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My father is a swell man. Like any human, his personality has morphed through different permutations of itself across the years. Still, much about him has always remained reliably consistent, and consistency is a fantastic characteristic in a father. He is thoughtful, predominantly quiet, stoic, and always capable of lending a hand or a pearl of wisdom.

Everything my father does is fully calculated, often to an annoying degree of specificity. Lists are made for every possible decision. Solutions and alternate contingent solutions are worked out for every variable of an unusual situation. He is a planner and not a risk taker, operating much more on reason than feeling or emotion. He’s a logician and not an artist. I am genuinely unsure if he could name five bands. I have never seen him read a book that wasn’t about baseball or American history. He’s type of guy who cooks a frozen pizza satisfied with it the way it came out of the box, not bothering to rearrange the placement of the pepperoni before putting it in the oven.

He has always been in great physical shape and has appeared at least a decade younger than he was at any given age. When I was a child, he always seemed a massive, infinitely strong, intelligent, imposing figure. I suppose that’s how many children view their fathers growing up.

Like any dad, he had his failings and his moments of overprotective excess, such as the time he shattered my Korn CDs in the driveway to keep me away from the degenerate evils of 1990s nu-metal music. I had a tendency to fall asleep while listening to Jonathan Davis and his strange, growling vocalizations, and my father was convinced it would seep into my subconscious and turn me into… something bad, evidently? I’m not entirely sure what darkened path he feared I would travel. Regardless, his rage-filled smashing of my precious compact discs became a huge burden for me that afternoon as I was forced to download it all back via Napster and burn it to a CD-R. It really did take all afternoon. This was 2001 and it took like a half hour to download a 3.4MB MP3, and probably another hour to write the CD once I had all the tracks.

Unfortunately, despite my father’s retaliatory efforts against nu-metal, Korn remains in my playlist to this day. But you’ll also find Tony Bennett and Abba in there. I’m one of those people whose playlists jump from Patsy Cline to Marilyn Manson to Glenn Miller to Samantha James and I love them all equally. My Spotify account has playlists spanning classical jazz, heavy metal, 1940s pop hits, and that ambient stuff you listen to while getting a massage or doing yoga. (That’s actually what I am playing right now. It’s total brain music.)

Like any son, I haven’t always followed my father’s advice and often don’t agree with what he says, because in many ways we’re very different. There is an almost 38-year age gap between us. We are always perceiving and responding to the world at very different points in our lives, and our conversations are not always successful exercises in dialectics. But I try to always listen to his words, and as long as he’s around to give me advice, I will look forward to hearing what he has to say. 

He taught me baseball, helped with homework, and coached me on how to be a kind and honest person. He also taught me to compartmentalize – a practice super simple in concept, and very easy to forget to actually do. I am super bad at it, truth be told. Compartmentalization is a tactic I’m always trying to get better at doing because it is a very good idea.

Essentially, it’s my dad’s little trick for never wasting time unless you choose to waste time. It’s as simple as thinking about all the things you want to accomplish in a particular day and tucking them in the back of your head. As you go about your business, managing the unexpected twists and turns and interruptions that are guaranteed to punctuate any day, shuffle those mental to-do cards around and examine the time you have available. If it’s 12:45pm and you have something you absolutely need to do at 1pm but you’re not sure what you can cram into the interim, cycle through your objectives and find a 15-minute activity on your to-do list and get it done. Or use those minutes to read a book, catch up on the news, or go through your email. Even if you don’t read all your emails, or completely finish the next chapter of your book, you’ve at least made progress on those tasks. The time was spent in a productive fashion and not staring at the wall.

That’s usually what we do – we stare at the wall. We’ll stand around for 15 minutes saying, “well, I don’t have time to start that right now…. or that….” and 15 minutes later it’s time for that 1pm task, but we’ve done nothing in the meantime. We are trained to tell ourselves that certain activities require certain amounts of time when, in reality, we can often fit little pieces in compartments throughout the day.

My dad also employs compartmentalization in times of crisis, as a means of keeping a level head and making rational decisions. As he put it: A submarine has many different compartments, because if one springs a leak, they can shut it off so the whole ship doesn’t fill up with water. Can you imagine being in a sub, hit by a depth charge, and it starts taking on water? You can’t go up or you will be blasted, so you have to stay under and do what it takes to survive. When things like this happen, if you can compartmentalize, shutting off the area that is bringing you down, and concentrating on the things that can fix the problem, you give yourself he best chance to succeed. If you dwell on the compartment filling up with water and you lock up your brain with fear, it limits your chances of recovering. Once you figure out how to shut off the compartment filling with water and address the problem, you can start emptying it. Sometimes it takes a few days to get all the water out.

Stick it in a (brain) box!

I even use compartmentalization when writing. Most nights I’m really beat. I have three kids. That doesn’t stop me from busting out some prime text, even if it’s just a little. I can throw down some words, get a few paragraphs written, and I’m one step closer to reaching my goals. Sure, I could have spent that 10-15 minutes standing in the kitchen, eating my daughter’s fruit snacks, staring idly out the back window at my deck, and sometimes I do. But doing that doesn’t get the work done. And that’s not what my dad would want me, or you, to do. Don’t disappoint him. He’s Italian and has a fierce chest hair game.

Leisure is important but so is taking care of what needs to happen.