Lessons from My FatherVolume I

Lesson 1: Work ahead.

“Yes,” I said. “I have a math assignment due on Thursday.”

“When are you planning to work on it?” he asked.

“Probably on Wednesday,” I said, “or maybe even on Thursday before class. It’s pretty easy.”

“Why don’t you work on it tonight? Or tomorrow?”

“Tonight? Tomorrow? It’s not due until Thursday!”

“I know, but if it’s really that easy, you can get it done sooner. If you get it done sooner, you’ll be free to do whatever you want to do on Wednesday and Thursday before class. You can even work ahead and finish the homework for future weeks. Imagine: You could finish all the homework for the entire semester in just a few weeks! Then, while your friends are still working on weekly homework, you will be free. The work will be done.”

“Good point. So what movie are we watching?”

I saw the film Gladiator at the movie theatre with my father (he knew the owner of the theatre, so he snuck me in even though I was technically too young to see that movie). We then watched it together at least four other times on DVD. I have since watched it one other time, on a streaming platform. It’s still one of the best movies I know, and this scene is legendary.

Lesson 2: Habitually follow up.

While we’re on the topic of the great Natalia Lafourcade, here’s one of her signature songs.

Lesson 3: Maintain a contacts database.

Here’s a screenshot of the simple “Networking Database” spreadsheet I use. You can download it for free on my website: https://www.mannyvallarino.net/spreadsheets/

Lesson 4: Yawn imperceptibly.

I highly recommend attending the Panama Jazz Festival. Full disclosure: I’m actually not that big a fan of jazz; I admire many jazz musicians, but the genre doesn’t resonate with me that much, for some reason. Still, I always enjoy this festival. It’s awesome, even for those of us who aren’t necessarily jazz fans.

Lesson 5: Exercise each day.

“Bulls On Parade” by Rage Against The Machine is one of my favorite records to play while strength-training. Also, the heavy guitar riff Tom Morello plays during the chorus is absolutely nasty, and I mean that in the best way. Insane riff, and it’s so simple; I love it and want to play it live someday.

Lesson 6: Embrace irreverence.

Here’s a photo of Extreme Planet, one of the several movie theatres in Panama frequented by my father and I. Sadly, it is now permanently closed. Rumor has it that Extreme Planet went out of business due to a stink bomb. I’m kidding, of course, so that’s not true. I hope …

Lesson 7: Sometimes, don’t color the wall.

  1. If it’s not your wall: If you’re an actor in a play that you agreed to be in, and if you think the play should have a different ending, this is the best course of action: Quit the play, or accept the current ending. It’s not your play; it’s the writer’s, and in other ways, it’s the director’s. Your job is to bring their vision to life, not rewrite the story. Trying to color someone else’s wall might come off as invasive or disrespectful.
  2. If you don’t have permission: I cannot go into a presentation slide approved by my boss and change all of its design elements, just because I had a flash of inspiration. While the new slide might have great visuals, and it might be a wonderful expression of my creativity, it might also get me fired. If you don’t have permission to color a wall, consider the option of not doing so. You can always make your own wall and do with it as you wish.
  3. If it’s not worth the trouble: Even if a wall is yours and you have permission to color it, sometimes it’s not worth the trouble. One example is the fact that I decided to not share the original draft of this essay. Coloring that wall in that way would not have been worth the trouble. Sometimes, it’s better to keep your colors to yourself, because the cons of expressing them can outweigh the pros.
All this writing about coloring walls made me think of The Bedroom, a painting by Vincent van Gogh.² In it, Van Gogh actually painted tiny portraits that hang on the wall inside the room featured in the painting. Very layered. I don’t know why these things mean so much to me.
And thank you to my father for making me swim since I was very young. Here’s a photo of me that was taken right after I destroyed³ other kids in a swimming competition (I don’t think I was well-liked after those races). As you can see, I have no teeth, but I’m smiling, maybe because of the medals (sorry, other kids). I haven’t competed since I was a kid, but swimming remains my favorite workout.


  1. A part of me would like to be perceived as dark, profound, and intelligent, all because I have read Crime and Punishment. The truth is, it’s one of my least favorite books of all time. I thought it was so bad. Would never recommend it. My favorite Russian writer is Anton Chekhov. Now that guy was something else!
  2. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).
  3. Good times.



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