Father Knows Best — Here’s the Greatest Advice We Got From Our Dads

a boy and his father drive a boat on a lake

The KCM team shares the best life advice they got from their fathers.

Dads are known for giving advice. Whether they’re offering tips on how to parallel park, the correct way to prune an azalea, or the secret to a perfect burger, fathers can be founts of wisdom (or at least they seem to think so). While some fatherly guidance might slip your mind, some of it is so powerful, so exactly on-target, that it sticks in your head for years, and even helps you out of a jam. We asked KCM staffers to tell us the most important thing they ever learned from their dear old dads; some of it might just be useful to you, too.

“Talk about ideas, not people”

That’s a quote my dad often reminded my two older brothers and I, especially as we hit our gossip-riddled teenage years. A successful ideas person himself, my dad always pushed us to hold deeper conversations: about our dreams and our goals, future business or book ideas, and how to make the world a better place.

Even though us sibling sidekicks usually chuckled back to him, “How about we talk about people, not ideas?,” his sage saying stuck with us. He was right, after all. It’s way more fun to discuss the ways of the world than brainstorm what the Sallys and the Susies are up to. — Alaina Mancini

“Everyone deserves a fair chance”

This wasn’t direct advice from my dad, but I’ve learned a lot from him and a lot of those life lessons have shaped me and influenced my career and the choices I’ve made as an adult. But this specifically is something he instilled in me from a very young age. Through his work and passions, he made clear to me and my sister that everyone deserves a shot at success, whatever that looks like for them. But most importantly, some people need extra support to have that fair chance and if we can offer that, we should. — Maggie Parker

maggie parker and her dad
Maggie and her dad

“Approach people with a rose in your hand, and a hammer behind your back”

This quote seems a little ominous at first, like my dad was a mob boss or something, but it’s one that has really stuck with me. Many years ago, I was in the middle of an increasingly tense negotiation over a freelance contract, and the client was being pretty disrespectful. I was getting flustered and worried about how to respond, and my Dad advised, “Approach them with a rose in your hand, and a hammer behind your back.” He meant that you should begin in any debate from a place of gentleness and kindness — it’s OK to assume the best, since there’s a possibility that good intentions could resolve the issue. But if things turn sour, don’t be afraid to bring out some muscle. — Molly Simms

Molly and her dad

“Do what you love”

My dad’s been a ski instructor in Aspen, CO, for the last 35 years, so he clearly followed his own advice. Also, he taught me not to be afraid to say “I was wrong.” And I promise, if I’m ever wrong, I’m going to follow this advice! — John Molner

“Stay in the driver’s seat”

It’s hard to count the number of life lessons my dad taught me, but one of the most practical ones I learned from him growing up was how to drive. Since both of my parents worked long hours, I ended up getting my driver’s license early, at 15 years old, and my dad was the brave soul who volunteered to teach me. But it was anything but your typical driving instruction: Our lessons included him taking long naps as I clocked the hours required for my permit on quiet country roads, or backing up my brother’s hand-me-down truck all the way down our miles-long, dusty road to our house (something I thought was ridiculous until I got my car stuck in a snowy embankment in upstate New York when I was in college). Most of all, these lessons taught me to trust myself to live my life in the driver’s seat, literally and figuratively. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going but my dad was there next to me, encouraging me all the way. — Tess Bonn

“It’s not where you go, but what you do when you get there”

As we all know, the college admissions process has gotten insane over the past decade or so. In the height of all the stress of my senior year of high school, my dad told me, “It’s not where you go, but what you do when you get there.” That became my mantra for the rest of the year, and when I decided on a school, I knew I had to make the most of every moment…even if that meant switching my major from neuroscience to liberal arts. (And that’s that on the law of unintended consequences, Dad!) In all sincerity, I know that if I went back and did it again, I’d do it almost exactly the same. And the credit for that goes to my dad. — Ciara Hopkinson

Ciara and her dad

“Health is your wealth”

My dad always drilled it into me that my health is my wealth. Taking care of yourself physically and mentally should always be a priority. Without taking care of my health first, I wouldn’t be able to pursue what I love fully. — Aneri Desai

​​“Nothing good ever happens after midnight”

Growing up, my dad always told my brothers and me that “nothing good ever happens after midnight.” Our curfew was 12AM, and he always made sure we were home at that time. His strictness with this one point was always interesting — and annoying — to me, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how true that statement really is. (Especially when it comes to that “one last drink” you don’t really need…) It’s also probably why you won’t find me awake past midnight, ever — even on a Saturday night. — Emily Creedon

Emily and her dad

“Don’t wear a mask”

My dad and I didn’t have the easiest relationship, but one thing he repeated many times when I was a teenager has stuck with me: “Don’t wear a mask.” He meant that I should never pretend to be someone I’m not, or give in to peer pressure that might change me. It’s advice that I deeply needed to hear, and as I got older and my father and I clashed over who I turned out to be, that mantra helped me learn to love myself — even when he didn’t agree with my choices. — Ryan Buxton

Ryan and his dad

“Instead of counting sheep, try golf”

If you can’t fall asleep and need a white noise source that isn’t as exciting as an actual TV show, find old golf tournaments online and listen to those. The hushed, whispered commentary is just enough to listen to, but not enough to keep you awake. — Sam Donsky

Sam and her dad

“Invest in yourself”

My dad taught me to invest in myself, whether it was via my education or continuing education classes to learn new skills; purchasing supplies or equipment to be the best at my job; or investing in my well-being by taking care of my physical and mental health. He has always pushed me to pursue the things I am passionate about, the things that bring me joy, which has allowed me to gain a better understanding of my capabilities and be more confident in everything I pursue. I hope I can galvanize my kids and whatever they choose to go after in their lives the same way my dad has supported me. — Mary Agnant

Mary and her dad

“Save some for later”

A piece of advice that my dad gave me that I’ll always remember actually came from all the times (of which there were many) when I’d eat my favorite food, nacho cheese-flavored Doritos. They were my ultimate vice when I was younger, and whenever my dad would see me attempt to scarf down the entire bag in one sitting, he’d always tell me to “save some for later.” I feel like his advice is relevant to many different parts of life: It’s important to savor the little moments and not feel like we’re always in a rush to finish something or get something done. Instead, we should take our time and enjoy the process. — Alissa Bell

“Keep your people close”

Need rescuing when your car battery dies? Advice on shopping for apartments? Help with your kid’s math homework? My dad’s your guy. My favorite lesson from him is as long as you have your people, that is truly all that matters… And when you’re making homemade pizza, you better be using Stanley Tucci’s recommendation for authentic Italian San Marzano sauce. (And serve an Aperol Spritz on the side.) — Corinne Brown

Corinne and her dad

“It’s not how you start, but how you finish”

My dad loves a well-worn adage. These are usually sayings from coaches (John Wooden, typically) or athletes (sometimes fictional ones…he loves Rocky). Many of them have gone in one ear and out the other — probably because so many of them have been used in a Nike commercial. But at least one still rattles around up there: “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

The quote is a favorite in sports: Michael Phelps has applied it to the seconds it takes him to swim the length of a pool, Wooden to the ups and downs of a single game, Albert Pujols to the length of a season. But it’s also an optimistic way to look at the course of a life. Like anyone, I’ve had setbacks and meditating on this has helped me at least try to concentrate on the promise of tomorrow and redemption. — Rachel Uda