by Wolf Pascoe on September 12, 2011

Willie Mays catchEver since I can remember, I’ve worried about knowing the right moves. As if there were a body of worldly information I wasn’t privy to, information like how much money to tip, how to find the right person when you want something, or how to throw a wicked curve ball.

I have a theory that my father was supposed to provide this knowledge, and would have, had he lived. I have another theory that I’m the one supposed to provide it for Nick. And I don’t know where to begin.

An entrepreneurial blogger I read—his name is Altucher—writes about making moves. Altucher wanted, for example, to talk to this billionaire guy once, and didn’t know how to reach him. Altucher figured out from the guy’s business location what the email domain had to be. He started sending emails to that domain with various combinations of the guy’s name as the handle. Altucher did this for a year until he hit the right combination and the guy responded.

Nice move.

I was running laps once with my college roommate on the UCLA track. In those days, anyone could get on the field when the team wasn’t training. We saw the junior senator from California jogging up ahead of us. My roommate ran after him, challenged him to a race (the senator accepted) and afterwards asked him for a job. The answer was “Yes.”

Another nice move.

Here’s one more, a suggestion from a New Yorker humor piece called “Summer Fun for Boys”:

Open a lemonade stand. On the second day, post a sign next to it reading, “CLOSED OWING TO HIGH TAXES AND RED TAPE. THANKS, OBAMACARE!” Then chat up the Fox News crew that instantly appears in your driveway.

I like the Fox News part.



on the boardwalkMy dad knew some business moves, I guess, but maybe not enough. On Saturdays from the time I was about four, he would take me down to his textile store on Santee Street in the garment district. It wasn’t much of a store. The display windows had a few bolts of cloth in them. He would sit at an old roll top in the office and punch figures into an adding machine. As far as I can remember, only one customer ever walked in.

Maybe Saturday was a light day.

Outside in back a lift with a collapsing iron gate took you up to the second floor, where there were more bolts of cloth. Giant bolts, the size of tree trunks, wrapped around long, thick cardboard tubes that I got to take home when the cloth was all gone.

I loved riding up and down that lift.

At lunchtime we’d walk up the street to a diner and I’d have a cup of chicken noodle soup with saltines. An office building nearby had a candy counter in the lobby where my dad bought me a Hershey bar for a nickel.

Then my dad would go back to his adding machine. I didn’t have a clue that the business was failing and eating away at his heart.



Getting into medicine never seemed to involve making any moves. This was a good thing, since I didn’t know any. Medicine was safe, understandable, a straight shot, strictly a merit system. You had to be smart to get in the door. At least, you had to be really good at doing things that other people said were important to do, like memorizing certain facts and taking tests. But you didn’t need to know any moves, at least not the kind of entrepreneurial moves Altucher and my roommate did.

When I was a resident, it was a different story. I had a mentor. I followed him around for a year and he taught me how to do anesthesia. That was a lot of moves. When he was done with me I had a trade. I could walk into any hospital and open shop, which I did.

Over the years, I’ve added to my store of moves. Some of them, moves like “test the suction machine first” apply only to the anesthesia world. Others, moves like, “never ask permission,” might apply elsewhere.

It’s those other moves I think about teaching Nick.



nick's moveNick seems to have come in with a lot of moves. Maybe because he was born with something I don’t have, or maybe because Nora and I haven’t imposed a lot of judgments and requirements on him. We’ve encouraged him to experiment and explore possibilities, to trust his instincts and his feelings. Maybe that’s all Altucher and my roommate were doing.

Lately, in the mornings, Nick comes down and plays the Wii game he bought with his birthday money. He gets an hour on it, and I listen to him while I’m at my computer typing. I can hear him now. When the hour is up, this is how the conversation goes:

Me: Okay, computer time is over.
Nick: You’re still at the computer
Me: It’s different with me.
Nick: Why?
Me: It’s my work.
Nick: Are you making money from your blog?
Me: Not exactly. I made money as a playwright.
Nick: How much?
Me: One year I made eight thousand dollars.
Nick: There’s more money in video games.

This from a kid who just turned nine.

Last night, he came up to me and said, “Dada, did you know I idolize you?”

I have no idea where this came from. Maybe he was speaking from his heart. Maybe he heard the line on a TV show and wanted to try it out. Either way, Nick has sort of blown my theory that I’m supposed to be teaching moves to him.

He makes me think that 90% of being a dad is just showing up.



Able to leap tall buildings




Willie Mays demonstrating a move:



Know any moves? I’m collecting.

Add your comment below. I always respond here.


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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf September 12, 2011 at 8:18 am

In an ideal world, would girls learn “the moves” from their mothers? Or is any child somehow to learn “the moves” that fit, from either parent or both, regardless of gender?

This is a fascinating premise (and a beautiful piece of writing – your memories of your father, so poignant).

When it comes to my own kids, I find myself concerned about which moves they might pick up from either parent, and prefer the idea that an environment offering support and exploration paves the way for the freedom to develop moves of their own.

Much like Nick.

As for how damn smart our kids are, so young – I have no explanation. Only awed silence. And a sliver of gratitude that my (older) kids never said “but Mom, you don’t make any money from your “work.”


Wolf Pascoe September 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm

an environment offering support and exploration paves the way for the freedom to develop moves of their own.


I learned a few moves from my mother, but wish I hadn’t.


Kristen @ Motherese September 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I’ve always thought it was more like 95%. At least that’s what I comfort myself with on the trickier days when showing up is about all I’m doing.

These days, I feel like I’m learning the moves from my kids. I don’t like marketing myself and I’m completely conflict-averse, but my four year old thinks nothing of telling people exactly what he knows and what he’s good at, and calling them out if they’re being duplicitous or unfair. I’m not quite as cute as he is, though, so I might have to try a slightly different tack, but it’s a good place to start.


Wolf Pascoe September 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Can I borrow this kid for a few days?


Barbara S. September 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm

It continually amazed me that my kids knew more than I knew about some things. They asked questions about things I just took for granted. I think you might be right that showing up is 90%. The other 10% might be just allowing them to learn and think.


Wolf Pascoe September 12, 2011 at 8:16 pm


Such a key word.


Privilege of Parenting September 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I was standing outside the office in the basement of NYU grad film school on East 7th Street when I heard the secretary say into the phone, “No, we don’t have a jobs board—you could come down here and put a card on the bulletin board if you want.” The secretary hung up. I walked in and asked her the name of the caller. She told me, an obscure production company on the upper east side.

I called immediately, said I’d overheard the call. I was on the subway five minutes later, in her office within the half hour and heading back downtown with a part-time job before the afternoon was through.

It didn’t really lead to any big break, but I did get to talk to Arthur Penn on the telephone one afternoon. My boss’s boss was a gold trader with a private plane. He never paid me on time, but actually sent a limo down to the Village with my meager, although very overdue, check one time.

Sometimes I think I learned a lot about what not to do in that job, but it was sort of a good move getting it.

As for idealizing you, I think Nick was indeed speaking from his heart, the heart of love. Now that’s always a good move, and no teacher better than our child.


Wolf Pascoe September 13, 2011 at 1:24 am

Great story, Bruce. Good on you!

I’m going to take my cue from your comments about Nick speaking from his heart and always assume that when he talks about his love, he means it.


annon. September 12, 2011 at 7:14 pm

As a kid whose father elected to stop showing up when i was about age 8 –
and only marginally “present” prior to that – just showing up and participating with some degree of passion is, in and of itself, enough. No one has all the answers nor “moves,” no one. How I would have loved for someone, how i longed for someone – almost anyone – to want to show up and be present and participate.

I remember once, almost a decade after reconciling (after decades of separation), as a young adult man, miniature golfing for some occasion, and being (or at least feeling) criticized for my ‘swing’ on some hole or another… i remember thinking (rather loudly – yet only on the inside) “F you! what did you have to do with my development of that or ANY “skill” i may or may not have? who the F are you to criticize anything about me!”

You sought out your boy. You show up – and with tremendous passion. You participate with tremendous passion. If all you do is that – and to the best of your ability ensure that your boy develops the ability and skills necessary to participate and perhaps add to the world he will inherit you will have done enough.
cut yourself some slack 🙂


Wolf Pascoe September 13, 2011 at 1:31 am

Thanks, annon.

I’m glad you reconciled with your dad. I think it’s best to make peace with parents who fell down on the job, if it can be done. I know that my mother, who wasn’t an easy person for me, stretched my capacity to love.


Susanbeth September 12, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I am so “moved” by this post!! Seeing your Dad really made me gasp (in a delighted way) and then of course reading your words about his “failing business eating away at his heart” saddened me. But mostly, I am encouraged and intrigued by the entire topic of “moves.” I think parenting is 99% showing up, and I wouldn’t modify by saying “just” showing up. I believe that whether we show up or not, we are always teaching our children the “moves.” Lucky children, like Nick, have parents who both show up and involve themselves in thoughtful ways. Others may not be so lucky, having parents who either don’t show up, or show up to criticize and hurt. Either way, absent or present, we are teaching our children “moves” ALL of the time! Love this piece!!


Wolf Pascoe September 13, 2011 at 1:34 am


I’m tempted to go back and change my 90% line. I like yours better, without the just.

It’s humbling to think we’re teaching our kids all the time, no matter what we do. I need to write that on my bedpost.


Alameda September 12, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I was fortunate to have a father I “idolized”. I learned a lot of “moves” from him and still use them perhaps because of my relationship with him. Along the way I observed and learned “moves” from people I admired and respected as role models. Kids learn from you whether you make the effort to teach them or not. They will decide what to keep. I don’t think you need to make the extra effort, just be yourself as you teach them to be.

Ya, Nick idolizes you, you should never doubt that!


Wolf Pascoe September 13, 2011 at 1:36 am

Be myself. I have to remember to force myself to be that.


ChopperPapa September 13, 2011 at 7:30 am

You are doing far more than showing up. I can’t think of a better compliment a son can give his father.


Wolf Pascoe September 13, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Thanks, C.P. It’s nice of you to say. Because I work only part time, I’m around a lot, and Nick never likes it when I have to go anywhere. Nora and I imagine him in therapy thirty years down the road, telling some therapist, “He was always leaving!”


David September 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Not to be cynical, I can hear all the dismissals and I realize it doesn’t directly relate, but I couldn’t help think of this poem while reading this post:

The Secret

don’t worry, nobody has the
beautiful lady, not really, and
nobody has the strange and
hidden power, nobody is
exceptional or wonderful or
magic, they only seem to be.
it’s all a trick, an in, a con,
don’t buy it, don’t believe it.
the world is packed with
billions of people whose lives
and deaths are useless and
when one of these jumps up
and the light of history shines
upon them, forget it, it’s not
what it seems, it’s just
another act to fool the fools

there are no strong men, there
are no beautiful women.
at least, you can die knowing
and you will have
the only possible

Charles Bukowski


Wolf Pascoe September 13, 2011 at 8:23 pm

But what about Willie Mays?


David September 14, 2011 at 12:47 am

Well, except Willie Mays…


Sirena September 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm

I am sure that Nick “idolizes” you! We all do – I mean, I can’t write a blog like this and YOU can. Is that really a picture of your father? David: I love Bukowski and that poem is perfect. Love the blog Wolf!


Wolf Pascoe September 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm

1. Yes, it’s my dad.
2. Love your work, too.


pamela September 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I am definitely learning moves from my kids. Like you, I never had the moves growing up. Come to think of it, I am learning way more than moves from my kids … I am convinced that they are teaching me more than I teach them.

I am also convinced that even if your son told you he idolizes you because of a “move” he wouldn’t have said it unless he meant it.


Wolf Pascoe September 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm

“learning way more than moves from my kids … ”



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