“Begin the Beguine” was a popular song written by Cole Porter in 1934. To my father, it was yet another one-liner he’d toss into conversation for dramatic effect.
My dad may have been an absent-minded professor, but he was a very intentional father. He never missed the opportunity to instill in us five children the high virtues of hard work, family honor, ethnic pride, honesty as the best policy, academic excellence, fair play, healthy habits, moderation in all things, perseverance… the list was endless. And he had a saying for every occasion, just to reinforce his point and imprint his ethics upon our souls.
Borrowing from historic figures, ancient philosophers, The Good Book and old folk tales, he’d sprinkle every occasion with words of wisdom. When giving us a chore to do or overseeing our homework, he’d say, “The only job worth doing is a job well done.” Or “You can achieve anything you set your mind to.”
My father was given a weighty name when he was born: Themistocles Constantine Rodopoulos. My grandparents must have had big dreams for their first-born son, a first-generation Greek-American who grew up believing in the American Dream, despite enduring the Great Depression. He pursued that dream by volunteering to serve in Army Intelligence during WWII, then earning a PhD and becoming a college history professor. Born to peasant immigrants with at best a second-grade education, Dad never wanted us to take anything for granted. He was convinced we would achieve great things, as long as we lived according to “The Law of Rodis.”
When I was in a hurry, he’d warn, “Haste makes waste.” When I’d procrastinate, he’d remind me, “He who hesitates is lost.” Dad would try to redirect my impulsive nature with: “You’d better look before you leap;” “You can’t count your chickens before they’re hatched;” or “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” When instilling us with healthy habits, he’d say, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.”
It became predictable and tiresome. But it was effective.
Now I’m middle-aged and Dad’s been gone since 2008. But his words of wisdom endure in my heart and mind. They’re like footholds in unsteady times. While society changes at a frenzied pace, Dad’s truths stand firm, holding me secure as people fall apart all around me. So this column is dedicated to sharing Dad’s maxims to help guide you through the day-to-day challenges of modern life.
As Dad would say, “Let’s begin the beguine!”