Dad wisdom

My father is a serious, practical guy—a robot, even—made human from decades keeping peoples' hands out of machines, at the factory.

A detail-obsessed student of human nature, he'd come up with these sayings, timeless wisdom packed into pithy little aphorisms. A true Silicon Valley "micro-pessimist and macro optimist".

Parking lots are complete chaos. Growing up in snow country, few places were more chaotic than parking lots: a bunch of uncoordinated activity, cars going the wrong way, everyone in a hurry, snow and ice everywhere. Indeed, of the three car accidents I've been in, one was in a parking lot.

Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor. Fighting anything—a person, a country, convention, "the system"—is expensive (time, money, etc) and often not worth it. Be careful which fights you pick. Related to Paul Graham's Life is Short.

"CAUTION: LID ON TOP". In our kitchen, the crock pot was kept overhead, on a shelf. More than once, someone pulled it down and knocked the lid off, leading my father to place a note on the shelf, near the pot. A reminder that risk assessment should incorporate frequency (how likely is it to happen?), as well as severity. A lot of people die slipping in the shower. Related to Kahneman's availability heuristic.

Watersports. I have never water skiied, despite growing up with a lake house. I'd probably let my kids waterski, but of the more-or-less arbitrary set of parental bans (at least, from a kid's perspective), I wasn't that upset that the one I wasn't allowed to do, was in fact, pretty dangerous.

Any time you have three or more people, you have politics. Often said when discussing small-ball things at church or our suburban town. "I hate politics" is for whiners and people who don't do anything important.

Moisture is the enemy of the home: Mold, rot, puddles, drywall stains, even cracked concrete and pipes—it all starts with a misplaced drip. Fix small things before they become big things, and whatever you do, keep water out of, and away from, the house.

It probably won't work, but it just might: One of my dad's Andrew coworkers, where he worked 30+ years, said this. Someone was trying something crazy that probably wouldn't work, but if it did, would be a big win. Once in a while, it pays to try something new.

The American love affair with the automobile: My dad often laughed at the sisyphean absurdity of middle-class America—drowning in debt—buying, maintaining, insuring, cleaning, fueling, and storing, its fleet; the more enormous and impractical, the better. "I'm glad you feel safe sitting in your Ford Explorer, high in traffic, so you'll crush everyone else in an accident. Enjoy tearing the roof off in that concrete garage." "Go ahead, put that Jeep into four-wheel drive, you'll need it to navigate the parking lots of Orland Park".

A closet urbanist, though he'd never say so himself.