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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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2 fathers can impart twice the wisdom
By SUE CARLTON
Published June 16, 2007
In my complicated family (and whose isn't?), I have had two fathers - one responsible for my existence and another who married my mother the next time around.
Could these two men be any more different? My father was pure Florida cracker; my stepfather is Italian to his core.
There is this great photo of the three of us at my wedding: me in the big poofy dress, them on either side guiding me to the altar. Both are handsome in their tuxes, but they look like they are auditioning for two very different movies.
You learn from the men who raise you even when they don't intend it. When I get mad at myself, I berate myself under my breath using my own name. And I can hear my father saying under his own breath, "Just great, Robert."
When I get mad at someone else, I say something in Italian I thought meant "cabbage head, " but now believe to be "You have the face of an eggplant."
Before he died last year, my dad retired to live happily in a big house in the Florida woods where you could see treetops and lakefront and deer and hawks and not another human soul. He loved a truly smart joke, an excellent book, an early morning, a well-executed meatloaf.
My stepfather lives far away with my mother in a pretty beige house from which you can see two mountain ranges. He adores his grandchildren and gets mad at the president when he reads the morning paper.
And the man cooks the way some people write poetry.
Here is wisdom from my father, the most independent and funny man I knew, whether he meant to impart it or not.
- Never work for the state. (This one he said a lot. He retired from a government job he was good at even if he hated every bureaucratic minute of it.)
- If you're lucky enough to be the first person to walk through the woods in the morning, be prepared to put up with a few spiderwebs.
- Try to be amused by idiots.
- Read anything good you can get your hands on.
- And there will be idiots.
- Red right returning. (For nonboaters, this is about getting you home safe when you've been on the water all day.)
- There will be a lot of idiots.
- Don't mind the rain; it's the wind that'll get you.
- Resist the urge to strangle the idiots.
- If you're patient enough, you can get a scrub jay to take a peanut out of your hand.
- Go barefoot whenever you can.
Here are some things I've learned from my stepdad, who is kind, has a silver beard and has cared for my mother better than anyone else ever could. And did I mention the man can cook?
- Work at what makes you happy; make a change if it doesn't.
- Try sushi even if you are only 13 and utterly grossed out. The world might surprise you.
- Know how to use chopsticks well enough to deftly pluck an ice cube from a glass. (The lessons for this were fun.)
- There is little that can't be accomplished in a kitchen with a basic fork.
- Be patient; the water will boil.
- Forget measuring cups; go with "some, " "a little" or "whatever tastes right." Trust yourself.