Please forgive a momentary departure from my commentary on the state of business, leadership, sales, marketing, and customers. This post is dedicated to my Dad — and Mom, since they have been inseparable in making my sisters and me who we are. In a couple of weeks they will celebrate their 65th anniversary.
Dad’s 92 years old. I wanted to take an opportunity to celebrate he and mom, and to let them know the impact they have and continue to continue to have on me, my sisters, their friends, community–and the world.
While I refer to Dad in much of this post, it’s really Dad and Mom. It’s their complementary capabilities that have been so important in shaping who we are today. They are part of what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation, being children of the depression, going through 3-5 wars, and growing into a new century/millennium.
First, Dad has the most unusual background. Until mid-high school, he was raised in India and schooled in a boarding school in the mountains of Northeast India. Growing up, my friends’ fathers would talk about trudging 2 miles to school in snow, Dad would talk about riding an elephant 100 kilometers in the Himalaya’s. He was a gymnast in college, but immediately on graduation went into the Navy to be trained as a landing ship officer for the invasion of Japan at the end of the war. In entering the program, they were told 2 of 3 would not survive. Despite that, he felt it his duty to serve his country. He went through Korea and Vietnam in the service, with the Coast Guard.
He never talked very much about his experiences in the wars, it’s only been in the past 10 years that I’ve begun to understand the impact of the wars, particularly Vietnam had on him. He went through experiences no human being should ever go through. Understanding his experience has helped me understand, appreciate, and value all who serve in their country’s militaries.
In the military, he was a true hero, as the rows of medals on his uniform indicated. But I learned more of his heroism in talking to some of the Admirals he served under and the people he served with. His real heroism was in how much he cared for his people, their welfare, and their ability to accomplish their mission. They always came first.
He left the military in the late 60’s for a very successful career at executive levels in business. But still his path was different. He and my mom traveled and lived all over the world as part of his work. Their passports have the stamps of more than 110 countries–mine is just a paltry 50+. Those experiences shaped their thinking and how they raised us. Until going to college, my sisters and I moved with them. We learned how to adapt, we learned to appreciate different worldviews, cultures, and people. We learned to be curious and open to different ideas and perspectives. Our global travels made us much more appreciative of our own country and our responsibilities as citizens. These experience have made me a better person today.
Dad was typical of his generation, he was the breadwinner. He went to work, mom spent much of the time raising us, particularly since work often meant months on assignment somewhere on a ship or building something in a remote location somewhere in the world. Men of his generation were trained not to show emotion, but it was in the way he behaved, the way he taught us, the way he encouraged us that showed how deep his love of us is.
My earliest memories were of puzzles. He was always buying me puzzles. The first time, I would put together the puzzle looking at the picture. After that, he would turn the puzzle upside down, I’d have to put it together looking at the gray cardboard backs and the shapes of the pieces. At the time, I thought of him as a sadist (I had quite a sophisticated vocabulary at 3-4 years old)–it was only years later I realized he was teaching me how to think, problem solve, and figure things out. Later he would bring me science experiments. Every week, he’d buy a new one and give it to me to learn and figure out. He and my mom instilled the love of books, reading, learning, and being incessantly curious.
In my teenage years, he taught me the value of hard work. Professionally, he was an engineer and a builder. That translated to projects around the house. I learned how to be a carpenter, mason, laborer, and landscaper from weekend construction projects around our houses. I don’t know how many thousands of bricks I laid, yards of concrete I mixed, poured and finished, or how many thousands of wheelbarrow loads of dirt, sand, gravel, cement, and concrete I muscled across our yards and houses. That training helped me with part time jobs through college, and to understand what hard work really is.
These projects, also, taught me the joy of really accomplishing tough goals, how to finish the things I started, and not give up. The work was physically tough, but the fun of doing it together and seeing what we accomplished was amazing. By the way, the projects continue. Last year, we were visiting them for the weekend. I noticed some “materials” at one side of the garage. When I walked into the house, Dad said, “I have to build stairs up the back hill this weekend.” I knew the “I” meant “We,” and it was great doing something together and seeing what we accomplished.
All through this, Mom and Dad instilled the belief that I could do anything I set my mind to. They instilled the discipline and work ethic to do the hard work to achieve what I wanted, to never give up, to continue to learn, and always improve.
They also instilled a sense of caring and community as they raised us–whether it was our activities at church, scouts, or community projects. They taught us that it was our obligation to contribute to others and in doing that we would grow as well.
They instilled the set of values and integrity that guide each of us now. I think the only time I ever saw my dad genuinely angry with me was when he caught me in a lie.
As we became independent adults, they have always been there and supporting us. Even though the whole family is scattered around the world, we’ve always been incredibly close and always “there” for each other. It’s through Mom and Dad, that we learned these lessons. These continue, as the families grow with a wife, brothers in law, nieces, and a nephew. When any of us need anything, we swarm around to help each other.
It’s become part of our DNA or value system to do this with each other, and we’ve learned to expand those values to what we do with our with our friends, colleagues, customers, clients.
They’ve always been proud of us and what we accomplish–even though they may not agree with what we were doing. There have been one or two jobs I’ve had or a couple of projects/causes, where I know Dad felt uncomfortable or did not agree. Despite that, he has always been proud of what I (we) did and our commitment to whatever it was we chose.
I’m not sure I realized or appreciated much of this as I was growing up. I think unconsciously I did, but perhaps have not verbalized it. I have realized the truth in Mark Twain’s words,
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
At 92, he has become a genius and an inspiration. I only hope that I can be part of the man–he has been to me and the family.
I hope what I stand for in these articles, how I work with clients, colleagues, friends, how I contribute to the community, and the example I try to set–though sometimes fail; in some way reflects well on the values and love Mom and Dad have instilled in me.
These 1400 plus words, don’t come close to expressing his and my mother’s impacts on my life, those of my sisters, our family, and others. They could never express my appreciation for what they have done and what they mean.
Thank you Dad and Mom. I love you.
PS, Mom, I’m writing a post about you, soon, so don’t let Dad’s head get too big 😉
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