Sunday, June 19, 2005

For Father’s Day…

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.”

I tried for quite a while to explain to him how I just couldn’t do it, that my brain refused to ‘listen’ in those situations. He simply kept telling me I had to learn how, that it was part and parcel to a good relationship to simply be there for your partner. I can still remember my frustration as that conversation ended. No sage advice just a solid ‘Cowboy Up’ and deal with it.

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.”
He taught me a lot of things about life too, mostly by example. I remember being in a store with him one day, I don’t remember what we were buying, but he’d given the cashier a five, and she’d given him change for a ten. Now we were pretty broke in those days, poor (in terms of money anyway) in fact. Despite that, he looked up at the cashier and said quietly: “I think you’ve made a mistake…” She interrupted him saying “No, you gave me a ten, and I gave you change for a ten”… He smiled, that little smile l I miss so much and continued with “Yes, you did give me change for a ten, but, I only gave you a five” and preceded to hand her back the additional five dollars. No more words, just handed her the five and we headed out the door.

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.”

He didn’t teach me things, by sitting down and explaining the world to me. I learned from him though, everyday, through the way he lived, interacted, with life, and the people in his life. I wish I could have had him around long enough to learn how not to worry about things though.

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.


Cylithria™ said...

Eek I got tears in my eyes as I read about your father walking into Sears and paying cash for his new frig. I'm so glad he got to experience that too Bill!!! Happy Father's Day to you and thank you so much for sharing such a heartfelt post about your dad!!! (((Bill)))

Comfort Addict said...

What a nice post. Your dad sounds like he was a great guy. In some senses, he reminds me of mine. I actually posted about him yesterday, too. If you're interested, check it out.

Bill said...

Cyli: Thanks... He was a great guy, in so many ways... and thank you for stopping by.

Comfort Addict: Thanks... I'm glad you think our Dad's are similar... makes me just a little envious that you still have yours!! :)

I'm on my over to check out your post now!

mireille said...

Both you and your Dad are/were lucky men.

Bill said...

Thanks Mireille I know I was lucky to have had him for a Dad... and thanks for stopping by as well!

Spirit Of Owl said...

Your memories of your father are touching. Sounds like the kind of dad that you could really look up to. I can imagine how you miss him, and that kind of sweet melancholy is a little blessing, of a kind.

Thanks for sharing Bill.

Trevor Record said...

Yet again, your dad reminds me of my own.

Bill said...

Spirit of Owl: You're right, it is a blessing... I'd rather miss him than not! I hope you had a great Father's Day

Trevor: Thanks, I hope you and he find your groove sooner than we did.

Whit said...

Thanks for this personal reflection...
I just picked up the phone and called my dad to wish him a Happy Father's Day.

Bill said...

whit, thanks for stopping by and I'm very glad you picked up the phone!

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

What beautiful memories you have, Bill. Thank you for sharing them here on your blog. This is a great tribute to your father.

Whit said...

OMG -- I just noticed that you added me to your list of "blogs" on the sidebar. I am so incredibly honored.

I have enjoyed perusing your past posts. I am looking forward to stopping off here again with a cup of coffee in hand and some time to enjoy your musings.

Bill said...

Thanks Barbara, I'm glad I can share them.

Whit, glad to do it... I enjoy your take on things as well.

Beth said...

Our fathers sound so much alike, it's eerie. He always paid in cash and was the one who taught me to save up for a car I wanted instead of making payments.

Nice story, Bill!

Karyn Lyndon said...

I was hesitant but now I'm sure of it. I'm going to drive my parents to my Dad's family reunion in San Angelo, while I still can...

Bill said...

Gardening Knitter: Thanks I tried, I find attempting to convey the intangibles my parents gave me the most difficult thing to write. I appreciate your comments!

Karyn: You just made my day!! Have a great trip, and I want to see pics and hear about it afterwards!! Thanks.

Dahlia said...

What a very beautiful story! It is truly inspiring. I find that in marriages, listening is such an important component to make things work out.

Bill said...

Dahlia: I guess that's what he was trying to tell me... I just took me a while to 'listen' to him!

Thanks for stopping by.