The Dutch Uncle
Pausch has always had a healthy sense of himself and what he is capable of doing; he says what he thinks and believes and has little patience for incompetence. For most of his life, these characteristics have been his strengths; however, at times others have seen him as tactless and arrogant. At these times, he has needed people who can help him get refocused.
His sister, Tammy, has always had to put up with a kid brother who thinks he knows everything. One morning when he was seven and Tammy was nine, they were waiting for the school bus. As usual, he was “mouthing off” to his sister. She took his lunch box and dropped it in a mud puddle just as the bus pulled up. She was sent to the principal’s office and everyone rushed to make his life better. The principal called their mother and said he would let her deal with this at home. Tammy worried all day and was not comforted when she found out her father was going to handle this when he got home. When her father heard the story, though, he simply began to laugh. He understood Pausch needed to have his lunchbox dropped in a mud puddle—though the lesson did not completely cure him of his tendencies.
At Brown University, everyone around him soon realized he is tactless and offends people almost as soon as he meets them. Pausch rarely paid attention to these traits because they did not seem to have any impact on his life, especially academically. He was chosen as a teaching assistant for Andy van Dam; it was a prestigious position, and he was probably chosen because he is impassioned about lots of things. Like many people, though, some of his strengths are also his flaws; van Dam says Pausch is “self-possessed to a fault,” much too brash, and an “inflexible contrarian” who is always sharing his opinions.
One day van Dam took Pausch for a walk, put his arm around his shoulders, and said it is a shame that people too often perceive him as being arrogant because it will limit what he will be able to accomplish with his life. It was the perfect way to say such an important thing, and it allowed Pausch to listen to one of his heroes telling him something he needed to hear.
A “Dutch uncle” is a person who gives honest feedback, a rather old-fashioned idea in a world that does not really want to hear hard truths. Pausch considers himself lucky to have benefitted over the years from people like van Dam who cared enough about him to say the difficult things he needed to hear.