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  • Writer's pictureJudith A. Boggess


Updated: Feb 13, 2023

When is a wisecrack seemingly funny but not? It's when everyone laughs, including you, the recipient of the demeaning "wisecrack," and you feel the heat of shame arise on your face.

My father was the master at delivering the smack of a wisecrack. If I said something he thought was stupid, he would say to anyone in the room, "When God gave out brains, she thought He said trains, and she took one." If I forgot something and had to backtrack, what followed me was, "If you use your brains, you wouldn't have to use your feet."

It bothered me so much, and I didn't know why, so I hit back. I was 14 when my dad tripped over his words, and I created my wisecrack for him on the spot, "What's the matter, Pop? Got your tongue over your eye teeth and can't see what you're saying?" He laughed! He roared! He used that witticism on anyone and everyone who misspoke, with "Spit it out, Jake! What your tongue over your eye teeth and can't see what you're saying?" It was not what I thought he would do.

Several years ago, I transcribed as many of my father's witticisms as I could remember. I thought I'd write a book called, "My Father Says."

I stopped listing when I reached 100!

As I re-read the list looking for the commonality, it hit me hard how many of these 'witticisms' were put-me-downs. Damn, I thought, this is where the feeling of inferiority, shame, or being stupid came from! All my studying of the mind and interacting with therapists never revealed this truth. No, I wouldn't publish a book that may incentivize someone to use these sayings.

Dad would say that it wasn't his intent to make me feel I wasn't smart; these were teaching tools. You know, "Think before you act" and "Use your head for something other than a hat rack."

When I was a pre-teen, I didn't know that repetition could brainwash me. I accepted the fact that I wasn't brilliant and wondered why. Strong women in the movies in the 1950s were role models from whom I got my ego strength. But, my dad's witticisms unconsciously drove me to become a perfectionist, to make "A's" in grammar school, and be on the Dean's list in college.

My dad didn't know better. He wanted better for me than what he had. He felt stupid only having graduated from eighth grade, after which he had to go to work to help support his mother and two sisters. Today I thank my dad for putting the "boot up my butt." It gave me the drive to excel.

But the pain of being driven by feelings of inferiority, shame, and feeling stupid has negative effects. I was never satisfied with my accomplishments; I was never sure if I couldn't've done more or been better at something I had never done before. In my thirties, I began investigating the power of words and the subconscious mind.

When I heard a client say I'll try, I knew the client would not follow through. I'll try means I won't. When I heard, I need, I knew the client was in fear or desperation. I observed this person balk when I suggested they say I want in place of I need. You only need food, clothing, and shelter. The rest is "I want."

It was hard to shut dad's voice down while putting one foot in front of the other to move past the early childhood brainwashing. It took work, hard work.

Being driven because you have found your soul's purpose is one thing, but being driven out of fear of looking stupid, not good enough, or not worthy is soul-shattering.

Thankfully I have worked at my soul's purpose with a sabbatical here and there for 40 years. It's a shame that for the first 20 years of researching and working at what I enjoyed, I only smiled inwardly and didn't take compliments seriously. They were too hard to believe.

And for these past 20 years of quiet counseling, creating art, and creative writing, I've decided to go viral. I am in love with my work and helping my clients. Happily, I smile when I see an "aha" moment on my client's face; and I accept their compliments because I know I am damn good at what I do.

Occasionally, I hear my dad's words, and to him, I say, "Thanks, Pop. I'm 79. I don't need these reminders anymore. Please move on to your highest good. I've got this."

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