You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Hi, I’m Mike, I’m 50 and I’m waiting in hospital for a liver transplant.  Bit of a shock for my family.  They had no idea how ill I was.  I kept it from them. I’m not sure if I’ll see another Christmas.

I have two lads. Good boys, they are.  We used to have our ups and downs, it’s true, but in general they are solid.  I always taught them to respect people older than themselves – to be polite, to say thanks.  Politeness costs nothing but it brings dividends, if you know what I mean.  A polite lad is more likely to get what he wants from the world, because the world doesn’t mind giving things to him – he’s always grateful.  He takes nothing for granted.

I used to say to my lads ‘Nobody owes you a living.  You’ve got to put some effort in.  Show that you are willing to work, and be thankful for what does come your way.’

I was a boxer when I was a young man.  Trouble was when I gave up I started to drink too much.  I was off the fitness regime, see?  After a while I couldn’t leave off the booze.  Strange, I never felt really drunk, I just became addicted to drink.  I hid it from my family.  I wanted them to respect me.  In every other way I am a good dad.  I taught my boys to respect their elders, to hold doors open for people and to offer older people a seat on the bus or the tube train.

As I became more ill my liver was damaged by the drink.  I looked OK, but I felt pretty rough.  I had to travel to work on the tube.  I used to dread the journey.  Sometimes I was lucky and people would stand up and offer me a seat.  I always accepted gratefully.  Often I would see young people, fit and healthy, sitting down while much older people were forced to stand.  I would think about my lads and know that they would never do that.  When people get older they often have hidden problems.  It’s not obvious when someone has a bad back or joint pains.  They do not wear a label.  But many youngsters don’t think of that.  They think that unless you’ve got a walking stick, you must be OK, just like them.

I remember a journey I went on with my eldest boy, as usual the train was crowded and I was feeling pretty terrible, but trying not to let it show.  Dan, my son could see I was in pain, but there I was, looking OK except for the sweat breaking out on my forehead.

Dan leaned forward and asked a youth if he would mind giving up his seat for me.

“My dad’s feeling bad,” he explained.

The lad looked up sullenly.  “He looks all right to me,” he said, and he stayed seated.

A girl across the aisle had noticed what was going on.  She quickly jumped to her feet.

“Sit here,” she said, “I’m getting off soon.”

I collapsed down on the seat, gratefully.

“Thanks, love,” I said, “thank you for noticing.”

The lad who hadn’t moved was embarrassed.  He looked up and down the crowded carriage.  A tired looking woman was standing a few feet away.  He stood up and offered her a seat.  She smiled, thanking him profusely and sat down looking very relieved.

The woman leaned over to me and said “you can’t judge a book by its cover, can you?”

In my denim jacket, blue jeans, crew cut and earring, I guess I looked pretty fit.

“You are right there, love, I expect he’ll learn one day” I said.


Although Mike admits he has his faults, he is trying to bring up his sons as well as he can.

What does he say about the rewards of politeness?  Can you think of an example?

Do you think young people should show respect for their elders?  Explain your answer.

Are there occasions when older people do not deserve respect?

In what ways can older people show respect too?

What do you think ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ means  in this story?



What questions would you ask to get the most out of this story?

Please feel free to answer in the comments box.  Thanks.