Lessons from Dad (a repeat of an old post)

The following post was written nine years ago. I was searching for another post, when I stumbled onto this one. It is worth the reposting, at least to me. Stay with it as there is a major life lesson at the end courtesy of my father around the issue of what do you do when you really screw up.

Six years ago this month, my father passed away. I have been thinking about him a lot this month, as my middle child graduated from high school and my youngest had her 15th birthday. In fact, I wore his anniversary ring my mother had given him during the graduation so he could be there. Like all of us, Dad was not perfect, but he was one of the finest people I have ever met.

He was raised by his Aunt and Uncle, since his parents had a messy divorce. He tried living with each, but that was not a productive co-habitation for any of them. He learned the grocery business at a very young age working in his Uncle’s small store in a small town. Like many people of his time, he started smoking when he was 12. A near life-long habit that was a contributing factor to his death, even though he had quit for over ten years beforehand. His smoking is a reason I don’t.

He graduated from a small college in north Georgia that had a work-study program, the only way he could have afforded college. There he met my mother and literally fell into her lap while diving for a loose ball during a basketball game to which she arrived late. To say he fell for her would be an understatement. It is not ironic that many couples they befriended there were still married when he died (he was married to Mom for 54 years when he died).  My father went to work as a management trainee for a large grocery chain, but moved over into the then called data processing business, the computer science of its time. Back in the 1950’s, everything was new in the computer business.

Dad was a great athlete – track, baseball and basketball – and gave back by coaching his boys (and girl). My best friend and I used to call him the 45-year-old pitching machine, as he would always go throw batting practice to my brother, sister and me. His selflessness was one of his great attributes.He was always giving to others whether it was getting up early to check on a smoked ham or turkey (or both) he was cooking for his co-workers or family or helping someone.

He taught me many things which I try to emulate. Let me mention a few before closing with an anecdotal lesson that I shared again with my children last night.

  • Everyone is welcome in our home. To this day, our children’s friends are always welcome to stay for dinner. My wife and I live in chaos on occasion, but hearing your children and their friends laugh is the greatest sound on earth.
  • Do your best at whatever you try. To do less harms both you and your employer. It is a hard concept for children to grasp that they are cheating themselves when they don’t do their best.
  • Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Dad grew up from very humble beginnings and a broken home. He never put on airs and was as genuine a person as you could find. He was a natural leader, but you would never know that from talking with him. Think of the movie “Dave.”
  • Have dinner together with your family. My wife and I strive to do this as much as possible. The kids grow tired of the small dinner bell, customary blessing and “how was your day” or “anything unusual, funny or interesting happen today” questions. Trust me, you have to vary the questions. They may complain, but would not trade a moment of it if you asked them.
  • It is more than OK to hug or kiss your wife in front of the children. One of the greatest gifts a father can give is loving his children’s mother. That is harder these days with so many scattered families, but it is worth the effort when you live together.
  • Marriage is hard and you have to work at it. Three musts. Be friends with your wife as it gets you through ups and downs. Confer together on children issues that arise, so you are on the same page (raising children is joyous, but not easy especially in this day and age) And, have a sense of humor. Life is too short and it is easier to laugh with people rather than have them laugh at you.

While, there are many other lessons learned, let me close with a final lesson that I was reminded of by my son’s graduation speaker. A successful woman told the graduates you will fail at something. Get back up, dust yourself off and keep on going. Life will go on. My father was not perfect as I said. I carry a curse with me that he had. I am an alcoholic. I have not had a drink in almost five years. I tell people I drank more in my first 48 years than many people do in a lifetime. I use the verb “am” as I want to have a drink everyday, even now. They key is to say to yourself – “I am not going to drink today.”

Dad was an alcoholic, as well. He had risen to the position of Senior Vice President in his firm. He was very successful. Yet, one day he was not where he was supposed to be and something happened at work. Since his goodwill at work was so large, he was not fired, but demoted instead. He had to go to work the next day as a peer of the people who used to report to him. He could not just go somewhere else; he had to go face the music every day. Going back to the graduation speaker’s counsel. He failed. He knew he had to feed his family, so he got up, dusted himself back off and went back to work. He told people “I screwed up,” but he made up for it by going back to work every day.

Dad was a smart man, well-respected and great employee. By the time he retired,  he had worked his way back up and was on the Board of Directors of the same company. This is what being an adult (or in this case) a man is. I tell my guys being a man is not being macho, wielding a sword like they do in the games or being proficient at weaponry. Being a man is being accountable and responsible each day. It is owning up to your mistakes and saying I will do better. I should say it is “doing better” as anyone can say they will do better.

Dad had many lessons for me (and others). This last one which shows how someone handles failure is the deepest as we are all “fixer uppers” and will fail. The key is what you do next.  My father showed how. I love you Dad.

I am looking for a hard headed woman – a Valentine’s Day reprise

This post was written about seven years ago. I thought of it when I was recently commenting on how our life partners lift us up and make us better. They complete us..

One of my favorite Cat Stevens (Yusuf) songs is “I’m Looking for a Hard Headed Woman.” I tease my wife (and she returns the favor) about being hard headed. But, if you look at the lyrics of this song, you will note that Stevens is singing about looking for someone who is real and not contrived. He wants someone who is hard headed about being true to herself and seeking the same in her partner.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will take me for myself,
And if I find my hard headed woman,
I won’t need nobody else, no, no, no.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed — yes, yes, yes.

I know a lot of fancy dancers,
People who can glide you on a floor,
They move so smooth but have no answers.
When you ask “Why’d you come here for?”
“I don’t know” “Why?”

I know many fine feathered friends
But their friendliness depends on how you do.
They know many sure fired ways
To find out the one who pays
And how you do.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me feel so good,
And if I find my hard headed woman,
I know my life will be as it should — yes, yes, yes.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman…

Two lines jump out at me in the song, one in the beginning and one in the end. First, he says “one who will take me for myself.” He does not want someone trying to make him into something he is not. Yet, in the final stanza, he sings “one who will make me do my best.”  He wants a partner that will help bring out the best in him. He wants his lover to believe in him and help him do the best he can. To me, that is what having the right life partner is all about.

I have used two other songs to describe my wife of now thirty-five years. In Loggins and Messina’s “Danny’s Song,” also made famous by Anne Murray, they sing in the last stanza “Love a girl who holds the world in a paper cup, drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck. And, if you find she helps your mind, you better take her home, don’t you live alone, try to earn what lover’s own.” Holding the world in a paper cup is a terrific metaphor for someone who is genuine, such as my wife.

The other is from Gordon Lightfoot, “Rainy Day People.” He sings “Rainy day people, always seem to know when it’s time to call. Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen until they’ve heard it all.” My wife is the best of listeners. In fact, she would rather hear you talk about yourself, than the other way around. And, it is raining right now and she is out helping a friend, which is not unusual.

Like Stevens sings about, once he finds the hard headed woman, his life will be blessed. My wife is one who holds the world in a paper cup and knows when it is time to call. Thank goodness she is also hard headed, as well. For I am blessed…and equally hard headed.

A few needed work funnies

I have written about some of these stories before, but permit me to repeat a few much needed work related funnies.

  • An old colleague said he liked having the office right next to his mercurial boss. He said the boss would get so mad, he would storm out of the office, but the boss’ momentum would not allow his boss to turn quickly enough to come in his office. So, the person in next office to his got to hear the boss’ furor.
  • Long before social distancing, my boss’ boss would routinely violate personal space and get six inches away from your face as he talked. No one was free from this invasive practice. My boss had a recommendation that you needed to follow when meeting with his boss. Always keep a piece of furniture between you and him to avoid the invasion of personal space.
  • Another colleague told me of the funny story when he realized his boss had a major comb over. He was showing his boss something on the computer and his boss asked if they could switch places. My friend said he saw a long hair on his boss’ shoulder and thought he would do a kindness and brush it away. One problem, though, it was still attached and he jerked his boss his head to the side.
  • At the time, the CEO of the company was a learned man who wanted to read every piece of communication that went out to employees and customers. He had been a newspaper reporter just out of high school, so space and brevity was at a premium. He had a term called “widows and orphans” which meant one or two words on a line of type. He would reword things to make paragraphs more blockish, ending near the right margin and avoiding the widows and ophans.
  • This same CEO would keep a cup of very short pencils, as he would used them down to their last 1/4 inch of use in his hand. When he was rewriting paragraphs, I would look over and count easily a dozen or more pencils.
  • I have written before about some of the greediest CEOs in my work experience. There was one who had every perquisite known to business. He had a body guard chauffeur who would pick him up at home and drop him at the office, then go back and drive the CEO’s wife shopping. My boss was once talking with a building security guard and said the body guard chauffeur was not protecting the CEO at the right time. He told the security guard there were more people inside the building who wanted to kill him than outside the building.
  • Some folks believe a travel and expense budget allowed them to spend on things they could not do at home. The above CEO was just one terrible example. He charged the company for his daughter’s wedding, because he invited clients to the wedding. Another person I know would put speeding tickets on his T&E report, as he was driving fast on company business. After the speeder metered his personal mail with the company postage meter, our boss went in and put a quarter on his desk and said that is the last personal envelope I am mailing for you.

The stories are many. Please share your funny work stories or reactions to the above.

Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Early morning musings

The weekend has officially started and I cannot sleep. No, it is not due to the news of the world, which causes sufficient turmoil in its own right. I am just needing closure on many personal events surrounding my mother’s passing, her home being struck by lightning and burning just before we put it on the market, the hopeful sale of my mother-in-law’s farm and helping my sister start anew in a new city, my city.

I am used to having many balls in the air with three kids and past work. That is OK. Now that I am retired, the work part has subsided, to be replaced in small part by volunteer work. Yet, I am not sleeping because of open issues that linger on. Nothing seems to be easy as it should be and I feel I have to be relentlessly diplomatic and patient. I have come across some wonderful people to help, but sometimes the process is more complex than needed.

Yet, checking some boxes on long lists of things to do is more than therapeutic. It provides closure that would allow us to move on from that event or major task. I am fully aware that each of us has issues we must deal with. But, here I sit at 02:54 am, praying that some of those events can be closed soon. I know there are other items waiting to be added to the list. Yet, taking a few large ones off, would be helpful.

With Alzheimer’s, I had to say good-bye to my mother long before she passed. The saving grace is she went before she deteriorated to not recognizing a face on her team. I know some of my blogging friends are dealing or have dealt with these kinds of issues. I wish peace for everyone in resolving the issues they must deal with and their lingering effect. My family and I could use some of that peace as well. Best wishes all. Have a great weekend.