Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lessons from the Old Man

Father's Day, 2012. I've been on the phone with both my girls and my UCLA granddaughter. Jan called her Dad. We're all good.

The Cakes (Jan's nickname) went back to bed, so I'll wait to cook blueberry pancakes until she reappears in a couple of hours. I worked through a nasty hangover yesterday and Tim got our phone problem straightened out. The burglar alarm company bungled the installation of their automatic call system and it screwed up our roll over lines. No wonder I was missing calls!

I think of my Dad a lot. Things trigger memories and I get private smiles and sometimes sad thoughts about the old boy. I was the oldest of 4 kids and my parents experimented on me trying to get parenting down. I felt like I was one of the monkeys NASA used to shoot into space to find out if Alan Shepard was going to survive. He did and so have I.

When I got into management at the age of 25, I couldn't find my ass with a compass and I called Dad and asked for advice. He said "Don't treat the hired help like the hired help." A few days later I had to do my first firing. I called Dad again, "Anything you say beyond the facts is only you trying to make yourself feel better, he is going to feel like shit no matter what you say."

My partner Ralph tells this story, when he was in his early 20's he went to my Dad and told him he wanted to get in the car business. Dad had known Ralph since he was a little kid. The old man told Ralph, "If this what you really want to do, you have to learn the used car side and I'll teach you." Dad did and the rest is history because learning 'the used car side" made it possible for Ralph to be one of the youngest Chevy dealers in the country a few short years later. When RT told me that story, we both got a little teary. He said my Dad was one of the best.

I told Ralph about working for his Dad at one of his markets. What a stickler his old man was about wrapping the meat and cold cuts correctly! He inspected every package until I was an expert. The skill I learned from his Dad at 13 has lived on as I have personally trained many butchers in proper wrapping technique. The guy at Von's a few weeks ago was stunned when I said "Let me show you how to do that right." The other meat cutter laughed because I had shown him Ralph's dad's technique a couple of years ago. I looked at him and said "why didn't you show him how to do it?" Ralph's dad was one of the best.

My Dad was tough on me. I bought a pristine 51 Chevy Belair hardtop the summer I was 14. Ralph and I had a popcorn stand and we were making a killing. I bought the car on a Thursday, took it to the dealership and detailed it. On Friday my family was leaving for the cabin and Dad said "don't drive that car this weekend it won't have insurance on it until Monday, use your mother's car." Of course I drove my new car all weekend long, back and forth to the popcorn stand, cruised with my friends, I probably put 500 miles on it. Monday morning I saw the old man talking to our neighbor. Dad came in the house and said, "Give me the keys." He drove my car to work, sold it and kept my money until September. I drove Mom's station wagon all summer long.

Dad had a real skill in finding me really shitty jobs and keeping me busy and out of trouble. He sent me to work on the farm for my Grandpa when I was 11. There was a bumper crop of wheat that year and the yield was so high the trucks couldn't keep up with the combine. I drove a Farmall tractor pulling a big wagon. We off loaded wheat into the wagon, when a truck came back from the elevator I had to shovel the wheat from the wagon to the truck. I have never done anything since as hard as that. It was hot, dusty, sticky and nasty. I remember crying as I shoveled. When the harvest was finally over, Dad came to pick me up, we drove out of the farm yard and Dad handed me an envelope. In it were 6 $20 dollar bills and a note from Grandpa. "Good job" was all it said. Grandpa was tough, too.

I was living in Boston when Dad died. I got on a plane at 7 in the morning and walked into the funeral home at 4 in the afternoon. My mother said to me, "Your father's face doesn't look right." I walked over to his casket and fixed it. It was the least I could do for him.


  1. Wow!
    A good and appreciative son.

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