My father turns 94 this year. Over the years, we have shared many wonderful times, including being in business together during the 1970s. Because of his advanced age, I have been thinking about what I learned from him. Some of these lessons were intentional. The most important ones where observed.
1. Dad taught me how to sell. When I was 17, I had an industrial accident that resulted in a number of stiches in my index finger. Afterward, he told me, “It’s time you learned how to sell.” He gave me a copy of “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino. (What a privilege it was to develop a personal friendship with Og twenty years later.) He also taught me that the most important sale is always to yourself. “If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, quit!”
2. Dad taught me how to read financial statements. Actually, I learned the structure of income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow analysis in business school. But my Dad taught me to never accept a financial statement as accurate. For a variety of reasons, financial reports never tell the whole story. Dad taught me to go looking for the invisible or distorted in every report.
3. Dad taught me how to collect past due receivables. Back when there were two or three days of float in our bank account (for younger folks, this is the time it took checks to come out of your account after they were deposited by the payee), there may times when we handed out paychecks that weren’t covered by money in the bank. It scared me, but Dad had a special knack for bringing in enough money before the paychecks were deducted from our account. There were two keys to his success: focus and kindness. He never demanded or disrespected anyone who owed us money. Instead, he empathized with their situation, explained our need for some cash, and asked for anything they could spare. Sometimes, it was only $25, but he always collected something because of his exceptional interpersonal skills.
4. Dad taught me how to respect and inspire others. He treated everyone like they were the boss, always with a smile, a kind word, and a request for help. Sometimes he had a hard time delivering on his vision, but it never discouraged him and he never lost the respect of his employees or others. When things didn’t work out, he never made excuses and he didn’t hesitate to apologize.
5. Dad taught me that all work was purposeful because you could express your character through whatever kind of work you did. One of the ways he impressed this on me was giving me the job of changing flat truck tires off of trucks stranded on highways, all times of night and day. (I can’t always say that I expressed the best character in these situations of ice, rain, mud, snow, and sometimes, irresponsible drivers.)
6. Dad taught me to be optimistic and resilient. He was an entrepreneur almost his whole career. He never became independently wealthy and he endured multiple setbacks in business. But he never gave up his optimism for life or his enjoyment of working with others.
7. Finally, Dad taught me more than anyone I know about what it means to be a faithful husband and a loving father. Actually, my parents split up when I was ten years old. It was the most difficult thing my mother ever went through her entire life. My Dad married again and his new family included 9 children when we were all together. His faithfulness to his wife and his care for all of us is something I can only hope to live up to with my family. He didn’t give us a lot of material things, but what he gave was far more important. He showed us an extravagant, loving heart. And for that, he occupies a place in my heart that will never be filled by anyone else.
What did you learn from your Dad?
Ron’s father is pictured in the middle