According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a parable is "a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson." Andy Andrews, a writer who lives on Alabama's Gulf Coast, writes novels, not short stories, but he tells parables nonetheless. And, I believe they're parables worth reading — and heeding.
Mr. Andrews recently reprised one of his most-read volumes, "The Noticer," published in 2011, with "The Noticer Returns" (Thomas Nelson). Subtitled, "Sometimes you find perspective; sometimes perspective finds you," the book brings back "Jones," the author's answer to Obi-Wan Kenobi, who seems to materialize and vanish with equal suddenness, offering enlightenment and insight along the way.
Even though it's fiction, Mr. Andrews said the outline of the story — a mysterious old man helping a homeless young adult who lived under a pier — is true, because it's his story.
"I really did live under a pier for a while, and I really did meet this old man who became very important in my life," Mr. Andrews said in a telephone interview. "I thought of him so much whether he was there or not; he became real to me. I thought about him for so long and thought about people who lack perspective."
The new volume applies Jones' wisdom to parenting, a topic of much concern in society. Mr. Andrews believes parenting is "the fulcrum our society turns upon."
He added, "Right now, more than anything, I am kind of amazed that people are really searching for principles to use with their families and their businesses. People's employment or a job or a business that they own, is really just an extension of their family. The family, whether it's a single parent, or a traditional family, everything else is just a spoke out of that."
Even the much-revered (and deservedly so) "greatest generation" of Americans who won World War II and built the prosperous postwar society had to have been raised a certain way, he said.
"If you look at the history of our society, if you look back 60 or 70 years, as disjointed and disagreeable as we are now, we agree that 70 years ago, that's the best we ever were," Mr. Andrews said. "There was this one generation of people 70 years ago, that produced more, sacrificed more, became more, and we call them the greatest generation. It's their parents and grandparents that deserve the credit."
In the book, Jones meets couples facing various challenges, but who also are concerned about raising good kids. From Jones' viewpoint, parents who say they want to raise "great kids" are missing the point: "I don't want to raise a great kid. I want to raise a kid who becomes a great adult," Mr. Andrews said.
"If a kid turns 18 or 19 and is turned out upon society and has only been taught what to think, he will start exploring what he thinks, and you're not going to be around any more to guide him," he added.
Rather, youngsters should be taught how to think, and how to discover the principles that lead to good choices.
"My ultimate goal is to help people think differently. ... Everybody defaults to choices and decisions, that's what creates the culture: 'Make a good choice,'" Mr. Andrews said "That's as effective as [instructions to] 'flip heads every time.' If the kid has no basis for knowing how to make a good choice, it's a coin flip. What nobody seems to understand is this: yes, our choices and decisions do affect our culture, but there is a foundation, a baseline below our decisions, and that's the thinking."
At the same time, the principles Mr. Andrews expound reach beyond just parenting: "I love expanding those things because they really help people with their lives. What they never understand is that the big picture is nothing in the world but thousands of tiny brush strokes you make every day. Your life will have been created by the little-bitty things every single day."
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.