Prelutsky's pearls of wisdom

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Feb 23, 2006 12:05 AM
Sometimes you might get the idea that American kids only have one parent; that being a mother. And while it’s true that far too many children are saddled with absentee fathers, it’s also undeniable that women get far more mileage out of being a parent. You will have no doubt noticed, for instance, that victorious boxers are always thanking their moms after winning the championship, and Oscar-winners often have their moms sitting next to them, but never their dads.

As a result, book stores are filled with tomes by, for and about mothers. The last book about the poor shmoe married to mom was “Life With Father,” and that one came out in 1935. And the last father in a movie who wasn’t either a dunce, a cuckold or Satan, was Judge Hardy!

There was a time when I thought about filling the literary void. After all, I’m a father. But the more I thought about it, the less the notion appealed to me. The problem is that I’m uncomfortable writing about actual human beings, lest I infringe on their privacy. That’s why, as a rule, I try sticking to fictional characters such as John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.

It’s probably no great loss that I didn’t write “Memoirs of the Greatest Dad in the Entire Universe.” The fact that I, alone, would have come out smelling mighty like a rose would have made my friends, my relatives and a goodly number of my savvier readers highly suspicious.

Instead, I will settle for sharing with you what I regard as the three most important lessons I tried to instill in the young sprout we’ll call Mickey. The first of them will probably strike many of you as totally inappropriate. You see, I sat Mickey down one day and told him that if he should grow up to be a criminal, which, quite naturally, I wasn’t recommending as a vocation, I hoped he wouldn’t be a con man.

I just know that some of you are shaking your heads and making disapproving sounds along the lines of “Tsk tsk” or “Tut tut.” Well, if I’m anything, I’m a realist. Some people do, after all, grow up to be criminals. There’s simply no getting around that unfortunate fact of life. I just wanted Mickey to understand that I felt that some crimes were more vile than others.

If the criminal life called to him, I merely hoped he would consider robbing banks. I told him that at least banks were well-protected, and if he tried to knock one over, he would not only have the FBI to contend with, but with armed guards who would probably collect a bonus if they blew him away.

The point I wanted to drive home was that even though con men were often depicted as dashing and charming fellows in movies as well as in real life, they were in fact the lowest of all lowlifes because they betrayed trust and loyalty, and preyed, more often than not, on the most vulnerable -- the infirm and the elderly.

My second fatherly suggestion was that he never fall victim to envy. I pointed out that most people envied those who were rich and famous, or popular and good-looking. Hand in hand with that usually went resentment and even self-pity. I told Mickey that before he fell into that terrible trap, to be fair, he should be willing to actually become the one he envied.

When he asked me what I meant, I explained that the folks most people envy are people they’ve never even met. They’re simply celebrities. But, millions of people fantasize being these strangers, knowing nothing about them, except those fabulous lies spread by their publicists.

I simply felt it was a sound rule to think twice about swapping places with, say, that rock ‘n’ roll idol who’s worth millions and is the biggest babe magnet in the world. Would you envy him enough to switch places, not knowing if you were going to risk being diagnosed with HIV tomorrow morning or dying of a heroin overdose shortly after tonight’s performance?

Fair is fair, I told my son. If you’re going to covet your neighbor’s ass, you have nobody to blame if, when you get it home, the mule kicks you in the head.

Finally, I told Mickey that he shouldn’t expect life to be fair, because that’s a sucker’s game. And because it is, he should never ask that most ridiculous of questions, “Why me?” because the obvious answer is, “Why not you?”

If everybody followed my sage counsel, this would be a far, far better world. But I don’t expect miracles. After all, my own son ignored my advice. Why should I expect more from strangers when I’m not even giving you folks an allowance?