The Other Fellow

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.

The Other Fellow is terrible and crazy, Dad writes after his son is in a car accident. But so are you. Not all of life’s problems can (or should) be blamed on someone else.

The Other Fellow

By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on March 20, 1937

Dear Son: This is a hard letter to write. I have started it several times and thrown it away. I may throw this away, too, before I send it. At first, I was too glad to write. And then I was too mad. Now I don’t know how I feel. I could shake your hand. I could also wring your neck. If you were where I could get at you, I would probably do both. You’re lucky to be out of reach. I want to say, “I told you so,” and I don’t want to say anything of the kind, because I recall that I didn’t. That makes me mad too. Well, there will be plenty of people to say “I told you so,” and probably they have attended to it already, so we’ll skip that.

What you are thinking, I can gather from your letter. You are shaken and sorry and full of remorse. You are also rather flabbergasted that you still have a job. That flabbergasted me, too, until I thought it over a bit and realized what a wise man you have for a boss. The ordinary man would have fired you for taking his car out on a joy ride. What he would have done to you for wrapping it around a lamppost, I don’t know. Certainly he wouldn’t have done what your boss did — rescue you from the police and let you keep your job while you work out the damages. Evidently, he figures you have learned a lesson and will be much more interested in safe driving than a boy who hasn’t had the experience you have just gone through and will continue going through until you have paid for it.

At $10 a week, you will have a little more than 17 weeks to think how sorry you are about his car. Then you can start feeling sorry all over again, until you have paid the city $200 for the lamppost. It would seem that your thrift program has been taken care of for the next few months. By that time you will have formed the habit of putting aside $10 a week. If you keep that up for 20 years, you can retire and wrap your own cars around your own lampposts.

You used up a lot of paper explaining how it wasn’t your fault, and barring the initial fact that you had your employer’s car out without his permission, I can believe you. Since you don’t intend to do that any more, there is no use discussing it. But you are going to continue to drive cars, and a few words on the subject won’t do you any harm. In the 25 years that I have been driving automobiles, I have never met anyone who had an accident through his own fault — it was the car, the road, or the Other Fellow. Mostly, the Other Fellow.

This Other Fellow is worth some study. There seems to be no escaping him. To look at him, you would think he was harmless, but last year he killed nearly 40,000 people and injured more than half a million. I have seen the Other Fellow, and certainly he doesn’t look like a killer. Sometimes he is a young, nice-looking kid like you. Sometimes he is a mild-looking, middle-aged fellow like me. Sometimes he is a gentle sweet little woman like your mother, but that only goes to show that you can’t judge by appearances. He’s a killer, and no mistake, something is going to be done about it — or is it?

Some time ago, the champion safety driver of one of the largest bus companies in the world was given a banquet and a medal. He had completed half a million miles without an accident. When they called on him for a speech, he rose and said: “I ain’t much of a hand at making speeches. I suppose you want to know how I got away so long without any accidents? I’ve got just one rule. I drive like the other fellow was crazy.”

So that seems to explain it: The Other Fellow is crazy. If you cut out of line on a two-lane road, don’t expect him to let you push him into a ditch, so you can cut in again. If you pass a car on a blind curve, don’t expect the fellow coming the other way to be sensible about it and go off the road and out into the field to let you by. He’s just crazy enough to run right into you because you are on his side of the road. If you speed through a main intersection, you will meet a lot of crazy people who think they have the right of way because they are on a through boulevard and you are coming in off a side street. If you like to pass on a hill, don’t be surprised if a car comes over the crest and the driver doesn’t either leap over you or run under you. That would be the sane thing to do, of course, but, you see, he’s crazy.

Yes, he’s crazy, but you are rude — and that’s what makes him crazy. It doesn’t matter so much if you are walking down the street and you are rude enough to push someone aside, but if you are rude enough to push him aside with a three-ton automobile going 60 miles an hour, you’ll kill him. You can elbow your way through a crowd, if you are that impolite, and do no damage at all, but when you elbow your way through traffic with your bad manners stepped up a hundred horsepower, you’re bound to do a lot of damage to a lot of innocent people.

For every accident caused by high speeding, there are a thousand caused by low breeding. Is it coincidence that the nation which leads in fatalities lags in formalities? The American may not be the most uncivil citizen on two feet, but he is certainly the prize terror on four wheels. My boy, you may think it sissy to be polite, but a kiss on a warm cheek is worth two on a cold brow.

Today we put a premium on agility rather than civility. Each year our manners become cruder as our gasoline becomes more refined. Wide roads won’t prevent accidents, so long as they continue to fill up with narrow people. Good brakes on cars are no protection against bad breaks in behavior. The growing problem of automobile fatalities will not be solved around the drafting board but around the family table. Then we can have a monster under the hood, because there will be a gentleman at the wheel.



Previous: Invest in Yourself 

Coming soon: The Boss’ Daughter