Josh is a Year 12 student at The Hutchins School in Hobart. He spoke as a panellist at a Time & Space night I facilitated for a group of Year 8 boys (average age 13) and their dads or mentors. He offered an insight that smashed a stereotype. You know the one: that wisdom only comes from people with grey hair and wrinkles.

Josh was asked to mention a quality that he saw in his dad and to offer an example of that quality. He shared something unusual from a person his age.

“My dad’s best quality is his ability to give advice,” Josh offered the audience.

There’s nothing unusual about giving out advice. For those of us who are parents reading this, we are experts at giving out advice. If you’re one of the young people who read these articles, you probably feel that sometimes our advice giving just turns into white noise. I’m sure my two teenagers agree with me (for a change) on this point.

So there is plenty that is simply unusual about a son saying that ‘giving advice’ is his dad’s best quality. Josh was asked to offer an example. He told a story. As you read it, Josh’s wisdom is obvious – he can look back and see himself growing, see himself realising and see himself taking responsibility. The other wise character in this story is Josh’s dad. He didn’t come along to the night. I have never met him and that adds something to the marvel and mystery that his son nominated his ‘advice giving’ as his best quality.

Josh started the story saying that “my father gave me an anchor point.”

Josh remembers that it was November 2003 when he first received the slip of paper. His dad had copied out and written an anonymous quotation that had captured his eye in the local newspaper, The Mercury. As a then Grade 3 boy, Josh read the words, thought they were good and put them somewhere. That somewhere was not anywhere special because after a time, he lost that slip of paper. His dad noticed this. He knows that his dad noticed because at a certain time in 2004, he received the same quotation again, written in his dad’s hand, on a fresh slip of paper. And, yes… he held on to that slip for a while before he lost it again. This happened again in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“It just ended up getting lost and discarded,” was the way Josh described what had become an annual practice.

Don’t you love the way stories, really good ones, have delightful coincidence infused through them. Josh was talking to some fathers, mentors and their Year 8 boys and it was in 2008, when Josh was in Year 8, that he received the slip of paper from his dad again. He received it for the last time. Why?

Because this time Josh said “I kept it, I know where that piece of paper is right now – it’s in my wallet.” Josh went on to explain, “It’s old and tatty but I know it is there and I get it out regularly when I need some inspiration.” You get the sense that Josh likes the learning he gets from the words but don’t you think that as he gets out that now four year-old slip of paper, he also knows he is holding a tangible example of his dad’s advice.

What’s the gold in his dad’s particular style of advice giving? It was delivered with planning, with patience and meted out on one rare occasion each year. With the utmost respect to Josh (because it sometimes takes me more than six years to get a message) I heard someone say this year, that we can send an email 12 000 miles across the globe in a second. Yet it can sometimes be years for it to travel that last eighth of an inch through the bone in our skull.

Josh told Year 8 boys that in Year 8, he finally got the message his dad was giving him just once a year, patiently until he finally took it in.

In preparing for my role as facilitator of these panels, I usually read out the questions over the phone and offer the young people who will be on the panel like Josh – an opportunity to talk through what they would say. Josh chatted for a while but then said, “I’m good now. I just want to take the next couple of hours to make sure I do this panel role right tonight.”

And in going off to do that extra preparation I think Josh did something else. He showed that he has embodied the words on that slip of paper:

Aim a little higher.

Go a little further.

Do a little better.

In taking the time to prepare, Josh showed that he does this as a matter of course now. And in doing that he honours his father.

What Can Parents Draw from Josh’s dad?

Put a premium on your advice. Josh’s dad was patient. He gave his son the piece of paper once a year. He was happy to wait until his son learnt the lesson and took ownership of the words. What might happen to the advice we give to our kids if we even halved the frequency with which you dish it out? When commodities become rare, they increase in value. Maybe the same rule applies to advice given in the right time and space.

What can Young People learn from Josh?

Josh thought carefully about the best quality he sees in his dad. Take the time to consider the special gifts that your mum, dad or guardian has. Find the right time and space to let them know specifically what you see as their best qualities. Maybe even write them a letter and surprise them. Watch their reaction if you follow through on this!

As always you are welcome to share your responses in the space below.

What’s a great piece of advice you have received? Who offered it? Why is it so valuable to you?

Bill Jennings