too. Or is it?



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Coming soon: Professionalism and Appearances

Being Fired

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 remains unmoved by his son’s firing. It’s the war not the battle that counts most, he says, especially if you make a habit of shooting yourself in the foot.

Father Meets Son: Being Fired

Men arguing
“What you want to do is put over your idea, not win an argument. You have won an argument with your boss, but you lost your job.”
Illustrated by Ralph Pallen Coleman

By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on December 26, 1936

Dear Son: So you have been fired, eh? Well, don’t be downhearted. That’s an experience too. Sometimes being fired is better than being raised, especially if you don’t get emotional about it. Whatever you do, don’t indulge yourself in an orgy of self-pity. Self-pity is a luxury you can afford only after you’ve provided yourself with the necessities of life. And don’t worry about what’s going to become of you.

I can hear you say: “It’s all very well for you to say don’t worry, but I can’t help worrying.” You can and you must. Nothing can worry you if you don’t permit it. When something happens that you feel you should worry about, ask yourself first of all: “Can I do anything to change this condition? Can I improve it?” If you can’t, just forget it. When the thought of it occurs to you, blot it out with another thought — any thought at all. You can’t stop thinking about a thing by making up your mind not to think about it. You stop thinking about it by thinking of something else.

If you can improve the condition, then you ask yourself how; and when you have provided the answer, act upon it. Any kind of action is better than brooding. If it’s not an event but people that worry you, ask yourself: “Can I change these people? Can I make them do things differently?” If you can’t change them or you can’t make them act differently, or you can’t remove yourself from their sphere of activity, don’t worry about them. Short-circuit them. You may have to be there physically, but mentally you can be far away. And as you grow older you will discover that most suffering is mental and practically all of it is unnecessary.

So don’t suffer about losing your job. You can use all that energy reviewing the case and finding out just why you did lose it. You can be sure the reasons you give yourself are not the real ones. People have a gift for making out a good case for themselves by highlighting their own evidence and not listening to the other side. To hear you tell it, the boss was an old fogy who didn’t approve of your new ideas — and that may be true, but that’s not the whole truth. Maybe he’s not such an old fogy. Maybe your ideas weren’t so new. A great many of the ideas a youngster tries to put over when he enters the business world are like the Irishman’s speech in the House of Commons. Commenting on the speech, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great dramatist, said: “It was a fine speech. It contained a great many things that were both new and true. Unfortunately, that which was new was not true, and that which was true was not new.”

I was particularly impressed by that part of your letter in which you retailed with considerable relish what you told the boss. And knowing something about life as well as story construction, I didn’t have to turn the page to know that after you told him, he told you.

My boy, there are only a few things in this world you can be sure of, and already you have learned one of them. If you want to go through life being fired from one job after another, you have already learned the technique. Assure yourself first that the boss is an old fogy and doesn’t know what he’s doing. Second, that any idea of yours is better than any idea of his. Third, that he’s got it in for you because he won’t let you run the business your way. Fourth, that he can’t get along without you, but he doesn’t know it. Fifth, that you’re going to tell him, the first chance you get. Sixth, you tell him. But don’t bother writing any more letters to me about it.

Then what is a bright young man to do, granted that his ideas are good and the boss is an old fogy? I refer you to what I have always told you — don’t push! In every business there is a man who pushes the button and other men who answer it. If you are in the position to push buttons, you can push your ideas. If you are one of the other fellows, make suggestions if you wish, but don’t make issues out of them. Here is another situation which you can either do something about or you can’t. If you are the boss, you can dictate. If you are not, don’t try.

But let us take it one step further. Suppose your ideas are good. Suppose they are an improvement over the way things are being done. Suppose you have the interest of the business at heart and really want to do something constructive. What then? Then you go in for strategy. You plan your campaign. What you want to do is put over your idea, not win an argument. You have just won an argument with your boss, but you lost your job. You would be in a much better position now to put over your ideas if you had lost the argument, but held on to the job. Inside the gate you have a chance to do something. Outside, all you can do is read the notices saying: “No help wanted.”

If an idea is really good, it will survive no matter how badly you present it, how ineptly you support it. It will survive you. You may go, but it will remain. Like a good seed in the ground, it will go on growing quietly out of sight, but inevitably it will come to the surface. Don’t be angry at the boss if you come to him with an apple seed and try to convince him that it is apple pie. There are a lot of steps between, a lot of patient work to be done. You should think enough of your apple seed to plant it and graft it and cultivate it and prune the young tree and spray it and watch over the fruit patiently until it ripens. And if all that is too much trouble for you, you can be sure it is going to be too much trouble for anybody else. Every apple pie is a victory in a long campaign which has been crowded with losing fights. Many trees succumbed and many apples rotted. The grower lost a lot of arguments with the elements and the bugs, but he won the campaign. When you get your next job, you will know better than to spend your time and energy in trying to win arguments with the boss. Be satisfied to lose all the battles, so long as you win the war.



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