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The First Lecture

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You always hear people say “I’ll never forget what my father told me.” So here I am, two kids deep into parenthood, thinking about the lasting wisdom I’ll leave behind. You can thank Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” for this concern. Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and father of three, had only months to live when he gave his presentation about achieving your childhood dreams. Interestingly, Pausch was an expert in virtual reality. Parenthood is the exact opposite: actual fantasy. (My firstborn wore handcuffs and a gas mask in the grocery store last week.)

Inspired by Pausch, I’ve written “The First Lecture,” a guide to life for my boys. To get started, I needed to know what they’d learned from me so far. One evening, I asked my oldest son, Jackson, “What’s the most helpful thing I’ve ever told you?” Pause. “Go poop at school.” Let me clarify: About a year ago, he came home from school with a bellyache. After hearing that he avoided going potty there, I suggested he try. It was an offhand tip, but to him it was the “buy Apple in 1980” of digestive advice.

With bowel movements covered, here’s the rest of my infinite wisdom.

Find a need and fill it. If you work at a deli, be the liverwurst guru. If you’re an actor, master your Irish brogue. The world values originality and expertise.

There is no 110 percent. Your very best is 100 percent. There is nothing above and beyond that, and anyone who asks for it doesn’t understand life or fifth-grade math.

Failure is the opportunity to do things again, only better. This is my mantra for fatherhood. For a dad, there is only on-the-job training. Mistakes will be made, but on any given Wednesday, you’ll be better than you were on Tuesday.

After my inquisition was over, Jackson said, “Dad, is there anything else you want to talk about?” So we moved on to ninjas and Bakugan. I’m learning that Jackson doesn’t care about self-important firsts or melancholy lasts. It’s all about the simple, frivolous in-betweens. Wow, that actually sounds like solid fatherly advice.