“Don’t worry about a thing,” my dad used to tell me. It was one of the few pieces of fatherly advice he doled out in my childhood. He’d always quickly follow it up with a little laugh and: “cuz nothin’s gonna be alright.”
Dear Ol’ Dad said that quite a lot. He was known for the phrase within our immediate family and with other relatives. It was his “Git ‘er done!” or “Yabba Dabba Doo.” I was never quite sure if he was trying to be funny or if it was, somehow, his personal philosophy of life. My father wasn’t exactly a jokey guy so I got the feeling he was being serious. It certainly wasn’t funny to me, especially as the answer to a son’s Dad Questions or in response to a heartfelt personal story. It’s certainly not the way Ward Cleaver would handle the Beaver.
“Aw, gee pop,” Beaver might say, lying back on his twin bed. “Whitey and Larry Mondello made fun of me in gym class cuz I couldn’t dribble a basketball.”
“Well, Beaver, don’t you worry about a thing,” Ward would reply in that soothing baritone of his. “Because nothing’s going to be alright.”
Maybe daddy-o was trying to be ironic. Though I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what irony was. As time went on, I started to think it was his attitude toward life in general. Stuff happened to my father’s family when he was growing up, and not good stuff. My mom’s family, too, and then our family over the years. Unfortunate stuff. Alcoholism, assaults, murders. Enough to make anyone a tad negative. So maybe he built up this kind of predisposed resignation, a karmic shrug to the inevitable. Tragedy, he must’ve figured, came with the territory. Nasty things found him and the people around him, tried to crush them, but somehow we trundled on.
“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing… Cuz nothin’s gonna be alright.”
After four years or so of post-bypass therapy, my psychologist categorized my personality as “melancholic.” It’s not surprising with a male role model like my pop.
Or this penchant for finding the cloud in every silver lining could be hereditary. Researchers recently discovered a gene that determines, to a certain extent, how people perceive the world around them. They found that some people lack an amino acid in a particular gene and that skews their perception to see bad things. People with this genetic predisposition don’t see the cup as half empty or half full. They see the cup as a dangerous projectile that can kill them at any moment.
On a beautiful nature walk, one person sees a gorgeous sunset through the thick, scented pines. The guy next to him with the gene disorder sees the dangerously loose rocks at the edge of the trail that will surely give way so they fall to their death. Guy #2 sees that nothin’s gonna be alright. It’s not pessimism, exactly. In a different time, it would’ve been a survival mechanism, an evolutionary advantage. These days he’s just a Debbie Downer.
A few years ago, I discovered my dad probably "borrowed" his favorite catchphrase from a 1962 song by jazz legend Mose Allison. This added a whole new twist to my childhood memories. “I Don’t Worry About A Thing” was never a mainstream hit, but it did go on to become a staple in Mose’s repertoire. The title came from a common saying among old Southern farmers.
My dad was no Southern farmer; he never spent much time south of Comiskey. I never saw him plant anything and he wasn’t much of a jazz aficionado. But somehow he heard the song and thought it’d make a perfect catchall adage.
This discovery showed me pop wasn’t terribly thoughtful when it came to fatherly advice or very creative for that matter. Still, if someone’s going to steal their deep, heart-felt words of wisdom from song lyrics there’re lots of songs they could’ve stolen. “Put on a happy face,” comes to mind. “Everything’s coming up roses” could’ve worked or “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-a-Dee-Aye (my oh my what a wonderful day).”
No. My dad figured “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing cuz nothin’s gonna be alright” would be just the mantra for an impressionable, melancholic kid like me to carry with him the rest of his life.
“Aw gee, Wally. What’d he hafta go an’ do that for?”
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