“I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday” – 5 Life Lessons Popeye Taught Me

Last week, Mrs. Groovy wrote about six horrifying truths no one tells you about retirement.  And while all six are true, the third one about craving foods and interests from your childhood is spot on. Not only do I spend lots of time playing the music from my youth and occasionally watching old television shows on the MeTV channel, but I like to reminisce about the entertainment that shaped my young mind.

I like to reminisce about the influences of my youth. When I was a kid, I loved to watch Popeye cartoons, and here are some life lessons they taught me.

When I was a little kid, I used to watch cartoons on “Popeye Theater” broadcast on one of my local TV stations every day after school. It was a show that featured a local hostess Sally Starr better known as “Our Gal Cowgirl Sal” hosting 2 hours of cartoons and little skits designed to entertain and educate kids. Believe me, it was a popular show from the mid 1950’s through 1971 in Philadelphia. Those were kind of great times when local shows had their own stars and the afternoon airwaves after school were ruled by children’s programming and not by court shows and “real talk” like it is today.

I’m guessing that no matter where you happened to live back then, you had local shows like I did that you loved and that taught you some neat stuff about life that you still remember today. “Popeye Theater” taught me lots of life lessons. It’s been about 60 years since I first watched it, but there isn’t a day that goes by that one its lessons doesn’t strike home.

Life Lessons Popeye Taught Me

So here’s what I learned back then that still rings true. Some of it is about character, some of it is about actions, and some of it is about just who we really are:

1. Treat your friends with kindness and love, and stand up to the bullies of the world

Popeye may have looked like a tough guy and sounded like one too; appearances are often very deceiving. In reality he was a cream-filled sweet guy who treated his friends really well, and showed real care and affection to his true love Olive Oyl. But, as we have today there are always big bullies around and Popeye always stood up to the big bully Bluto (his named changed in later years to Brutus, weird huh?).

Lesson learned: You can’t judge people on the way they look. Don’t be intimidated by a bully, stand up for yourself.

2. Eat healthy food

Popeye always had his go-to food spinach whenever he needed to reach inside for strength to fight off the bad guy. Somehow, it was more than some magic vegetable to provide strength. It was really a message to all of us to eat healthy to stay strong inside and outside. You will not only feel better, but it will fuel you whenever the going gets really tough. Now I know that, but it isn’t that I automatically learned it back then. I didn’t eat my metaphoric spinach like a good boy should. It took me almost 50 years to start eating healthier, and so  it was a lesson learned the hard way…

Lesson learned: Be aware of how you take care of yourself because if you don’t do a good job it will sneak up on you from behind one day!

3. Popeye was a great “Dad” figure

Remember little Swee’ Pea? The poor little thing was always in danger and Popeye was always the responsible soul who had to make sure he didn’t get hurt and was safe. What it says is that people depend on you and you have to stand up and deliver. Your kids depend on you more than you can quantify. He may have been a muscle-bound rough-speaking dude, but he knew that a child needs Dad to take care and be there for them until they can do it themselves.

Lesson learned: If you’re a Dad, take that role very seriously. Your kids depend on you.

4. “I am what I am”

How many times did I hear Popeye say those words?  He said it all the time and it meant something special to me. We are who we are and we need to be true to ourselves. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Being true to yourself is about as big a deal as anything else you can think of. It’s the reason we loved Popeye. He wasn’t pretentious. He was who he was.

Lesson learned: Always be who you are. You can only be a sincere real person when you are really being yourself.

5. “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”

You probably knew that there was at least one financial lesson to be learned from Popeye. This one brings a big financial message that I have never forgotten. Remember poor old Wimpy (a.k.a. J. Wellington Wimpy)? He was so hooked on hamburgers and he never had the money to buy what he craved. Good old pal Popeye would forever be “lending” Wimpy the money to buy the hamburgers he so badly wanted all the while knowing that the promise to pay him on Tuesday would never really come. He knew that and yet kept on doing it with his eyes wide open.

There’s also a “part B” to the Wimpy story. I learned about wanting something and earning it as a way of getting it, not to be constantly asking my friends for a handout. Taking advantage of your friends, even when they are goodhearted like Popeye isn’t fair to either party. I can’t blame Popeye for looking the other way time after time. But I do feel like Wimpy should have found a way to get those hamburgers by earning them. To this day, he’s still promising to pay Popeye back on Tuesday! This part of the Wimpy story taught me was not to moan about things that I can’t afford. I know that if I try I can always find a way to get what I want by earning it. That’s always the better way.

Lesson learned: Lending your friends money is high risk and there’s a good chance you won’t ever see it again. But…even if that’s true, be kind to your friends that really need your help.

And…don’t take advantage of your friends. Figure out a way to get what you want by applying yourself and earning it on your own.

The basic cast of Popeye characters

Do you remember any life lessons you learned from TV as a kid that have helped you to be a better, more responsible person as an adult? Was TV a teacher for you? Can you name at least one thing from a children’s show from your youth that you have never forgotten?