As those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know, my Dad died over 20 years ago. I wrote some about him a while back, but with this being Father’s Day, I find I’m thinking more about him than usual.
You see, despite the years, I still miss him. I miss that little mischievous smile that used to cross his face at times, the light in his eyes when his family would all be gathered together in one place. Most amazingly (to me) though, I miss his advice.
It’s amazing to me, because for most of my life I hated it when he’d give me advice. It was rarely if ever what I wanted to hear. It was however, in retrospect, always what I needed to hear. It was advice, his ‘take’ if you will on the situation, and was normally not what you’d hear from your friends, associates or other family members.
I can remember once, when complaining to him about problems I was having early in my first marriage, that he told me:
“Sometimes, you just have to listen, even when you’ve heard it all before, or have no interest whatsoever in what she might be saying, just shut up and listen.”
In the end, I did discover he was right, and while the marriage ended eventually, it wasn’t over that!
All of his advice came from the same place I suppose, his years of daily experience. Some learned from being married, and faithful, to the same woman for over 25 years and raising seven children. As he was growing up, in a world still darkened by the shadow of the “Great Depression”. From working for the same company for nearly his entire life, holding jobs from stock-boy to Vice-President with that company, and working through both good, and bad, financial times there.
He was a blunt; pull no punches type, both at work and at home. I had the chance (good fortune actually) to work with, or for, him, in various jobs over the years. In one of those jobs I was an assistant buyer. At one of the monthly meetings, the President (and owner) had charged us all with finding ways to increase the profitability of the enterprise, to look at everything and be prepared to discuss ideas at this meeting.
As we got started, there were a few small ideas floating around and when it was Dad’s turn to speak he started with something along the lines of “I’ve been looking at the gross profit dollars, as well as margins, on the product lines… I’d like to share some of that now.”
With that he began outlining the operating profit dollars from sales, and the ‘cost of goods’ associated with those dollars and concluded that ‘Tires’ (this was an automotive parts stores chain) were our least profitable item, had the lowest inventory turn rate and took up an inordinate amount of space in both the stores, and the warehouse (space costs money as well). The President slammed his fist on the table (can you guess who was responsible for buying tires?) and said something to the effect of: “I promised myself if tires got on the agenda here I was walking out of this meeting” and proceeded to get up and head for the door. At that point my Dad said:
“You should have told me tires were sacrosanct”
The president stopped dead, looked at my Dad, then around the table and responded with something like “You can all decide whatever you think is right, just leave tires out of it.”
Now Dad, had worked for this guy for decades, he knew tires were not up for discussion, but, he also knew they were a drain on the profit picture and was not going to just sit there quietly with that knowledge. Interestingly enough, nothing more was ever said about that, by anyone.
He gave me advice that day, in that meeting, without ever talking directly to me. It was:
“Speak your mind when asked; just have the facts to back you up. Don’t attack the person, attack the issue.”
In the car I asked him why he gave her back the money. Again, that little smile appeared, and he said something to the effect of “If I kept it, 'I would have known I shouldn’t have, this way, 'I' know I did the right thing”.
Another lesson learned for me…
“Do the right thing, all the time. If you do that, even if you wind up ‘wrong’, it was for the right reasons, and, you’ll always be glad you did.”
You see he didn’t worry; about debt, or if his house was better than the neighbors, if he had the nicest car, lawn, or a new TV. He had some sort of inner peace I’ve struggled all my life to find. I have little ‘gusts’ of it, where I’m extremely confident that all will turn out ok. But a lot of the time, I worry. About where the next contract gig is, will it pay enough, will I ever get to pay off the bills, can I afford this or that, where am I going to get the money for the new roof, or any of a thousand little things.
I remember one of my last conversations with him, shortly after he and my Mom had moved to Chicago with the company, where he told me their refrigerator had died, and how for the first time in his life, he’d simply gone to Sears and paid cash for a new one. That there had never been a time before that, when they’d needed a major appliance (or anything else substantial for that matter) that he’d been able to just write a check for it.
I’m glad he got to experience that, as he was gone less than a year later. He’d spent his life working, providing for all of us, going from one bill to another to keep the household running, never complaining, just simply doing it. But finally, he’d reached a point where, when life threw him a curve, it wasn’t really a curve after all, just a minor inconvenience.
When I look at my life, and the good things in it, I see his ‘touch’ (and my Mom’s) all over it. At least once a week, I wish I could call him up and say “Thank You”, to let him know, in the end, I did learn all those things, and put them to good use, but I can’t. I know, if he can see me now, there’s that sparkle in his eye, and that little smile… and he’s thinking “I knew it all along”.
For those of you who are still fortunate enough to still have your Dad around, and despite whatever differences you may have, give him a hug today, tell him you appreciate what he’s done for you, that you’re trying to learn the lessons he’s given you and that you love him. Life is too short to hold those things inside, and ‘think’ he knows, or that you can tell him tomorrow.
Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and read this. As always, I encourage you to leave me your thoughts on this before you go.