Always the absent minded professor,
my late father loved to dispense wisdom
better suited to his rural Depression
childhood than it could ever have been
to the brutal 1970s New York suburb
where I came of age. In retrospect,
it’s genuinely fair to say that Dad’s
fatherly advice was absolutely, 100%,
dead fucking wrong every single time.
He was an intelligent, well-educated
man who simply never understood
the unforgiving era he was living in.
When I was graduated from Oberlin,
he told me, with unconcealed pride
in his voice, “You’re a hard worker,
and there isn’t a boss on the planet
who won’t respect that.” (If only!)
On another occasion, he was adamant
that I, toiling for minimum wage
in a Lower Manhattan bookstore,
should work all weekend without pay,
even though I wasn’t scheduled, because
doing so would make a good impression
on my boss. A brilliant scientist, Dad
was an idiot when it came to dealing
with everyday life. And tonight, two
days after his death, I treasure his
advice—useless as it invariably was—
more than anything else on this earth.
Son of the noted ichthyologist C. Lavett Smith, 1927-2015, Robert Lavett Smith was raised in New Jersey, and has lived since 1987 in San Francisco, where for the past sixteen years he has worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional. He has studied with Charles Simic and the late Galway Kinnell. He is the author of several chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is The Widower Considers Candles (Full Court Press, 2014). Two poems from this newest book have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
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