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.

Popularity is poisonous, Dad says, encouraging his son not to place too much worth in the admiration of people his own age. Instead, focus on earning the attention and approval of older men and women — especially older women.

“When you go to a party don’t make the mistake that most callow youths make — Don’t make a beeline for the prettiest girl in the room.”
Illustrated by Ralph Pallen Coleman


By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on October 30, 1937

Dear Son: Of course I am pleased that you have become so popular, but I don’t know whether I am more pleased than worried. Popularity can be a subtle poison, especially the kind you are getting your first taste of now. It is so easy for a young fellow with personality to gather admirers. From that to the establishment of a little private court which he can lord over is the next step — and that step is down, not up.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I want you to be popular with your fellow workers. I want you to share their interests and take pleasure in their divertissements. But that is only a small part of your curriculum. You have more serious work ahead. This may run counter to the popular notion of how to achieve success, but popular notions on most subjects are wrong. Savages are not the only ones who are surrounded and submerged by superstitions. For every superstition you can show me in a savage village I can show you 10 in a so-called civilized suburb. And probably no superstition is more popular than the one which says, in effect, that one must conform in order to succeed — that to dare to be different is to court disaster.

Now take your present situation. You are a salesman. You are told on every hand you must be a good fellow; that you must pal around with your contemporaries, make their pleasures your pleasures, their interests your interests, and that to indicate in the slightest way you have ambitions for other things is to be a stuffed shirt and a snob. My boy, that is just a popular song which might be called The Ballad of the Easy Way. Don’t fall for it. The Hard Way is better. Not easier, but better. It is too easy to cultivate your contemporaries, to bask in their smiles, to warm yourself in their approval, to butter yourself with their flattery. They know little if anything more than you do, usually not as much. They can teach you nothing. But they can waste your time. Don’t let them do it.

Don’t waste your time with people who have nothing to contribute to your growth, when you can have just as much pleasure and infinitely more profit out of associating with people who can teach you something. Seek out older men for friends and preferably men who are not in the same line of business you are pursuing. Collect grizzled old doctors, hard-bitten lawyers, skeptical scientists. Enlarge your circle to include artists and musicians and writers. You will learn to be a better salesman by observing how a veteran trial lawyer handles a jury; an old family doctor has forgotten more about the psychology of the human critter than most sales managers will ever know. From artists you will learn how to observe, from scientists you will learn how to question, from writers you will learn how to listen, and from everybody you will learn how to enrich your own life with new and varied interests.

Older men. Wiser men. Let the young fellows you know play around like puppies on a rug if they want to. You trail along with the wise old hunting dogs. “There’s tricks to all trades but mine.” Learn them.

If you wanted to fight you would ask a Dempsey how. If you wanted to dance you would look for an Astaire to coach you. There are masters all around you. You have only to seek them out and tap their resources. Do it and you will have no time to waste holding petty court and impressing shallow admirers with your equally shallow attainments. Cultivate friends who can and will criticize you, shrewdly, mercilessly, and constructively. Young admirers who think you are a devil of a fellow can do you a lot of harm — old critics who know you are a hell of a mess will do you a world of good.

When you are impressionable you are eager to impress. More often than not this eagerness will defeat you. When you meet new people, relax. Be at ease. Make yourself a center of calm, a little pool of reserve. Let them be mirrored in it. Observe quietly, listen attentively. Study the game that’s going on and find out if you know anything about it before you decide to rush in and take part. Scouting the other team is sound practice and good sense. It’s done best from the sidelines, and quietly. If you don’t understand the game, try to learn about it. If you know the game and you want to play, choose your own position before you run out on the field. I am quite sure no one ever told you this in school, and I am equally sure it will save you a lot of grief if you learn it now. Otherwise you may blunder along for years under the delusion that in order to dominate a discussion you must lead it, and to impress a gathering you must impose your opinions on it.

One more small paragraph on this subject before I leave it. The most interesting, the most valuable people in a gathering are not always the most vivid. Learn to seek out the quiet ones, force yourself to cultivate those who seem, at first blush, to be the least interesting. More often than not, as they unfold their personalities, they prove to be deeper and richer than you could have ever suspected, and to the gratifying joy of friendship you will add the satisfying thrill of discovery.

Older men. And older women. When you go to a party don’t make the mistake that most callow youths make — don’t make a beeline for the prettiest girl in the room. She is used to it. She expects it. She won’t be grateful. Bow, and pass on — to an older woman. The older woman won’t expect it — she will be intrigued by your good taste, charmed by your good manners and, likely as not, she will turn out to be the pretty girl’s mother, or her rich aunt from Australia. Now you have a friend at court and the pretty girl’s interest in you as well, for behold, you, a handsome young man, have shown no interest in her!

Or better yet, the elderly lady to whom you have been so polite, so attentive, probably will be the wife of the most influential citizen in the community. Her husband has long depended on her instinct for sizing up people. Someday he may look you over, and her good opinion may be the difference between success and failure for you. It’s a man’s world, to be sure, but behind every important man there usually stands a woman who influences his judgment and helps him to make decisions. The man may not remember your achievements, but the woman will not forget your good manners.



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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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