An Encouraging Word from My Dad

“If you screw it up, no one is going to die on the table.”

Dad did a lot of high risk OB/GYN surgery.  The work gave him a unique perspective on life.

He used to love to tell this story: Once a friend of his who was a seminary professor was having lunch with Dad and some other high risk OB/GYN docs Dad worked with.  After listening to the group of doctors talk for a few minutes the seminary professor made the comment, “You are all very earthy people.”  Dad said the mood suddenly shifted from jovial to tense when one of Dad’s partners retorted sharply, “Earthy!  Why don’t you spend two hours putting your head and hands where we put our head and hands, get yourself all covered in blood and crap (he didn’t say crap), only to have your patient die on the table, and we will see how sparkly shinny clean you come out dam it!”  Dad said after a second of silence the whole table bust into laughter and everyone returned to their previous conversations.

My father was an amazing man.  Not only did he pioneer several life saving surgical techniques and write countless articles/books (his CV was like a novel); he also helped established the medical system for the countries of Ghana and Nigeria, fought for the rights of people with Down’s syndrome  in the U.S., and waged a war on injustice on multiple fronts (a battle which finally took his life).

Just before my freshman year of high school my family moved from Ann Arbor to New Orleans.  On the first day of football practice, which started a few weeks before school, I was freaking out.  Everything was new and different.  I didn’t know any one.  And I had never played football before.  As we pulled into the school’s parking lot Dad put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Jeff, don’t sweat it.  If you screw it up, no one is going to die on the table.”

The saying stuck.  It became something he said to me anytime I was stressed.  Now it hangs on my the wall in my office to help me keep things in perspective.

It reminds me to take risks, because its okay if they don’t work – no one is going to die.

It reminds me not to take myself to seriously.  My daily decisions aren’t life an death ones.

It reminds me its okay when I fail.  Almost everything is fixable.

I hope this thought from Dad encourages you today.  Go take risks.  Go try new things.  Go screw it up.  No one is going to die on the table.

That is unless you are a high risk surgeon.  No risky behavior or failure aloud for you.


This is #3 in a series of posts I’m writing about quotes which have defined and/or inspired me.  I’m calling the series 60in60 – 60 quotes in 60 days.

An Encouraging Word from My Dad

My Dad’s Advice on Potential Failure

I had never studied.  Not really.

I loved High school, but it wasn’t exactly academically challenging.  I can still hear in my head my 11th grade English teacher saying, “Okay babies.  For the next two months we are going to be work’in on writin recipes.  I want you to bring in your Mama’s best recipe and we will learn how to write it down properly.”  There were a few classes here and there that were tough (Mr. Bryant suggested we memorize the Prince by Machiavelli for example…that’s right…memorize the whole book) but over all High school was smooth sailing for me. 

My Freshmen year of college also hadn’t forced me to buckle down and hit the books.  I was a music major that didn’t take music seriously…so I played a lot of basketball. 

Sophomore year I had a painful awakening.  I became Pre-med and was introduced to a whole new world.  I remember my roommate Zach, after hearing me whine about how much homework I had in the first week of class, taking me by the hand and walking me to a huge building in the center of campus.  “Jeff, meet the Library” he declared sarcastically as we entered the lobby, “this is your new home.”

Unfortunately, simply declaring a difficult major does not mean one will magically succeed in said major or develop the study habits said major requires.  I didn’t know that.  Like Michael Scott walking into the office and yelling the word, “BANKRUPTCY!” then thinking he was finished with his financial troubles, I still didn’t start studying.   I skimmed the reading assignments.  I took fantastic notes in class and never looked at them again.  I even started hanging out with other pre-med peeps.  Together we would bemoan how hard everything was.  But I still didn’t honestly study.

Then came finals.  I was amazed to learn the university gave us a whole three days off before finals.  Not understanding that I would need those three days to prepare, I figured the university wanted me to rest and enjoy all the new friends I had made before I went home for break.  It was like the last three days of summer camp.  “A three-day nap.  Yeah!” 

I had a biology final (at 10am) and an analytical chemistry final (at noon) on the first day of testing.  The night before the big day two of my friends, Mac and Angelina, gathered around my kitchen table to study for the bio test.  I struggled to keep up.  The session was clearly more a refresher for them.  They came with flash cards, stacks of re-copied notes, and multi-colored well used highlighters.  Their text-books looked like rainbows.  I brought chips and caso…and a pencil…I think I brought a pencil.

The bio cram session went from 8pm to midnight.  At the end of it I was definitely ready for the test.  As my friends got up to leave around 12:30am one of them asked me, “So what else you got this week?  When is your chem final?” 

“Tomorrow at noon.”  I said.

“Are you ready for it?”  Mac asked me with a look of fear on his face.

“Ummm…I don’t think so.  I’m going to try to cram for it now and a little in the morning after I review the bio stuff.”

A look of sad horror came over Mac’s face and he simply said, “Dude, you’re screwed.”

Defiant, I refused to accept his prognosis.  Having learned what real studying looks like from the bio cram session, I said good-bye to my friends, drank two cans of Surge, and went to work on chemistry.   I busted my butt for an hour; but my head was too full.  I was too exhausted.  It was too late.  Broken and embarrassed I went into my closet and shut the door.  I couldn’t let my roommates see me cry. 

You have to understand.  I had never failed anything.  Ever. 


Seriously, never.

I sat on the floor of closet bawling my eyes out.  I had no idea what to do.  So I did what I always used to do when I had run out of answers.  I called my dad. 

“Hello?”  he said groggy and confused.  I knew Dad would answer the phone.  He was a world famous OB/GYN surgeon so he was always on call. 

“Dad?” I managed to get out between sobs.

“Jeff?  Do you know what time it is?”  There was a pause as he looked for the alarm clock.  “It’s 2am son.  What’s going on?”

“Dad,  I’m in trouble.”  I was still sobbing uncontrollably.  I could feel the worried tension coming through the line.  “I have two finals tomorrow.  (sob, sniffle)  And I only studied for one.  (more sobbing)  I didn’t study for Chemistry Dad.  (more sniffling)  I don’t know what to do.”

There was a long pause. 

Finally Dad said, “Son, it’s 2am.  Go to bed.”

“But what about the test Dad?”

“In the morning, go to class.  Suck it up.  And fail like a man.  Good night.”

My Dad’s Advice on Potential Failure