For Father’s Day, I’d like to share some things my Dad taught me.
Take Donuts to Lunch
Going to work with my Dad at his mattress factory provided a number of treats, including sliding down the wide, glossy, smooth, wooden shoot that sent mattresses gliding from the second floor to the first. Then there was a seat at the counter of Tom’s lunch to enjoy a plate of hot dogs and beans casserole. Lunch often included Donuts, a local panhandler and alcoholic who would hit up my Dad for money as we walked across the street for our lunch date. It all seemed very natural because that’s the way it always was – the three of us on our swivel stools at the counter of Tom’s Lunch enjoying our meals together. I asked my Dad why he took donuts to lunch instead of just giving him money. “When someone on the street asks you for money buy them something to eat instead. You never know what they’re going to do with the money, and everyone could use a good meal and some company.”
Lesson 1 – Give with Integrity
The Fire and Accounts Payable
After serving in the military my Dad attended and graduated from law school, but when his father died, my Dad took over the family mattress business where a number of family members were employed. The factory was in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city famous, or infamous, for its fires. Back in those days box springs were stuffed with horse hair – very flammable. Next door to his factory was a lumber yard – very flammable. One night we got the call. “Your factory is on fire.” We could see the smoke from our home in Marblehead many miles away. The factory burned to the ground. My father was devastated and he was never the same again.
One of the things my Dad grieved the most was the death of his pet bird. When all was said and done the only thing that remained un-charred was his accounts payable ledger that had been locked in the safe. In the weeks that followed my Dad visited each of his vendors carrying the accounts payable ledger and promised to make good on his debt. And so he did. The accounts receivable ledger burned in the fire, and I doubt he ever recovered what was owed to him.
Lesson 2 – Act with Integrity, no matter what. No excuses.
World War II and Cigarette Butts
During World War II my Dad’s army buddies would take a few drags from a cigarette then crush the remains under their boots as a way of teasing German soldiers who begged for cigarettes. The U.S. army guys did the same with chocolate. They would eat a few bites, then crush the rest under their boots. My Dad thought this was cruel and inhumane, so he gave his un-smoked portions to the German prisoners. He also shared his chocolate bars with them. My Dad told me, “When you treat others with a lack of humanity you lose your own.”
Lesson 3 – Treat others with integrity, no matter what. No excuses.
With the exception of the Donuts episodes, which I experienced first-hand, none of these stories was told to me by my Dad. He did not do things to be noticed. He just did them because he believed it was the right thing to do.
Lesson 4 – Be humble.
My Dad was not a perfect human being, and being a Dad was challenging for him, especially when adolescence struck – and it does strike. For this reason and because he was so devastated by the fire he became lost to me before he was gone. But I will always and forever be grateful for the lessons he taught by being the person he was. Thanks Dad.
A message to Dads:
You’re daughters need you. Not just when they’re young and cute. They need you when they are awkward teenagers. They need you when they are older to take their hands and guide them across the bridge from home to the world.