Taking your hands off the wheel

I’ve been blessed with two great parents and to say they taught me a lot is a gross understatement. That said, I think what parents do more than teach is influence. In the category of influence, my dad does something that has captured my imagination for… decades.

To share some context, my dad spent a lot of time outside the United States with his job. When I was a kid I would be transfixed by his stories when he came back from far away lands such as Japan, Saudi Arabia or Russia. They were, literally, foreign worlds to me. So when I saw my dad do the following, knowing he started doing it in those regions, it had a profound impact on me.

When my dad is in a restaurant and given the menu, he’ll hand it back to the waiter. He says something like “tell the chef to make anything he wants, tell him to surprise me, tell him to make what he or she loves most.”

On the surface it sounds like no big deal. But after you think about it, as I do pretty much every time I sit down at a restaurant, it is profound.

It’s one thing to do this in a restaurant you frequent or in a familiar region. It’s an entirely different thing to do this in far flung regions of the globe. He’s shared that in rural China he’s been given… monkey brains.

The practice of not ordering from a menu works for me on a few levels.

First is the obvious, adventure. Our lives are too climate controlled, too routine, too planned. We request coffee at a specific heat, we seem to require our houses to be within a tight temperature range regardless of the season outside, etc. The truth is that we don’t experience adventure until something goes different than planned… until something goes wrong. Adventures are what we remember… we forget the things that went as planned. It’s for these reasons that I’ve started to copy this practice. It’s a bit harder for me as I’m allergic to gluten… so in some regions there is an extra layer of risk.

The second level is control. We not only seek to control as much as we can in our lives but we go further. We seek to control OTHER people’s lives (our kids, our friends, etc). My dad’s simple act is the anti-control. It acknowledges that he CAN control a situation and then he proactively does not. This is the piece that keeps me thinking. There are so many situations in life that we can control but the simple truth is that sometimes when we try to provide too much structure we hold others back. There is vulnerability in giving up control, there is potential failure in letting a little control go… and there is also potential for much larger upside.

Sometimes we need to stop seeking to control and (figuratively speaking) take our hands off the wheel.

The goofy photo is one I took of my dad wearing those disposable 3D movie glasses (with the lenses removed) against a garage wall in the house I grew up in. My dad, among other things, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Otherwise he wouldn’t have let me take that photo. I love this photo of him.


4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Murray,

    Bro….you’ve captured him. Great man. I have had people say to me…..”you know what you got isn’t normal”. And I nod and say “I understand and cherish that”. These are friends that spent years watching our parents participate in not only our lives and the lives of our children, but also in the community’s children.

    Great message and one that is especially important to me. xox

  2. Lash,

    Great picture. No question our lives are more planned & controlled than our parents generation. Probably due to focus on self more than focus on others.
    How old are your parents? Hope they are doing well.

  3. charles majaruwski,

    I have advised my lawyer to commence legal proceedings against you for a) invasion of privacy b) potential defamation of character and c) for the simple fact that I need the money. I’ll see you in court sir, or maybe at some family gathering. Who has the unmitigated gall to ask the age of your ‘rents.What has that got to do with greatness?

  4. jmoriarty,

    Charles Majaruwski… hmmm. I knew a Chuck Majaruwski once. I wonder if you’re that same person.

    Regarding “what does age have to do with greatness?” I’d have to say that I know very few two year olds that have done great things and more than a few people over 50 that have done extraordinary things… just sayin’.

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