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Sunday, June 16, 2013

LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY FATHER

It's natural for many to reflect today on what their dads mean to them.  I'm no different.  But I spend a lot of days thinking about the lessons I learned, how I've applied them and more importantly, how they have created who I am.  I think it is important to first talk about our differences.
 
My father wasn't in to sports -- not in the least. He might listen to an occasional Reds game on his transistor radio or watch a boxing match on TV but that was it.  I grew up engrossed by sports.
 
My father enjoyed hunting.  He owned hunting rifles and had his prize game mounted and on display in our home.  I went once and could not see what he saw.

My father enjoyed country music -- Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams (Senior of course).  I of course, grew up listening to rock and roll.

My father enjoyed gardening -- vegetables and flowers.  I avoided it as much as I could.

Relaxation for my father was crawling inside the hood of a car on a hot summer day -- for me it was reading (something I got from my mother).

He quit school in the 7th grade to go to work and provide for his family after his father was wounded in World War II.  Today he can build a house...the foundation...wire the electrical...run the plumbing...lay the flooring...secure a roof.  He can pull an engine out of a car, take it part piece by piece and put it back together.  The education he secured for himself is one of the most amazing things about him.

My dad was an immensely unselfish man.  He worked and worked and worked -- without fanfare and I much expect that's the way he wanted it.  As a high school kid I can remember Fridays asking him for a few bucks to go grab some pizza with the guys.  He would pull out his wallet and give me what I'd asked for -- often it would be all that he had.  It didn't occur to me then but I realized later that I would be often taking his last dollar.

My father and I didn't have a lot of heart to heart talks when I was growing up.  He was incredibly busy working to make sure we could have the things he wanted us to have.  At one point when I was a child, my dad worked three jobs.  He had a job during the weekdays, one during the weekday evenings and another on the weekends.  This lasted until he courageously started his own business.  We lived momentarily in a housing project in Charleston until he could afford to buy us a home in a safer part of town.  He was determined to make the business work and poured everything into it so it would flourish.

What my father did provide was the essence of leadership.  Much of what I learned from him I learned from observation.  The first one was obviously his work ethic.  He was tireless.  Never called in sick.  Never complained.  Later, when I was in high school I would work the summers with him in his carpet business.  We'd rise at 6 am and work until 6 or 7 in the evening.  We would arrive home and I would crawl onto my bed to rest my aching muscles only to hear him start up the lawnmower.  What I would discover about my dad is he loved to work.  Work was who he was -- it was his gift and he knew it and used it.

I also never heard him raise his voice to my mother.  Now I am quite sure at some point they had disagreements, but I never heard them.  He went out of his way to make sure my mom was treated like a queen.  He would make her a hot cup of tea first thing in the morning before he went to work.  I learned how to be a husband from his example.

He had no problem being a disciplinarian.  Discipline was swift and decisive.  There wasn't a long, drawn-out process.  Even when he worked three jobs my mom would say "wait until your father gets home."  And it didn't matter if I was a sleep when he hit the door -- judge and jury had arrived. I had a healthy fear of my father.  The type that always made me think before I made choices -- which is why I lived a largely trouble-free life.

I competed in sports as a youth but not under the watchful eye of my father (though there were some great games of catch in our backyard on rare occasions) but through the love of my Pawpaw Hartney.  Yet it was the fact that my dad didn't understand much about sports that allowed him to be the perfect father for a child that played sports.  When I returned home from a game, whether it was little league baseball, junior high basketball, or high school baseball, the questions were the same.  "Did you have a good time?  Did you do your best?"  That was it.  He didn't asked if I started or how much I played.  He didn't want to know if I got any hits or scored any points.  He never mentioned the coach by name and in some cases didn't know the name of my coaches. None of that was important to him.  He just wanted me to enjoy myself and for me to give it my all.  I didn't have to worry about him getting into the politics of youth sports.  He didn't care if I thought a coach was unfair -- "life's not fair," was his response.  He knew that me working through those issues would make me a strong man down the road.  He knew some adversity and tough times are life's greatest teachers and he wasn't about to shield me from those lessons.

Once in the 9th grade, I was playing summer league baseball, practicing junior high basketball and going to basketball camp.  It was starting to wear on me so I informed my dad I was going to quit the baseball team to free up some time.  He then informed that I wasn't.  "You started the season and you are going to finish.  We don't quite things in this family."  Another lesson learned.

My father has little patience -- very little.  Again, a quality that I am quite sure most of my players will agree that I possess as well.  He wanted things done right, done well and didn't see the sense in having to wait to get them that way.

The carpet business he started grew into a successful business and through working with him in the summer I learned to install carpet.  One day on the job I was trimming in a piece of carpet in a tight closet.  It wasn't my best work but after all, I thought,  it was just a closet.  My dad came in behind and inspected my work and ripped the piece out and installed it again.  As was all his work, it was perfect.  He then told me he was disappointed in my effort.  I told him that I didn't understand why it needed to be so perfect in a small closet.  "Who's going to know?" I asked him.  "I will," was his response.  He then told me when he was done with a job and went back and looked over it, he never thought about how happy his customer would be but made sure it met his expectations.  He said his expectations would always be greater than anyone else. He then told me something that has remained with me forever, "remember son, excellence is in the details."

Today I possess a good work ethic -- though I'll never match that of my father's.  I continue to be impatient -- pushing myself and my players.  But guess what?  I also enjoy country music these days and have become a decent gardener.  I suspect dad knew I'd come around.

I think of my father each time I hear Harry Chapin's "Cat's In The Cradle" -- we have in some ways let the miles and work get between us...much like he did with his father.  But make no mistake about it, with all the differences, I am a great deal like my father -- and very proud of it.

When I got married at the age of 31, my dad was my best man -- he still is!