When you’re in a bad situation, try to do something that doesn’t make it worse.

In reviews of Walking out of the Dark, several readers mention that phrase, as something they liked. In the book, I attribute the phrase to Mike’s dad, who is also my dad. I’ll admit now that Dad never said the exact words, but he did something more important. He lived it.

Our dad, Elroy Malikowski, grew up in poverty, worked to support his family as a teenager, lied about his age, and joined the Air Force, which he retired from 22 years later. After that, he worked for about 20 years on a loading dock. At Dad’s funeral, another phrase became common, which is “Elroy really was a gentleman.” Being the writer in the family, I like to modify that and say that he was a “gentle man.” Separating the word into two adds an emphasis that makes us ponder them more, something that’s desperately needed today.

Returning to the phrase that started this post, it also came from another group of people we’ve all met, who are less gentle. This is a small group that tends to make the worst of a bad situation. This group showed me what my dad avoided and how Mike was similar. After a few days or weeks of coffee, writing, and re-writing, the phrase appeared in front of me. I honestly think Dad would like it.