Happy Father’s Day! 7 Life Lessons Learned from My Father

  1. Whatever you do, do it 100%. – My father taught me to water ski when I was 7 years old. I remember the little red skis with the white string to keep them together. It was not long before I was popping out of the water and criss-crossing back and forth across the wakes. My dad would sit me on the edge of the boat, put my skis on and pick up my little body and toss me in the water unceremoniously. I’d fly through the air, hit the water, the skis would threaten to drag me down and drown me, so I had no other recourse but to start doggy paddling like hell in a frenzy of fear and determination. Just matter of fact like that and then he’d walk away without looking back. It was always a sink or swim moment and I learned from an early age to keep my head above water, to hustle hard, and it is the most valuable skill I learned for adult life in the rat race. Fathers are good about that. Mothers will hover over you and helicopter you out of love. But Fathers will throw you in and feign to walk away, knowing that is the best thing for you and it is also an equal love, just a different kind, perhaps a better kind in the long run.
  2. Hold on no matter what. – Another water skiing lesson. After a few rounds about the lake going at an easy pace, we’d generally pick up speed or go over rougher waves or even go in tight circles. My forearms would get really sore but I got a reputation for hanging on. I wasn’t the kind of kid that could get thrown easily and I never went down without a stubborn fight or total wipe out with water going up my nose. I learned that life would be like a Tetris game or maybe Lucille Ball working in the Chocolate Factory with the conveyor belt speeding up and she’s stuffing chocolates in her bra to keep going with the supervisor yelling in the background to move faster. I learned from lesson #2 that you had to work hard and stubbornly maintain your work and speed because eventually, things are bound to get rougher and harder down the road. Show up to work most every day. Be present. Clear your desk as much as you can. Don’t get behind. Work earlier or later if needed so your “tetris pieces” or piles of paper don’t start stacking higher and higher. Whatever you do in life, do it with intensity. Even if things get faster and more out of hand just go with the flow and ride the waves as long as you can. If you succeed, succeed immensely. If you fail, fail brutally and embarassingly. The kind of wipeout that makes everyone laugh and ask if you’re ok and becomes a great story in hindsight. But just know, either way, there is no room for regret that you didn’t try hard enough. Avoid being lukewarm.
  3. Being strategic is far wiser than being charismatic. – Strategy will get you a long ways but it requires some important elements, listening and learning to move in silence. You must be willing to sacrifice ego to attain greater goods of security and persistence. “We spend our first 2 years learning to talk and all the rest of our lives, learning to be silent.” – Aristotle. My father was a vice president at a university for 30 some years. He managed the money. He was a strong, silent type that came in to work daily, did his accounting, and then went home to his wife and kids and his gardens. Many times, he would listen and give wise counsel but he never really stepped up to be the charismatic designated leader of the organization although he was the influence behind it. Presidents came and went and he stayed on through the years. Being the bureaucratic leader is a far more sustainable and advantageous position within government and where the real power lies, the power to raise up presidents and the power to undermine their authority if necessary to maintain the rule of law. If you don’t believe me, look at the Executive Branch.
  4. The best way to get along in the work place is to be quiet. – Adopt an attitude of calmness and others will feel that. “Aggressive people are a vexation of the spirit.” – The Desiderata. Think like a flight attendant and remain calm under most all circumstances. The more drama and gossip you involve in, the worse the work environment becomes for all members. Punch in. Do your work. Go home. When you get home, don’t discuss work. Keep home life and work life two separate spheres in order to maintain the peace, calm, and happiness of your home. I struggle very hard with this one personally as I often want to confide my work problems with my husband but as I get older, I learn that it really does him no good and instantly turns his attitude sour and pessimistic. If you love your family, do not burden them. If you gotta sit out in the car in the driveway a few more minutes and relax a bit or maybe hit the gym to release pent-up frustration, try to do so. My father used to go to work, come home and have dinner every night at the head of the table with us and then disappear for a few hours to watch television in his room. I get it now. Television has a way of mellowing a person out and instantly improving their mood. It is easy, effortless, and sometimes entertaining. As I get older, I realize that one must strike a careful balance between play and work every day. If you grind 8 hours and drive 2 hours and then cook dinner and clean dinner and do laundry until 8 or 9…….you are just burning yourself out internally. You need down time to maintain a positive mood which is the number one determinant of future success. Work smarter, not harder. You can get more done in the workplace with others with the right personality and attitude. What is that line, you can catch more with honey….something like that.
  5. Manage by walking around. – If you really want to know what is going on at the front line level in your organization, you must leave your office and be seen. Get out on the factory floor everyday and make yourself accessible to others. When I took classes at the university, I would often see my dad do this. He’d be examining the flower beds or talking to a custodian or I’d see him maybe talking to a faculty member here or there. He was observing what people needed help with and he’d go back to his office and work on those little things for them. The little things eventually become the big things if not attended to. During his tenure, the university campus was the most beautiful I had seen with carefully manicured and attended to lawns and the university was constantly in the process of building and acquiring donated funds from community contributors to expand in technology and engineering and the arts. “Pumping the flesh” as they call it, or shaking hands on all levels, is a very important part of managing. Like Zig Ziglar says in regards to sales, when you meet someone for the first time, learn what they are in need of and help them to fulfill that need and you will develop a life-long client.
  6. Leadership is not about you, it’s about being of service to others. – Go to work with the frame of mind that you are providing customer service to everyone that enters your office. What can you do to help them today? When you answer the phone, ask them how you can help them. Build networks through being of service to others and in turn, when you need help, they will be of service to you. Humble yourself and you will connect better with others.
  7. The best leaders are the ones who don’t want the job but take it because it needs to be done. – They see a vacuum and they fill it because they are responsible, not because they want the attention or the power.

What are the best lessons you learned from your father? You can share them here if you want to. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend!

The Letter

by J. Speer

It was Mother’s Day. Layla sat down at the table to work on a letter to her daughter. She knew that usually mothers were the ones to receive gifts on this special day. However, this time was different. In 16 years of motherhood, Layla had received all kinds of gifts from flower bouquets to hugs and kisses to little hand imprints in clay. She had experienced the morning breakfasts and the nice time spent sleeping in. But this year, she was a bit melancholy. In a few weeks, her daughter would be going to live with relatives on the coast. It was what Layla wanted for her children but she was sad inside from time to time.

She wanted to write something fantastic and amazing. She searched her memories of family vacations or school activities or sports events….but 16 years had come and gone so fast that it all blended together and she really had to focus on specific moments. She remembered the first time she felt her daughter. She was maybe 23 at the time. Layla had been resting. She had started to get the morning sickness and that was the first clue. The pregnancy test came back positive. In the first trimester, she almost miscarried. The first time she felt her daughter was in that bed resting. Her hand was across her flat bare abdomen and she felt a tiny movement. She touched the spot gently. It was a hard bump near her right inner hip the size of a quarter. She touched it with the tips of her fingers and it moved slightly. That’s when she first felt what it was to be a mother.

The sonograms were inconclusive about the sex of the child. The black and white screen showed the baby bouncing playfully around in the womb. Three sonograms were performed and the doctor said he was 90% certain it would be a boy because the legs were crossed each time. Layla decorated the nursery with yellows and greens, neutral tones just in case. It surprised her husband when their beautiful baby girl arrived.

The delivery took almost all day. The labor was intense.

Her daughter grew and grew and grew through the years, through good days and sometimes bad days. No matter what happened, Layla and her children rarely parted. They stood together side by side and there was nothing Layla loved more than holding their little hands in hers. When the children got to be teenagers, that was what she missed the most of all.

As her daughter grew, Layla also learned to love all the exact same things her child loved. When her daughter liked art, Layla bought her all the drawing books and art supplies she could find. When her daughter liked soccer, Layla sat in the stands cheering and clapping. When her daughter moved on to books and anime and movies, Layla moved on too. To Layla, nothing her daughter chose was ever wrong. Her daughter could have liked rock throwing and Layla would be out there with her searching for the perfect rock to throw. As her daughter’s interests grew, so did Layla’s.

Her daughter started high school eventually. Layla helped her to the school entrance with all her school supplies and wished her well. Her daughter learned to drive a car. Layla tried to take her out test driving and prayed when her daughter finally headed off to school in her new vehicle paid for with small savings. It wasn’t a beauty of a car but it ran and Layla hoped it wouldn’t be too embarrassing to drive.

When her daughter said she wanted to visit family on the coast, Layla encouraged her. She wanted her child to explore and see the world. It was what Layla wanted for her child but the thought of separation made her blue sometimes.

16 years had come and gone. 16 wonderful years that didn’t seem enough to Layla. Not enough time to teach her daughter. There was so much Layla wanted to say but couldn’t say. She didn’t want to jade her daughter or trample her hope or her optimism for the future.

For 16 years, her children were her reason….

the reason she worked…..

the reason she saved any money…..

the reason she made choices like she did…..

Layla packed the bags for the coast. She bought new swimsuits and beach wear clothes. She gave her daughter her best stuff for the trip, put together a Spotify playlist, and bought Google photo albums of their past memories for a going away gift.

And now Layla was writing a letter. She wanted to say something profound but she had nothing really. To tell the truth, she was a bit afraid. If her daughter left, what would she do with herself? Who would be there at night after work? Who could she talk to? Who would she protect or feel a purpose providing for?

It was a new journey for her daughter but also for her……a transformation of sorts.

She wished her daughter the best and so she wrote it in the letter. She asked her daughter to be safe and wise. She hoped her daughter would find someone to love and be loved in return. And she told her daughter, she would always be in her heart even as they were apart.

She signed the little letter, put it in the envelope, and hid it in her top drawer of her dresser. She decided to give it to her daughter the day of the flight at the airport…..too much to say and yet, not enough to say.