The Best Advice I Ever Received

My maternal grandpa died in 1982 when I was 12 years old. His name was Matthew Nichols, and his passing was the first significant loss of my life.

He never graduated high school and was a self-taught electrician by trade, yet there were several invaluable life lessons that I learned from him.

One such lesson occurred when I was in the first grade at Hawthorne Elementary School in Wilingboro, New Jersey.

One day during recess I got in big trouble because my two best friends decided it would be funny to go behind the school and pee on the building.

I went along and did just as they did.

Our six-year old minds thought it was hysterically funny, until one of the recess aides caught us. Not only was I banned from outdoor recess for two weeks, I was roundly and soundly spanked when I got home from school by my parents – strong adherents of corporal punishment.

To add to my embarrassment, our grandparents were staying with us. I remember crying on my bed when my grandpa came into my room and unexpectedly turned the thermostat on my wall to 60º, forcing frigid air to pour into the already autumnally cool room.

He sat down on my bed and waited for me to stop crying.

Then he gave me a hug. We sat there in silence for a minute, when I told him that I was getting cold.

He then explained something to me that I have never forgotten. He said that a thermometer goes up and down based on the temperature of the room that it’s in. Even as a first grader I understood that concept. However, he went on to say, the thermostat does the opposite. It actually determines the temperature within a space.

The thermostat, for example, was to blame for the chill we were experiencing in my room.

Grandpa then told me that even though he loved me, he was sad because I chose to be more of a “thermometer” at school that day by lowering to the bad decisions of others. He hoped that next time I would be more of a “thermostat” – setting the tone and expectation for conduct rather than merely following the bad behavior of another.

He then gave me another hug and turned off the air conditioning as he left my room.

The blowing and the chill stopped immediately, but his insight still lingers with me today.

Since then, I’ve heard that analogy several times espoused by experts and PhDs, but the greatest delivery of that life lesson came from a man who had no more than an eighth-grade education.

Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?

  • Debi Walter

    Your story gave me chills of inspiration. What a gift your grandfather’s advice proved to be. And to think that a 6 year old retained the lesson he had hoped you would–truly miraculous. My grandmother influenced me in many ways like your grandfather. She didn’t mince words, but said exactly what I needed to hear. What I remember most is her quoting Scripture to me as we laid in bed at night. You would think this would go over my head, but it sank deep within my heart. These verses are still my favorites, and I think of her love for me whenever I read them.
    Thank you, Tor, for another excellent story from your life.

  • natalie

    Thank you Tor for sharing this – truly inspirational! love it!

  • Shawn

    What an awesome write. I can say that I have probably learned the most lessons from my children. They have a way of leaving a lesson in my life when I thought I was the one teaching them.

  • Tor Constantino, MBA

    Debi, I appreciate the kind words and the fact that you shared the experience of your grandmother. The imagery of your grandmother quoting scripture to you in the twilight hours is a precious memory I’m sure. Thanks again!

  • Tor Constantino, MBA

    Natalie, I appreciate you taking the time to read the story and offering the supportive comment – that’s very kind of you!

  • Tor Constantino, MBA

    Shawn, my wife and I have two daughters ages 10 and 7 respectively and we’re expecting our third child (which happens to be a boy) in June. I completely agree that I’ve learned so much from my kids about being a better father, husband, man and human. I plan on sharing some of the more impactful moments here on Prodigal. I really appreciate the comment!

  • bethany

    Such a simple and inspiring story. Few have the privilege of having such a gentle and wise grandfather in their life. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • TorConstantino

      Bethany, thanks so much for you kind words and for reading the post – I’m a fan of your work here on Prodigal Magazine as well!

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