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Decades ago my daughter, Jennifer, brought home from elementary school a hand-made Father’s Day poster on which she had listed what she considered my attributes as a dad.

Among these was a statement that summed me up in a fashion others might consider modest. Her assessment: “He is never rotton.”

Aside from its rotten spelling, this compliment has over the years been my benchmark – an acceptable first step in a man’s pursuit of parental decency.

As we anticipate the arrival of a contemporary Father’s Day, there’s plenty of counsel out there on what it takes to give our kids a worthwhile start. 

Coincidentally, one of the wisest statements on the subject comes from the man who invented the electric starter for cars, Charles Kettering, 

Forget lecturing, he reasoned, because “Every father should remember one day his son will follow his example, not his advice.”

This parallels the sagacity of 20th Century writer Bud Kelland, whose work inspired the Mr. Deeds movies. He remembers growing up this way: “My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.”

Sometimes, the lessons come offhandedly:

When my own father went into the real estate business with his friend Sam Stein, they called their agency Stein and Goldstein. By then in college and knowing it all, I asked, “Dad, why pick such an ethnic-sounding name? Why not use something more mainstream?”

He seized on it. “There’s nothing more valuable than your name. It’s something you stand behind – remember that.”

I’m sure Joe Goldstein never heard of the Italian novelist Umberto Eco. But I’m also sure Dad would have toasted Eco’s belief that “What we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

The late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was cut from similar paternal cloth. He once declared, “I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week.”

Not that being a father doesn’t have its rewarding stresses.

Comedian Steve Martin once observed, “A father carries pictures where his money used to be.”

And it’s only human nature, but the late Congressman Frank A. Clark was right when he noted, “A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.”

Still, there are those of us lucky enough to think like humorist Dan Zevin, who wrote, “Lately all my friends are worried they’re turning into their fathers. I’m worried I’m not.”

As Father’s Day approaches, I remember returning to work after the unexpected death of my own dad, who in those days ran a shoe business near the newspaper bureau I managed in Wakefield.

Our editorial assistant awkwardly approached me, clutching a shopping bag that held a pair of new leisure shoes. She choked out, “Your father left these as a present for you the other day when you were out.” 

Despite Dad’s fatherly intentions, the shoes were a size too big. That was 40 years ago, and though I have never worn them, his final gift remains in my closet even today.

So you might say, in a literal sense, that I have never walked in my father’s shoes.

Metaphorically, however, I could not be prouder to do so. 

Gerry Goldstein (gerryg76@verizon.net), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.

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Gerry Goldstein

Gerry Goldstein, an occasional contributor to What's Up, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years