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