He’s mellowed on perfection

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2012

I call it the curse of my father: Nothing is ever quite good enough.

It started in grammar school. Any kid smart enough to make a 98 on a test could make 100, he’d say.

The encouragement to achieve academically translates itself now into rarely being satisfied with my efforts. Astrologists would say it has something to do with being a Capricorn. Psychologists would say it’s being an eager-to-please, first-born child.

I still say it is Daddy’s fault.

On occasion, the newspaper can be ready to go to press hours ahead of deadline. But let me look at a proof with the thought, “We can do better than that,” and I’ll be here at the office hours later, redoing work that’s already been done.

I especially love it when that happens on Tuesday night. Because Daddy’s newspapers are printed in our building on that night, we often visit. When he gently chides me for still being at work (never mind, he’s working, too), I like to tell him, “It’s your fault. You did this to me.”

Daddy turned 74 last week. He works more than 40 hours every week, insists on doing the physical labor of loading his own newspapers from our back dock, and has a mind as sharp as a tack. He still finds ways that most everything can be better.

But he would tell you that he is wiser now than he was when he was busy instilling a quest for perfection in his three children. As a grandfather, he frets about the need for children to be well-rounded, and says it’s OK if they don’t have perfect 100s on their report cards.

When he says things like this, I look at him as if he has lost his mind. My dad said that? You gotta be kidding me.

“Perfect grades aren’t really that important,” he says now. “That won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have good people skills.”

That didn’t seem very important to him back in middle school days when I scored a low 90 in conduct, having earned myself a number of demerits for working on my social skills in conversations with my classmates.

I will never, ever forgot his response when I told him it was “just for talking,” or that I actually had a good grade: My good friend Connie got a 68.

“Even an idiot can sit down and keep his mouth shut,” Daddy said then.

I didn’t get many more demerits for talking. Connie didn’t get off of restriction for six weeks.

Come to think of it, I haven’t actually heard Daddy tell the children it was OK to be less than perfect. Hmmm. Maybe the years haven’t changed him, after all.