How to avoid tv dinners and a lonely death

Dear Hannah,

I'm sure you've heard me tell you about the way your great grandpa Don died, but I want to remind you about him because I think the story proves something a lot of people forget.  We can all theorize about ways we'd like to live, but history reminds us that others have tried things and ended up miserable.  And however much we loved him, your great grandpa ended miserably.

He was married to your great grandma Ella for a long time before she passed away from cancer.  She was a master cook and everyone knew how lucky Don was to be with her.  She was kind and always made him lots of good food, which he never really appreciated.  Or if he did appreciate it we never really found out, because he never really said anything about it.  Everything I know about her cooking I learned from my dad.

One day my grandma decides Don doesn't really appreciate her cooking, so she risks an experiment: a surprise by tv dinner.  I don't know whether grandpa was just tough and thought complaining was for sissies (he was pretty manly, after all) or whether he really enjoyed tv dinners; and I certainly don't know whether grandma was just hoping to make him complain and get her point across, or whether she really wanted to stop cooking.  What I do know is that when he never complained he never got a really solid weekday dinner again.  To anyone who actually enjoys decent food and a happy wife, the results of his unthankfulness could be nothing less than devastating.

The second mistake he made is common to Americans, which means we need to take extra precautions against it.  After grandma's death he was left alone by his two children -- my dad went to Italy, and my aunt went to another state.  Don never cultivated the idea of family unity too well.  We'd get infrequent calls every now and then, and occasionally a letter, but no correspondence too serious.  I was the person closest to him for years, at least geographically.  Visited the man once or twice in the several years we lived in San Diego, and never thought too much of it.  I was high on coke and pills and your grandpa was busy running around Europe.  By the time Don realized the meaning of family, it was too late.  One of his letters, if you'd like to hear it in his own words, goes as follows:
You don't see it now, but your family is very important in your life.  Each and every one of them teaches you something every day.  You don't see it, but I do because I am here alone.  My friends here are not in the best of shape.  A lot is because of their lifestyle, like smoking or drinking.  [...] It gets to be a chore to write because my writing arm tuckers out.  That's what my stroke left me.  No one knows it but me, as everything looks normal.  Think of you often.
There are two lessons you can really take from this if you're smart.  The first is that you should always thank the people who do you good -- it will keep them doing good for much longer.  I never forget to thank your mother when she does something good because I don't believe that someone "doing her job" is an excuse for ingratitude. Everything we do is a choice, and any incentive to do good, whether out of duty or pleasure, has to be kept there.  

The Apostle Paul said that we "shouldn't grow weary in doing good," and he said so because we oftentimes think that doing good will make people appreciate us when they don't.  If you want anyone to keep doing something, thank them -- honestly thank them -- and tell them if necessary that you love them for it.  Glory drives the better of us and is oftentimes all the poor can give and get.  If you're poor, you may not have the resources to pay anyone back, and I doubt any child can pay his parent back in full.  But you can always love and thank -- and if you do, you'll have many helpers.

The second thing I want you to take from this is that no E----- dies alone.  Not on my watch, not on yours -- not on anybody's.  A lot of people my age think that families are a drag and too expensive to have -- which may be true depending on how useless the parents are.   I thought the same thing until I had you and realized I'd been wrong all along.  It turns out that families are an investment for people who don't want to end up alone.  So I'll be taking care of your grandparents.  I'll be doing my best until I'm incapable of properly doing it.  If I'm good with you, you or your (future) siblings will take care of me.  If you're good with your children, they will take care of you.

Social security is for modern men because if modern men hate any two things, they hate sustainability and children.  They prove it by not making enough children, and then saddling the existing (or soon to be existing) children with unmanageable debts.  Dying alone is for modern men because all they care about is free time and money and sex.  They never wonder whether a time that's free of responsibility is free of any future.  We produce grain and cows so we can eat tomorrow.   We produce children so we can love the rest of our lives.  You never know when your spouse will die, but spouses rarely die together.  Production is always the key to survival and happiness -- the men who tell you otherwise are consuming what others have produced.  The man who refuses to raise a family so he can die well is a man who wants other men's children to take care of him.  If he dies poor, he's a devourer of inheritances.

Your father,


  1. This life lesson has been a staple in our house. We refer to it regularly.
    We love your work.


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