Happy Birthday, Dad: 4 valuable things I learned from my father that might help you, too


It might be hard to believe that a guy who dressed like this could have valuable advice, but trust me, he always does.

(Editor’s Note: I do my best to follow the 70-20-10 rule for social media, in which only 10 percent is about some form of self-promotion. Today is one of those 10 percent days, so feel free to skip it if you feel I’ve already used up your willingness to tolerate me in promotion mode.

Also, if this or anything else I’ve ever done has helped you in any way, please feel free to wish my dad a happy birthday in the comments section. I’m sure it would be appreciated. -VFF)

As my daughter was going stir-crazy the other day, whining loudly about missing her friends, her extracurricular activities and even in-school classes, I told her the one truism I hoped would keep her sane:

“You can’t focus on the things you can’t do because of social distancing. You have to focus on the things you DO get to do. Otherwise, you’ll go batty.”

For me, an introvert with a long-standing aversion to social situations, this has been an easy adage to espouse and obey.

Until today. Today is my dad’s birthday.

Like everyone else in this country, Dad is stuck at home with limited contact to the outside world, for fear of contracting a virus that is decimating people at an incredible rate. While this “wait this out at home” rule is rough on a lot of people, it has to be killing my dad, who earned the family nickname of “No-Line Frank” for his disdain of waiting in line for anything. (It probably isn’t any great shakes for my mom, either, as she’s isolated in the house with him like this for at least another month.)

I wish with all my heart I could jet down I-41 and give him a big hug (and a nice bottle of Drambuie) today. The fact I can’t saddens me to the point of distraction. That said, he would be the first one to tell me it’s fine, not to worry and that I should get back to work.

My parents were and still are instrumental in who I am and what I do in life. In honor of dad’s 76th birthday, here are four “Filak-isms” he taught me that helped make me who I am and likely will help me make it through this pandemic unscathed:

HUSTLE WHILE YOU WAIT: I can’t remember when he first said it to me, but I rely on it almost daily: “The best things in life come to he who hustles while he waits.”

Although Dad later told me he heard this in a Credit Union seminar or something, I still attribute it to him because he not only said it, but he lives it. I often joke that I’m a “human twitch” when it comes to keeping busy, constantly writing books, teaching classes, refinishing furniture and doing almost anything else anybody asks of me.

Compared to my dad, I’m a piker.

I can’t remember the last time I saw him watch a whole ballgame or TV show without getting up and looking for something to do. He might be cleaning out the junk drawer in the dining room or sorting some baseball cards or looking for something in the basement, but he’s constantly on the move. Seeing this always inspired me to find more stuff to do and to keep looking for new opportunities to make the most of my time.

If you’re always hustling, the good things will come your way.


DON’T BRING SHAME ON THE FAMILY: I know I’ve explained this before, but it bears repeating. Dad told me this when I went off to college and decades later, it still rings true. “When you go out there, have fun,” he said. ” But, don’t bring shame on the family. It’s my name, too.”

The sheer tonnage of stupid things I avoided doing in college, simply based on that bit of advice, could stop a speeding locomotive from moving another inch forward. Even now, when I considered doing something, I would imagine the headline “UWO Professor Arrested for (Fill in whatever stupid thing I thought about doing)” and immediately decided against doing that stupid thing.

Whether it was being a success or just avoiding failure, the goal was pretty simple: When Dad saw someone he knew at the grocery store, it would be great if the person didn’t start the conversation with, “Hey, yeah… Heard about your son… Geez… That’s not good…”


YOU ARE NOT AVERAGE: In fifth grade, I came home with five C’s on my report card, much to the dismay of my parents. Dad was less than pleased that I wasn’t living up to my potential, whatever that was, and he pretty much knew full well that I fell short because I wasn’t giving a crap.

We were in the middle of a “silent supper,” thanks to my transgressions, when I finally broke the silence with what I thought would be a pretty good argument for my folks to not be so upset: “I read the report card, and it says that a C is average, so-”

Dad cut me off in a firm tone, “You are NOT average.”

I got the point. I could do better. And I knew it.

From that moment, I didn’t get another C on a report card until I hit my freshman year of college. In that case, it was more of a scheduling mistake than a lack of effort, because I took an introductory zoology course that served as the “weed-out” class for the veterinary medicine program at the U.

It’s always easy to take it easy, but that’s not the right way to do things. I was lucky enough to get a set of tools and the ability to use them in a way that matters. I was also lucky as hell to have parents who wouldn’t let me slide because I was good enough to get by or because other people’s kids were doing something worse.

Once that got stuck in my head, I realized that it’s important to always push beyond average whenever possible.


FINISH THE WORK FIRST, DRINK BEER LATER: Dad always believed in the separation of work and relaxation. He once told me about my grandfather and how he liked to do part of a job and then relax a bit and then go back and do more of it. Dad fell into the mode that my great-grandfather espoused: Finish the work first, drink the beer later.

What I learned from this was not only the importance of a strong work ethic but also the idea that I could find joy in completion of work. Seeing things get checked off a list or looking at a well-done job brought me happiness that could far exceed the joy of a brief respite and the knowledge that I had to do more work.

Even more, the beer always tasted better when I knew I was done for the day.

Thanks for everything, Pop. I love you.





21 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Dad: 4 valuable things I learned from my father that might help you, too

  1. Elizabeth Smith says:

    Happy birthday! You must be a terrific father and person because your son is so helpful, kind and supportive to so many of us. Sending warm birthday greetings all the way from Malibu, CA.

  2. Tsitsi D. Wakhisi says:

    Dear “No-Line-Frank,”

    Happy birthday and greetings from Miami. I believe that in 76 years of living (and giving great advice to your son) you have finished a lot of work, so today ENJOY THE BEER.

  3. Patricia Ferrier says:

    Happy birthday, Mr. Filak! Your son was kind and helpful when I — a brand-new assistant professor — joined a committee he directed. He has made a difference for lots of journalism students. I thought you might like to know that. (I’m a mom, and I am always grateful to hear that my boys are doing what I tried to teach them.) You’ve done a great job as a dad.

  4. Paige Madsen Chapman says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate your dad. I hope he finds a way to celebrate today, too – maybe with a beer after the hard work of the day is done. Happy birthday, dad. I hope it is above average.

  5. Diego says:

    Your son is arguably the most resourceful, selfless and witty colleague I’ve met in these last two years since I started teaching journalism. His personality and kindness must be a reflection of whom raised him to be such a great colleague and generous man! Happy birthday!

  6. wkozires@brockport.edu says:

    The good news with the current situation is that there are fewer lines for you to endure. So Happy 76th Birthday…and maybe your son can get the Drambuie delivered.

  7. Susan Goldstein says:

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Filak! You did a great job raising a very thoughtful son. Best wishes for much happiness from Gardner, Massachusetts! Sue Goldstein

  8. Peg Achterman says:

    Happy Birthday Frank! I’m with you – don’t wait around too long! Here’s a toast from Seattle. My dad would have been 101 on St. Patrick’s Day this year and I still miss him, so it’s nice to wish happy birthday to another dad.

  9. Kenna Griffin says:

    Happy Birthday to Vince’s dad! I don’t know you, but here’s one thing I know for sure about your son. If I need his help, he’ll be there. You raised a son who people can rely on when they need him. That’s something to be proud of. I’m thinking you must be fabulous too!

  10. Mary Christopher says:

    Happy birthday, Frank! Sending you warm wishes from Central New York. Hope you had a special day 🙂

  11. Cynthia says:

    Happy Birthday, Frank, from the sunny side of the Cascade Mountains in Central Washington! Hope it’s not long before you get to enjoy that Drambuie with Vince!

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