The Fast Nickel and the Slow Dime: Dad's Wisdom for the Road Ahead

The day was long and the week promised to be even longer. After minor surgery on Monday and some recuperation on Tuesday, I was back to my routine on Wednesday with a full day of work and then the first evening session of the spring term at graduate school. While walking up the street from my parked car toward the campus, wondering how I could make it through a two-and-a-half hour class, I spotted something shiny on the pavement. Stooping to pick it up, I smiled and said, "Thanks, Dad."

For the past eight years since my father's death, I have found dimes everywhere. Most are on the pavement, frequently by themselves, although occasionally accompanied by a nickel or a penny. Dimes sit on seat cushions and pop out from under items on the grocery shelves. I do not find them every day; I can go dime-less for a month or two. Then dimes will appear every few days for several weeks. Each time, I take it as a "sign" from Dad.

Dimes were the punchline in the best advice my father, Patrick B. Crisafulli for whom I am named, ever gave me. "Trishie," he used to say, "most people in life go for the fast nickel. You've got to go for the slow dime."

This sage observation applies to everything from the stock market to book publishing to any endeavor where the temptation for a "fast nickel" return will either disappoint or potentially lead to an unpleasant result. Finding a dollar (or ten or twenty) is just a dream. The far more prudent course is the slow and steady progress to the slow dime, with double the payoff in the end than that illusory nickel.

Whenever I find a dime I reflect on Dad's advice in light of my current circumstances. The Wednesday night dime en route to graduate school became encouragement after a few tough weeks, during which I'd been debilitated by bouts of vertigo (hence the surgery, to replace an old ear tube). Finding that dime told me I could not only get through class, but that the dizzy spells would soon be behind me. In the least, that positive thinking reinforces my self-care.

The dime also spoke to my status as a 50-something graduate student and the fact that I'll be at the other end of that decade before I finish. As a writer, the slow dime is the acceptance of yet another rewrite, which has taken my novel-in-progress through three major revisions. Marketing a piece of fiction is hard enough without rushing the process before it's the best it can be (and even then, there is no guarantee). A mad dash will surely yield a fast nickel that turns out to be wooden.

I do not presume that my Dad's dimes materialize metaphysically. These ten-cent reminders start out in someone's pocket, or wallet, or car cup holder. A fumble or a hole in a jacket lining deposits the dime in a temporary resting place. The only marvel is that I am the one who finds it; a certain dime at the appointed time, just when I need a little encouragement.

My predilection for dimes requires a mindset of looking for signs and symbols in the midst of everyday life, in moments when the ordinary is gilded with grace. Many of us, and especially those who have lost loved ones, share this habit. A woman I know gets misty-eyed whenever she sees a limo, because of a particularly vivid dream in which her heaven-bound mother was in a white stretch Cadillac. We all have our omens and oracles.

For my Dad and me, it was and forevermore will be dimes. Those silvery discs (actually a copper-nickel combination, with a copper core) broadcast Dad's wise words about patience, resilience, forbearance, and resolve. Over the years, I've been disappointed by enough fast nickels to know that, in the end, they shortchange me. The real payback is in the journey to reach the slow dime.

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