“Can’t Never Did Do Nuthin’. Try Can!

The moment we say, “I can’t” or “it can’t,” we are correct. If we don’t try, we automatically fail.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

My father was a provider and a teacher. He expected the very best from me and was quick to tell me when he didn’t feel like I lived up to those expectations. He believed in me and loved me enough to want the very best for me. So, he was always willing to tell me when I gave less than my best and when I achieved less than I could achieve. Perhaps his expectations were greater than my abilities, but it was those expectations that drove me forward, and it’s those expectations that still drive me today. He expected the best of his son and accepted no less. Some might see that as hard, but other than a few times during my teenage years, I always saw that as his love for me showing through.

My father was born in 1924 and grew up during the Great Depression. He was born in Southeastern Kentucky in a log cabin with a dirt floor. It sat beside a small stream for water and the occasional fish for dinner. It had no electricity. Bedtime was dark unless you wanted to read by candlelight.

Dawn required some chores before school as they kept a cow for milk and some chickens for eggs, along with a few pigs and a steer or two for meat. They planted vegetables in the garden and had a root cellar where they cured meat and kept as many potatoes as possible to get them through the winter. I have always been fascinated to understand that I am only one generation away from that life.

My grandfather took the family north to work at a steel mill along the Ohio river when dad was 8 or 9. They moved into a house with floors and electricity and enjoyed some of the niceties of life. My grandfather worked hard and climbed the ladder at the steel mill, reaching the position of General Manager of the Open Hearth in a few years. During that time, he moved the family from the steel town out into the country and eventually into a farmhouse with about 300 acres of land.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

My father’s life was thrown a curve in the early ’40s when World War II invited him and his brother to enlist in the military to fight in the great war. After serving his country, Dad came back to eventually start working at the same steel mill as his father. He spent his working life there, providing for my mother, sister, and me. (On a side note, I was the last of 3 generations who worked at that steel mill.) He wanted the best for his family, and he always gave his best for us.

As all kids do from time to time, I encountered things I felt like I was unable to do. It might have been something athletic. It might have been climbing a tree. It might have been using a lawnmower of some type of farm implement. It might have been handling a shovel or a hoe or a scythe. It might have been learning in school.

It didn’t matter what it was that I thought I couldn’t do. The moment I said, “I can’t do it,” my father would immediately respond with, “Can’t never did do nuthin’. Try Can!”

Those words have powered me through all of life’s challenges and difficulties. Those words are with me every moment. They fuel my determination, and they remind me that with the right effort, anything is possible.

My father has been gone now for a long time. Isn’t it funny how people leave you with specific thoughts or feelings that stay with you? When I hear someone say they can’t, my father speaks through me, “Can’t never did do nuthin’. Try Can!” It’s a simple enough statement but has immense power.

The statement contains three critical elements: The first is that “Can’t” is powerless. The moment we say, “I can’t” or “it can’t,” we are correct. It is self-defeating. If we determine it’s impossible and don’t attempt it, it will not get done.

If we don’t try, we automatically fail.

The second element is “Try.” Trying to accomplish something is the initial step in accomplishing something. We must try. If we never try, we never do anything. Try is my youth’s equivalent to Nike’s “Do it Now” mantra. When confronted with something that seemed too great for me to accomplish, I decided to try. That simple act has propelled me to every achievement I’ve had. It’s helped me through every challenge I’ve undertaken. It’s comforted and directed me through all the difficulties life has thrown my way.

I will try.

The final element is “can.” “Can” is positive. “Can’t” is negative. Negative accomplishes nothing. “Can” accomplishes all things. When we set our minds to “can,” all things are possible. There is no challenge we are afraid to confront. There is no difficulty that we can not handle.

There are, and have been, many things in life that I fear. But I am armed with the word “Can.” The power is in the word. When we affix our sights on I “can,” we have taken the biggest step towards accomplishing what we want.

I had the opportunity to chat with my father before his death about the statement he repeated so regularly in my young ears. He smiled when he realized that I understood it. I asked him how he came up with it. He answered that his father had given it to him. Before I could ask the next question, he added that his father’s father gave it to him. Apparently, this is a family tradition. Or perhaps it’s better to call it an heirloom.

Of course, I echoed it into the ears of my children. I’ve heard my oldest son saying it to my granddaughter. We are simple, Appalachian people but generations have understood a profound truth: “Can’t never did do nuthin’. Try Can!”

Written by Al Ferguson

They said it, I learned from it is a compilation of lessons learned from the things I’ve heard people say over the course of my lifetime. It’s amazing what you can learn when you listen. Watch for They Said it, I learned from it every Friday in The Weekly Hodl. It’s perfect reading while you enjoy your second breakfast. Sign up today.



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