For some reason this post was trapped in my draft folder. I thought I had posted it long ago, before my Dad passed away. I wouldn’t post it now, but after reading a nice post on the mentoring, it feels right to share the lessons I learned from my greatest role model.
Anyone that knows me I’m currently forced to the role of spectator in life’s cruel design. I’m – remotely – watching my father lose his fight with brain cancer. Slowly but surely he is losing everything that defined him – his mind, his control, his spirit.
The one thing I can’t shake as each part of him fades away is that not only I am proud to call him my father, but how lucky I was to be adopted into a family that provided me not one, but two fantastic role models.
This is the letter I wrote him, hoping to finally offer him the words I couldn’t choke out as each visit became more final and the need to say everything at once became so great. I am sharing it here, not just to remind everyone how short life can be, but to prove the value in mentoring.
We are so focused on technology and progression, we forget that so many lessons are learned from failures and good teachers. My father taught me manners, work ethic, respect, dignity and confidence; none of these things define my current role (or any role I’ve ever had), but those qualities are why I succeed in my career.
He never sat me down and said, “Son, go to work every day. Don’t max out on your sick days because you are too tired and need a day off.” He told me once – after a meaningless house league hockey game that I scored some goals – to never boast but he never once said, “never take credit for things you didn’t do and always share your successes with those involved.’ He didn’t say, “never blame mistakes on other people.” He never demanded that I be perfect, he only hoped I would always try to be. He never told me how to be a good husband, great father or (hopefully in time) caring grandparent. No, I learned these things simply be modeling myself after his behavior.
I read leadership books, hear motivators speak, and take learning seriously. These things, of course they inspire me but they aren’t the foundation that keeps me striving as an employee and as a human being. The lessons I learned at five, ten, fifteen and overlooked from about eighteen until I was twenty-three; those are all attributed to a role model I was lucky enough to have.
We have that chance to find people that can help us find our true calling. We can ask for help and offer our guidance to people that ask the same. We can challenge ourselves and inspire others to stop accepting good enough as, well, good enough.
I miss you, Poppy.
I remember it was about grade 10 when it first started happening. I’d meet one of your patients in the halls of Halifax West and they’d say something like, “your dad is amazing.” Because I was a dumb kid that somehow thought grades equated to intelligence and wisdom, I usually required with something dismissive like, “you think so?” Or, “you must mean someone else.” Then I’d laugh. I’d laugh because I thought I was clever. I thought I knew everything.
What I didn’t know, what I was too young to know was, everything. I was too young to realize family wasn’t an inconvenience. It was a blessing, something taken from us far too often and far too early. I was too young to know that family was there when things got bad. I didn’t know that often, they show up in hospital rooms and at funerals when friends can’t run away fast enough.
I didn’t know what it took to be a good partner. I didn’t know that putting someone else first is a constant challenge, because I was too young to know what loving someone more than myself was possible. I certainly was too young to realize how much work kids are, and how quickly they become the most important thing in your life. I didn’t realize how exhausting 60 hours weeks were, so I assumed it was easy for you to work 12 hours a day and still make every baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey and tennis practice. I was too young to realize that sometimes coming home and collapsing on the couch is the best feeling in the god damned world and not giving into that is almost impossible. I foolishly thought every parent just did these things for their kids.
I was too young to realize that work was just that. It was more than hours spent and pay received. I didn’t understand about challenging yourself and finding your passion. I didn’t know that sometimes you just put in the hours because your work is a large part of who you are and where you get your energy. I didn’t know that the pride you get from knowing your peers trust you and know you will help them unconditionally is worth the sweat and exhaustion.
I was too young to realize that you weren’t like everyone else I’d come across in my career. I thought everyone worked long hours and refused to sacrifice the respect of their peers and customers for their own personal gains. I thought everyone took the high road, shared the successes and shouldered the blame.
I was too young to know that all the things I thought were easy are actually some of the hardest things in the world.
Over the years, I’ve made mistakes but you and Mom gave me the foundation I needed to remain standing. I’ve met too many people from broken homes that were lost, and would give anything for the guidance you offered and I tried to reject. If you need to know anything, know that I’m where I am because of you, and if my boys and my peers can take any of what I’ve learned and be anything like you, they will be better for it.
Obviously, the bonds we form at work are not the same as those between a caring father and his son, but we can’t ignore the importance of either. Too often we let people flounder, dismiss their efforts or lack of understanding as a lack of value. We give up on people, instead of helping them. We refuse to admit we can help, or that maybe we can learn from them as well.
It’s been 8-months since my Dad passed away and I’m surprised by how energized I am to be better, to learn from the people in my life and hopefully share my experiences to those that could also find value. My Dad took classes until the final few months, and never lost his passion to learn, lead and grow. I can only hope his last gift to me is sharing those same desires.