By Scott Robertson
My son is off to college now, spending his days in the Commonwealth of Virginia. One never realizes how quickly 18 years can pass until they have.
While the overriding emotions I feel regarding my son’s upbringing are fatherly love and pride in his qualities and accomplishments, I must admit to feeling a tinge of regret for having failed to spend enough time on certain areas of his education. I suspect he may be vulnerable to failings similar to my own, specifically because I didn’t spend enough time showing him the fine details of social life outside our own limited circles.
In short, the young man may yet have the opportunity to become a true gentleman, but I believe he left home before his training in that regard was complete. The fault for this shortcoming, if indeed it exists, is all my own. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is not common for anyone to refer to me using terms like stylish, dapper or well-heeled.
My son’s father is, at best, scruffy. Can it be any wonder then if the son lacks a certain sense of decorum, to say nothing of actual savoir faire?
As you, dear readers, know, I am fond of seeking guidance from those who possess greater knowledge and wisdom than my own. Often, I summarize that wisdom in the form of quote collections. Last week in this space, I proffered quotes regarding our veterans, in honor of Veterans Day (or Armistice Day, if you’re old enough). Next week, I expect to do so on some variation of the topic of gratitude, given the impending Thanksgiving observance. This week, however, I’m letting you in on an open letter to my son – a letter on the qualities of a gentleman. A bit of it is quotes from others. Most of it is just things I meant to say and never got around to. Even scruffy guys can have insights, after all.
What is being a gentleman? Simply this: interacting with those around you in a way that shows respect for them, yet allows you to honor your own values.
A test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.
– Solomon Ibn Gabriol
Deft talk is about raising the comfort level of those around by sharing knowledge and wit befitting the tenor of the moment.
– Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro
A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.
– Oliver Herford
A gentleman may be trusted with his word and your wife.
– Mollod and Tesauro
A gentleman’s manner is cultivated, not canned.
Selfies: Don’t. Asking a stranger to take a quick snap of the two of you smiling: Better. Being in the moment together: Best.
Awaken ten minutes early each day so you can quickly peruse the local and national news, weather and sports. The ability to discourse knowledgably about current events gives you common ground with those around you.
Chopsticks are to be made second nature. Straws are to be avoided unless the cup is made of paper and comes with a plastic lid.
Do not be the first to arrive at a party. Or to leave. Unless you realize a gentleman would not stay at that party one minute longer. Then go, but graciously.
Host small get-togethers with no more than half a dozen people to get the hang of the group dynamics of hosting. Then move on to larger affairs.
Make yourself at least try to learn something specific about everyone you meet socially. Pretend that you’ll be required to introduce them later and will need to be able to do so in a charming way.
Consult Dale Carnegie for tips on remembering people’s names. If you have met someone more than once, referring to him or her as “dude,” “babe,” (or any term one might expect the waitress at a greasy spoon to use – “darlin’” “sweetie,” ”honey”) ¬ is generally unacceptable.
Refresh the guest bedroom regularly. One never knows when it may be needed, and a musty room is uninviting.
The similarities between offering a public prayer and a public toast are remarkable. Both require a mingling of variations on tried-and-true themes and event-specific references, generally delivered with grace and humility. Learn to do both with little to no warning.
Once you are 21, learn the proper uses of alcohol. Wines, liquors, beers and other libations have rightful places in polite society. Drinking to excess does not.
Carrying a flask because one needs to is not gentlemanly. Carrying a flask of light liqueur with which to enliven the cappucinno of one’s date (with your date’s permission, it goes without saying) is.
Learn to prepare at least three complicated dinners: a light, low calorie meal; a quick, yet thoughtfully crafted meal for a night on the go; and a sumptuous, special event feast.
Broaden your tastes. If you like Beethoven, try Berlioz. If you like Garth Brooks, try Sturgill Simpson. If you like Kanye, try Kevin Gates. If you like Swedish Death Metal, try an hour of silent meditation, if only for the sake of those around you.
Adults talk like adults. Thus, a gentleman may possess a vocabulary that includes language some will consider coarse. Learn to use such language in a way that is not vulgar. Utilizing coarse language in an otherwise tastefully crafted statement can throw both into sharp relief, increasing the overall effectiveness. Curse in a way that is not crude, and use coarse language so infrequently that when you do, the intellectual and emotional impact will be maximized. In short, if you must cuss, cuss more like D. H. Lawrence and less like Andrew Dice Clay.
Keep an ashtray in your home if you ever entertain outdoors. Avoid using it yourself at all other times.
Learn to play poker, dominoes, blackjack and a few other indoor games well enough to not embarrass yourself. Maintain your physical fitness level in ways that will allow you to expand your social circle as well. When competing, win graciously and lose moreso.
Set aside time to hand-write notes. In the age of instant communication, a personal note has greater impact than ever.
Finally, always seek to serve others while bettering yourself at the same time. Never, ever stop.