The Unintentional Stoic
I always wanted more for my Dad. And I wanted him to want more for himself.
Chaz wakes up every morning at 4am to distribute and sell potato chips. For as long as I can remember he’s worked long hours at jobs that didn’t pay well.
As soon as he gets home he pours himself a gin and tonic. The first of many.
His only friend is his brother, who he speaks to on the phone once a week. Otherwise, he hangs out with my Mom and 34-year-old twin sisters who still live at home.
Dad watches TV until he passes out in the living room chair and remains there until my mom and sisters yell at him to go to bed. He groans as he trudges up the stairs, where he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and snores loudly until 4am when he gets up to do it all over again.
I thought he was leading an unfulfilling life.
But my Dad is not just a salesman. He was salesman of the year the past three years in a row. He enjoys talking and selling and schmoozing people. He gets three weeks of vacation a year. And he doesn’t dread going to work. He just goes.
Recently I became aware of my own worries and anxieties and anger and thought, Maybe my Dad has life figured out.
He’s like a modern day Seneca.
This epiphany gave me a new lens to learn from my dad, Chaz. Below is some counter-intuitive wisdom you won’t find in any self-help book.
Eat Like Crap And Drink Like a Fish
My Dad is on The Buffett Diet: soda all day like Warren and liquor all night like Jimmy.
Even though he looks lean and fit, I told him he should stop drinking five cans of diet Pepsi a day. I sent him articles about the poison that is diet soda and he responded, “I’m just like Warren Buffett.”
I have not said anything to him about all the gin and tonics he drinks - you can’t tell an alcoholic he should drink less. Four parts gin, one part tonic over a tall glass of ice with a wedge of lime as soon as he gets home from work.
What kind of drunk is my Dad? A happy one. A quiet one. A sleepy one. I can’t usually tell when he’s really drunk. Even when he passes out I’m not sure if it’s from the alcohol or because he’s sleep deprived from working so much.
His only real meal of the day is dinner. He eats a heaping plate of whatever my mom has made and goes back for seconds and sometimes thirds. And he always leaves room for dessert.
Sometime around his third drink he stalks to the kitchen for a stack of Oreos. When he sits back down he eats the cookies, catching remnants in his mouth but most of the chocolate cream sandwich falls between the couch cushions and all over the carpet. It’s disgusting.
But this indulgence is pretty much the only thing he eats all day and it all happens before 7pm.
Chaz has basically mastered intermittent fasting and looks great.
So eat whatever you want, drink however much you want, spend most of the day on your feet, and go to bed early. And perhaps most of all, don’t stress so much about a healthy diet.
Think Only Of Yourself
My Dad doesn’t concern himself with other people’s problems.
Recently my brother Jim stopped speaking to my parents (it’s a long story, but my brother sucks). When my Dad mentioned it to his own brother, my uncle asked if he could speak to Jim. Dad told him to go for it.
It got ugly.
I don’t know the specifics but I do know that both my brother and uncle are bull-headed and sarcastic (to put it nicely). And now my brother and uncle also won’t speak to each other.
I would have felt horrible that the situation worsened. But when I asked Dad how he felt I could feel him shrug through the phone. “That’s Jim’s problem.”
The only time Chaz concerns himself with other people’s problems is if it directly affects him. And even then he doesn’t get stressed out or anxious.
When I called to see how he was handling my mom’s cancer diagnosis he said he was fine. And he actually seemed fine. I asked why he felt so good about my mom’s surgery scheduled for later that month and he responded matter-of-factly:
“There’s no point in worrying about something until there’s something to worry about.”
After a conversation with my Dad I felt less worried, too. What was the sense in worrying about something that was completely out of my control?
So don’t worry about other people. Don’t worry about things outside your control. Be like Timon, Pumba, and Chaz. Hakuna Matata.
Here’s a typical evening at my parents’ house:
Mom returns home after her work day and immediately has questions for my Dad. “Did you call the cable company? Did you get the anchovy paste? Did you remember to call your sister?”
Without fail, my Dad’s shoulders slump and he realizes he has forgotten to do the things that were clearly his responsibility. Mom has asked him and reminded him multiple times, but he still forgot.
Mom rolls her eyes and tells him he’s a jerk. Chaz laughs, apologizes, and says he’ll do it. He’ll do all of it. “Right now.”
There’s never any real anger between them. It’s a game they play. Mom gets mad at my Dad and my Dad apologizes.
My parents have been married over 40 years and my dad is still smitten by my mom. They flirt and sneak kisses and Dad still showers her with affection. I hope my husband and I still look at each other the way they do when we’re in our 60s.
If my mom had married anyone else these types of conversations could easily escalate into an argument. But I’ve never seen Dad get mad at my mom. Not once.
He might be forgetful, but he’s also patient. And never defensive.
And he doesn’t beat himself when he forgets something.
During our family summer vacation Dad went golfing at a course an hour away. As soon as he got home he realized he left his phone in the golf cart.
Traffic had worsened and it took him three hours to drive there and back.
I would have been livid sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for three hours while on vacation. I would have been beating myself up for being such an idiot.
But Chaz was fine. Completely unphased. It happened and that was that. When he got home I tried to sympathize with him. He shrugged and took a sip of gin and tonic.
“It’s not like I had anywhere I had to be. I’m on vacation.”
So ditch your calendar and systems. Ditch your productivity shame. If you forget something, no big deal.
What Would Chaz Do?
My Dad is living his best life.
He doesn’t have the healthiest diet but he does have a healthy relationship with food, which I define as someone who doesn’t obsess over what they do or don’t put into their body. When I eat unhealthy or drink too much I wallow in self-hatred. Instead of cursing myself for indulging in that ice cream or drinking that third glass of wine, I could just relax and enjoy it sometimes.
My Dad lives in the present moment and focuses on himself. I, on the other hand, hold onto the past with shame and worry about the future with anxiety. And I care too much about what other people think. If I just focused on myself and what I could control, I would be less stressed out.
Chaz never gets angry or defensive, whereas I have moments of anger every day. I get worked up about small things, like bad customer service or when I leave wet clothes in the washer all night. But anger solves nothing and yields zero benefits.
All this time I thought my Dad was unambitious, selfish, and forgetful. But maybe my Dad is just happy.
So next time you’re feeling worried or stressed out or angry just ask yourself, “What would Chaz do?” And life might get a little better.
Thanks to my Writing Crew buddies for the feedback and the laughs: Scott Krouse, Florian Maganza, Nate Kadlac, and Matt Tillotson.