Like most young men, I grew up with my father as my role model. I wanted to be “just like Dad!” Twenty-six years later, not much as changed, and this Father’s Day, I’d like to celebrate a man I love dearly by sharing the top 10 life lessons my father has passed on to me.
- Leaders Eat Last. Ironically enough, my dad was the cook in our family, so this statement could be taken both literally and figuratively. That said, of the almost 18 years I lived with my father, I can’t recall a single day he put himself first. Everything, and I mean everything, was for either my mom or ‘the kids’: where we ate, what we ate, where we vacationed, what we did on weekends, what neighborhood we lived in, what we watched on TV…everything! Now that’s not to say my Dad didn’t take care of himself, no. He’d usually be up 3 hours before us, get his reading and/or cycling in (two of his favorite pastimes) before we woke up, but by the time I’d roll out of bed and walk downstairs, it’d be all about me, as my hot breakfast would be ready and waiting for me. For the rest of the day, I was the focus. Now, whenever we, ‘the kids’, get the chance to take care of our Dad like today (hope you like your present, Pops!), we spoil our dad rotten. It’s the least we can do after all, to show appreciation for the man who always put us first.
- Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him for a Lifetime. After reading the previous lesson, you may be under the false impression that my father did everything for us–absolutely not. And I’m glad he didn’t, or I don’t think I’d be half as competent as I am today. Whenever I asked my dad for help, whether it be with my homework, how to make a grilled cheese (loved those as a kid), or more recently, how to re-roof your home, my dad would stop whatever he’s doing (he literally flew out the next week from Texas to Los Angeles for the roof project) and show me how I can do it. I cannot stress enough how valuable this teaching style was/is for me. Not only do I have more “real life skills” than most people I know, but more importantly, by learning all these different skills so ‘easily’ (hey, I had a good teacher), I’ve developed this mentality that I can literally learn how to do anything. At 26, I run two profitable businesses, something I would have never even had the guts to try had I not been raised by a man who taught me that I can learn to do anything if I just ask the ‘right fisherman.’
- Always be Learning New Skills. In 2008, my father was laid off by his employer of over 25 years. My father was a chemical engineer, and at the time, no one was hiring. So what did he do? He taught himself how to day-trade, and then, how to buy/flip houses. Nowadays he runs his own vacation rental business, managing a couple of beach houses my mother and him own in Galveston, TX. He keeps reinventing himself, and somehow or another always comes out ahead.
- Wealth Isn’t About How Much You Make, but How Much You Keep. It’s safe to say my parents are relatively wealthy and will be “more than comfortable” the rest of their lives. However, this isn’t because they make millions of dollars a year, but because they save. Unlike me, my father bought his first car, himself, at 17. He saved up every penny he had and bought himself a Camaro (and from what I hear, quite a nice one!). He paid for his own private school college education (Villanova) by working two full-time jobs while in school, and then bought his first home himself shortly after graduation (He did take a small loan from his mom for the downpayment, which according to him he paid back, with interest, in 60 days). Well those two full-time jobs must have paid well, right? Wrong. He made minimum wage working the docks in Philadelphia at night and was a bartender at the Phillies’ stadium in the afternoon/evenings. But my dad didn’t party, take lavish trips or buy himself nice clothes. Instead, he saved and invested in himself (Villanova) and his future (his home). Growing up, I had no idea my parents had money because we rarely ate out, we owned non-luxury cars, and we lived in a modest neighborhood. It wasn’t until after college when I took my first job in finance that I learned that all those years my parents had been stashing away their incomes so that when they needed it (like in 2008), they’d be ok.
- Sometimes the Best ‘Advice’ You can Give Another Person is to Simply Listen. One of the first things you’ll realize about my family dynamic is that everybody goes to my Dad for advice. Everyone. Even my Mom’s parents! And 9 times out of 10, my Dad doesn’t give them any advice at all. No, not Dad, he’s too smart for that. Instead, he listens. He lets the other person talk. He asks that person what they think they should do, and why. Long ago my Dad realized that nobody likes being told what to do, but everybody likes having an external soundboard to bounce their own ideas off of.
- Never Rush a Conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday afternoon or a lazy Sunday morning, if I call, my father answers. Not only that, he talks to me as if he’s on an island somewhere in the South Pacific, sipping a Pina Colada without a care in the world about what time it is. Is this because my Dad isn’t busy and has nothing better to do than hear me complain about my problems? No, in fact, my Dad doesn’t know what the words ‘idle time’ even mean! But what my father does know is how to make others feel important, and nothing says “you’re wasting my time” like rushing someone to finish a conversation. I remember talking to my Grandmother once on the phone (my Mom’s mom, mind you), and she was raving about how great of a listener my father was. “Oh your poor father,” she exclaimed, “I must have cried and cried about X for almost an hour when I stopped and realized…he’s still listening! I wound up apologizing for wasting so much of his time, and he told me ‘ Never Laura, if at any moment I wanted to get off the phone, I would have said so.’ Brian, your father is the best!” Yes, yes he is.
- Never Do Anything Just Because ‘Everyone Else is Doing It.’ My father grew up in an era when “smoking was cool” and “racism was normal”, but he never gave in to either ‘trend.’ I remember once at a family reunion I noticed that everyone on my father’s side of the family was in the backyard smoking, and the judgemental me was commenting on how disgusting people who smoke are. My father, instead of agreeing with me, defended them, saying “You don’t understand, Brian. When we were growing up everyone smoked, and this was before all of the medical research came out about how harmful smoking was. By the time they knew how bad it was, it was too late. They were already addicted.” My response, of course, was “well then how come you never smoked?” To which my father replied, “I never saw the ‘need.’ When I’d ask a friend why they smoked, they’d reply ‘because it’s cool’ or ‘because everyone is doing it.’ Those never seemed like good enough reasons to do anything, let alone start a habit my friends couldn’t seem to break. I decided it wasn’t for me, and that decision’s still paying dividends for me.” Today, I’m proud to say I’m a lot like my dad. I don’t drink alcohol (or smoke), I’m vegan, and I spend my free-time “working.” I’ve made a lot of life decisions that were “against the grain,” and I’m fine with that because they’re my decisions. When you do something because “everyone else is doing it”, you’re no longer the one in control of your life, everyone else is. And if you live your life they way “everyone else does”, you end up with what “everyone else has”, which in America, means: you’re 25 lbs overweight, at least $10,000 in debt, and just elected an orange reality star as your President. (Yikes!)
- Women are NOT Objects, They’re Queens. Truthfully, this lesson didn’t even make my first draft, as it seemed too obvious. To “not treat women as objects” as a lesson in my family would be the equivalent of saying “to drive your car, start by turning on the ignition!” However, given the fact that 1 out of 4 women are sexually assaulted in college, our NFL stars are knocking out their finances in elevators, and our President thinks it’s ok to “grab women by the p*ssy” if you’re famous, I thought I’d include this one “no brainer” lesson here. I grew up with all sisters, and my father treats my mom like she’s the Queen of England, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t raised to “objectify women” or look at them as “lesser than” men. But even beyond the obvious, my father instilled in us (especially my younger sisters) that women can do anything men can do, and probably better. For example, I have male friends that feel “insecure” if their girlfriend/wife makes more than them…not my dad. My mom is (now) the highest-ranking woman in her company (a Fortune 100 Company, I might add), and makes significantly more than my father. However, this wasn’t always the case. My dad made considerably more than my mom in the early years, but instead of belittling her achievements or ‘asserting his dominance as alpha of the household’, he supported her dreams. We moved to Houston (from Philadelphia) to support my Mom’s career, not my Dad’s, at a time when my Dad was the main bread-winner of the family. My Dad changed around his work schedule so he could come home early to watch us kids after school so my Mom could stay late at the office. And today, my Mom is one of the most influential women in her industry, in no small part because she had a husband who supported her success, instead of being intimidated by it.
- Find Joy in Work. You’ll Never Be Happy if You Hate Your Job. My dad’s photo should be placed next to the word “work” in the dictionary. He is the embodiment of “hard work”, and spends most of his free-time working on any one of his little ‘projects.’ With how much time my dad spends a week working, it’s no wonder why he’s always believed in “doing what you love.” “You’ll spend more time at work than you will everywhere else combined,” my father would always say, “so why be somewhere that makes you miserable?” Hard to argue with that logic. I’ve spent the last 4 years doing just that, working on my own companies, Buddytruk and Foley Properties, and I wouldn’t change my life, or my career, for any in the world.
- At the End of the Day, the Most Important Thing You Can Be in Life Is…”There.” I grew up in a neighborhood where most of my friend’s fathers worked and their moms stayed at home. This lead to a lot of soccer games and dance recitals where the mom was there to cheer their kid on, but dad was nowhere to be found. I remember how upset this would make my friends, but unfortunately, I was never able to relate. My dad was, and still is, always there for me. Every game, every practice or tryout, every track meet, every show our little high school rock band played, every graduation ceremony or other awards my sisters or I received (mainly my sisters), he was there. My dad has been a great role model for me my entire life, but I couldn’t appreciate that aspect until I became an adult. But as a child, looking over to the sidelines, to see my Dad, there, cheering me on after I score a game-winning goal for our soccer team, that, is something I’ll never forget.
I love you, Dad. Thank you for always being there for me, as well as all the other lessons you’ve taught me along the way. I hope you have an amazing Father’s Day, and be selfish for a change and do what YOU want. You deserve it.