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Guest Column

A definition of advice is difficult to define
By Jim Fabiano
Feb 14, 2014 - 12:15:37 AM

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Webster defines advice as being, "a recommendation with regard to a course of action." The expression, "I need some advice" has to be one of the most horrifying statements in the English language. What makes it remarkably terrifying is that the advisor is usually confronted with it out of the blue and with little or no warning. My daughter is an expert at this. Lately I've been able to predict when she will call. It usually happens when I am having the type of day when everything seems to be going well.

I'm actually relaxed with few things that have to be done. It is almost as if I send out a signal to her that I am ready for the challenge. The call always begins with the expression, "Dad". The word is not as important as how it is stated. It sounds like a question being asked by someone who doesn't want to be heard. In other words, it is a little quieter than a whisper. I know she knows it is I, because she did the calling and I am confident that she knows the sound of my voice. It is almost as if the word is a signal that I had better be ready.

When my daughter was small I looked forward to giving her advice. In fact, I sincerely believe she also enjoyed it. For the most important thing a Dad can do is get his child ready for life. Not that I ever thought I was ready but at least I have been able to survive my years. She used to sit real close to me or on my lap and I would explain the mysteries of life to her. I would tell her of morals and ethics that made life as well as it can possibly be.

Years later, when my daughter hit the wonderful teenaged years, she didn't accept my advice as she did in the past. In fact, she obviously dreaded it. However, I gave it to her anyway because I wanted her to survive her teenaged years. I survived them so why shouldn't she listen to me and take in the knowledge that I had from the experiences of my past. For years she never came to me for advice but I continued to submit it. Now that I think of it, my father did the same.

Soon, too soon, she left and started her own life. It was as though our separation necessitated that she would once again need, and seek out, my advice. At first this was a good thing, in that I appreciated the fact that she thought my wisdom was worth the time. After awhile I came to the realization I might not always be right. I started to fear my own answers to her questions.

My daughter is not the only person that asks for advice. My wife does it in an odd way. I know she knows the answer to her question but she wants to combine mine with hers. Sometimes when I give her advice she takes it in and basically makes her own decisions. Other times she gives me that odd look that asks, "What planet were you born on?" Either way I do my best.

My parents have started to ask for my advice. This was very difficult for me to understand. Most of my life my father and mother were the ones to direct me on how I should handle certain situations. They were the ones who survived their years so that they could direct me toward correct decisions. Now the roles seem to be reversed. I guess I should take it as a compliment because this shifting of roles means that they've finally come to the realization that I am capable of making correct choices.

My folk's questions usually surround their preparation for the final stages of their lives. I hate these situations because, if I admit that they're getting old, I am literally resigning myself to the fact that I am also aging. I answer their questions as best as I can, praying that I am advising them to do the right things but how could I possibly know? Unlike giving advice to my daughter, giving advice to my parents involves me guessing what to do without the experience of going through what they are presently going through. I guess they ask me because they trust me, like I have always trusted them.

I am a teacher. In fact, I am a high school teacher who works with young adults who are about to embark on careers that include college, the military or work. Every day I am asked questions concerning how they should organize for their futures, away from a life that centered on their public school. Most people don't realize that graduating from high school is one of the last "rights of passage" our society has. This is true because these young children are leaving a time that had taken up over 75% of their young lives.

So, I advice them as to what industries will be important when they get out of college; what military service they should look into, in order to achieve what they think they want to achieve. Sometimes just to tell these young men and women that life is a wonderful thing and that they are fortunate to be in a stage of their lives where they are about to become adults. Every time they leave I pray I gave them good advice. I know I did my best.

Sometimes people I don't know ask for my advice. The parents of my students usually ask what they should do to make their child's future bright. Sometimes they ask what they should do because their child doesn't listen or doesn't believe what they are telling them. I assume they ask me because they believe a teacher should know the answers. Either that or they look at my gray hair and beard and believe my age necessitates my ability to know.

The basic problem with Webster's definition of advice is it doesn't take into account the advisor. Does the advisor understand the problem and have the ability to help with a decision. In the past, did I give my daughter, parents, students, and strangers the correct advice?

I think I'll give my daughter a call and ask for some advice.

Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine

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