Lessons I Learned from My Dad

Posted on Jun 15, 2013 | 45 comments

Lessons I Learned from My Dad

My mom seems to sneak into my blog from time-to-time. My dad less so. Mom was an entrepreneur and a civic leader. She was (is) a bit of a ball buster. And a negotiator. And a go getter.

DadSo she naturally fills my story arcs more easily.

But of course we’re all a product of both of our parents – if we were fortunate enough to be raised by two individuals.

I was.

Growing up my dad was everything you could ask for.

He was the kindest person I knew. No exaggeration. He was 6 foot 3 (less tall now!) so you already know that I didn’t get my height from Dad. I’m 5 foot 10 when there’s a strong wind.

He grew up in Colombia. Not South Carolina – that’s Columbia with a “u.” He grew up in South America.

In Medellín, actually. Although his father was raised in Romania.

Jewish Emigrants. Pogroms and the like.

Dad always had a funny accent. It was really deep. As deep as anybody’s voice you know. And he spoke really, really slowly. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’ll be back” but with a Colombian accent.

He grew up a Colombian Jew and to this day he still prefers to speak in Spanish.

I grew up with Platanos and Arepas as well as tongue and brisket.

As Eric Garcetti once called it, “Jewtino.”

The best way to prove to you how nice my dad was – he was a pediatrician and when his patients came up to him they all thought he was a teddy bear. Nobody was afraid to see him. The kids ran up to give him a hug.

Can’t say that about just any doctor.

What did I learn from my dad?

1. Encouragement

No matter what I did in life Dad was my biggest supporter. He wasn’t the loud mouth at sports matches proving himself to all of his peers. He was the guy after the game telling me what a wonderful player I was. He was the guy driving me to play and telling me how wonderful I was. He was the guy telling his friends in front of me – how wonderful I was.

I wasn’t always wonderful. But I sure felt like it.

I know some people think we’ve gone too far by creating a generation of “trophy children” and I think there’s some truth to that. I love competition. And I believe winners need to feel recognized and losers need to know what that feels like to help with motivation and with humility.

But with your dad you want him to think and say you’re wonderful no matter what.

AndyIt turns out there is a strong correlation between encouraging your children and a feeling of self worth. I always valued myself and felt like I was special. Much of this came from my dad.

I try to offer private words of encouragement to team members when they do something well. I take the time to look them in the eyes and say,

“Please take a moment to recognize what a phenominal achievement this really is. It’s easy to just move on to the next thing. Or just write this off as incremental improvement.

But seriously … this is really a big deal.”

It matters. And Dad taught me that.

Praise publicly and often.

Dad also taught me to root for the Phillies and Eagles so I guess the world balances out. He made me confident but set me up for a lifetime of suffering.

And of course my kids are always wonderful – at everything they do. I can’t help myself. And I’m OK with it.

And they, too, root for the Eagles. Luckily LA has no football team so it wasn’t ever an issue.

2. Support

My dad always turned up. He was at my games – I don’t remember ever having a soccer match or basketball game that he didn’t attend.

I still try to move mountains to be at my kids sports events.

Knowing you have support really matters. Knowing that to your dad you’re the most important thing in the world let’s you feel protected – part of a tribe.

I had the childhood memory of my dad working hard – but not late. He was home for every dinner. Life has changed since those golden days of the 1970’s.

He trained for marathons and ran many. It was nice to see a sense of achievement and goal setting. He ran them as slowly as he spoke. And he spoke very, very slowly.

I knew in life I had to run a marathon since he ran so many. I ran the London Marathon in 2002 in 3 hours, 57 minutes.

I ran for Parkinson’s Disease and raised almost $4,000. My dad has suffered with Parkinson’s for the past 12 years or so.

I was your classical “good kid” trouble-maker.

Good grades. Other kids parents liked me because I was polite.

I was still a “schemer” – like throwing mobile keg parties at the golf course. And “borrowing” the car for a 2-hour trip to San Francisco … a few months before I had my driver’s license.

But I always had a line I wouldn’t cross. And I’m certain of what drew that line.


I never wanted to disappoint him. I know that sounds cliché but it’s true.

I never worried what teachers or other kids thought about me or my actions. I was fine as long as I didn’t disappoint Dad.

He gave me all the inches I needed. And I never took advantage. Trust and support matter.

I am a control freak. But once you’re in my inner circle I try to offer the trust and support my dad gave me.

It is not uncharacteristic for me to say,

“You did the work. I’m going to have to trust your opinion on this. You know the facts better than I do. My gut says X.

But I’m not as close to it as you are. What do you recommend?”

Know that as a control freak this doesn’t come easily. But I make a conscious decision to choose my inner circle carefully and offer them the support they need to grow.

3. Unconditional Love

Occasionally my cheekiness got me into enough trouble that Dad figured it out. He was disappointed but offered unconditional love.

JacobThere was the time that we got ourselves into a “situation” with a group of people who were significantly bigger than we were. They had chains. And were threatening us.

It turns out one of my friends had let the air out of their tires and they weren’t pleased.

I called my dad. I asked him for help. I had offered to get their tires filled and that gave me the reprieve I needed to avoid more fists.

My dad showed up. He brought his AAA card. He walked right into the middle of the group of people and handed it to me. He wanted to protect me. My dad wasn’t strong and wasn’t a fighter. If we were going to go down he was going to go down with us.

The tow truck turned up, filled their tires and they left.

My dad never told my mom. He was disappointed but didn’t punish me.

I gave myself a self-appointed 2-week break from going out on weekends.

If only that were the only situation that my dad had to deal with like this.  Let’s be clear – I can be a royal pain in the arse on many occasions.

But I am also filled with unconditional love for those I am close to.

I divide the world into those few people with whom I feel extreme trust and loyalty. They are fewer than I would like but I’ve accepted that is one of life’s conditions. People are never as loyal and supportive as you’d like and you only find out when the chips are down and  you need friends.

As Eric Clapton said, “No one knows you when you’re down and out.”

But when you earn my trust you get the unconditional love and support my dad showed me.

4. Generosity

To this day my dad never cared about worldly possessions. He never bought anything fancy for himself.

Honestly, I can tell you that the look on my dad’s face when he got to do something nice for you – buy you the outfit you really wanted for high school, slip you a bit of extra cash for college or whatever – it really made him happy.

He grew up in a family of people who would always slip a 5-dollar bill into your hand at special occasions. I know this because my uncles – his brothers – always did this to me.

They all loved being able to be a bit generous with loved ones.

I did a newspaper interview last week where the journalist asked me what big splurge I did when I sold my first company. “What was the first big thing you bought for yourself?”

I can honestly say I didn’t buy any physical possession for myself. Not a car or a watch or a boat or anything.

I took my in-laws to stay at the penthouse suite at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco. They didn’t grow up going to fancy hotels and it was pure joy to see them staying at a posh hotels with one of the best views you’ll find in San Francisco.

I took my sister-in-law and her husband to the French Laundry.

I rented a limousine, bought a few Jeroboam’s (8 bottles in one) of champaign and took my team for a killer night on the town.

I rented out the chef’s table at a local restaurant in Menlo Park for my friends. A few more Jeroboams.

I won’t say this wasn’t extravagant. Simply that I experience more pleasure by watching others have pleasure. And especially pleasure they wouldn’t bestow upon themselves.

My dad taught me generosity. Money is transient. When I get an unexpected windfall I often turn to others in need and find a way to help.

I’m not saying this to toot my own horn.

Just that when I think about the things that drive me mad about my personality (and there are many) and the things in which I’m most proud – the things my dad taught me by doing rather than saying form the basis of who I am today and that which makes me proud. He taught me: Encouragement, support, unconditional love and generosity.

And I know this comes from Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

I love you.


Update: in a “circle of life” moment I got this wonderful picture my wife sent me. It seems my 10-year-old Jacob hadn’t yet made me a Father’s Day Card so he set his alarm for 5.29am on a Sunday to wake up early and do it. You can see the text below. Sweet.

Jacob iPod Alarm

  • Zero Cool

    A great day to show our appreciation to our fathers with care, compassion, love, understanding and appreciation for all they’ve done and continue to do. Happy Father’s Day to you and the fam, Mark.

  • http://adamdanielmezei.com Adam Daniel Mezei

    I’d mentioned over on my FB Wall this morning, I could *easily* have written this post myself…I see so many similarities between your dad and mine, and a couple of the anecdotes strike so remarkably home that if I weren’t reading this in public, I’d have a moment all to myself…thanks for being the blogging dynamo that you are and for reminding me with your carefully-chosen words why I love my dad so much as well.

    I think the post is going to receive a lot of plaudits…bravo performance.

  • Mark Date

    Its a well worn cliche, but the minute I became a father myself was the moment I realized how similar to my own father I really am…and despite the fights, all he really wanted was the best for me.

    They say you can’t escape your upbringing, good or bad – those of us fortunate to have a strong, compassionate, father as the head of the household really need to celebrate this today – and maybe share a thought for those who haven’t.

  • UrbanExplorer.com

    Your dad sounds genuinely lovely, and you are so incredibly lucky to have him (it’s great you obviously appreciate this too). Happy Father’s Day to you as well, hope you’re getting spoiled.

  • jamesoliverjr

    Another great post, Mark. Happy Father’s Day.

    I’m celebrating my 1st Father’s Day with the twins, Thaddeus and Zoe. It’s been tough so far, as they were very premature and are only a few months old yet (adjusted age based on due date) and don’t sleep through the night.

    My wife gave me this hilarious card:

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com/ Donna Brewington White

    A wonderful tribute Mark. You are publicly transparent enough that is is easy to see how well you have captured the influence of both your parents on your character and makeup. And a great influence it is.

    I married a man with an amazing dad and now I see the wisdom in that because he is an amazing dad too.

    Happy Father’s Day!

  • petermengo

    Thank you Mark, Seriously. Good stuff. Time for me to put down on paper what a great Dad I have as well. Need to share it with my son who will soon have his own family.

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com/ Donna Brewington White

    “Strong compassionate father”

    A great description. Those two adjectives are not often seen together but what a powerful combination.

  • http://inuvi.com Mark Westling

    What a great posting to read this morning. Thanks, Mark — well done.

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan

    Happy fathers day, Mark! :)

  • http://cafepeople.com/ Pete Meehan

    Beautifully said. Actually, it feels like you wrote that for a lot of us who love, respect and cherish our dads – including the ones who are no longer with us.

    I trust your dad Mark, reads it. He’ll be ever more proud of you.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. Unfortunately with Parkinson’s my dad doesn’t get on the computer much any more. He has enough loved ones around him that I’m sure somebody will read it to him.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thank you, Rohan

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Mark

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Wow. Congrats on the upcoming grandchild.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you, Donna. I appreciate it.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Happy first Father’s Day. Just like children, they get better and better. BTW, I don’t see the card?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. I feel lucky on both generations.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes. You do realize the “circle of life” when you have kids and you appreciate way more what your parents did for you and the love they must have felt. Rebellion is an important part of being a child because it teaches independence so I think we as families confuse this until you can pull back and realize it is all nature’s plan.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you, Adam. And if we share enough experiences with our dads you’re a lucky man.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

  • jamesoliverjr

    Weird-I see it on my phone. I’ll tweet it to you.

  • Walter Chen

    Great write up, Mark. As a son of an immigrant, I relate with all of the above.

  • Greening

    Thank you Mark. Happy Fathers Day,

    They did it because they knew it to be right.
    We (try to) emulate them as that is the better way.

    As CSNY sang: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49ajPPEkATA

  • http://joeyevoli.com/ Joe Yevoli

    Great post, Mark. Really enjoyed it. Even though we met for a very short time, you were extremely helpful. I can definitely attest to your generous side.

    ps. I know the Eagles and Phillies often get “routed” but I think you meant “root for” :)

  • http://robertsaric.com/ Rob Saric

    Thanks for the thoughtful Father’s Day post Mark! I also love my dad, an immigrant who lost both his parents in World War II. He came to Canada with nothing, worked 20 years straight midnight shifts in the steel foundry (never complained once because “he was doing it for his kids”). Even when I’m experiencing the shittiest of times, knowing you have someone who always believes in you is powerful and motivating. I’m an unrelenting optimist because of it.. truly blessed are the individuals who grow up with the support, encouragement and unconditional love you noted.

    Happy Father’s Day Mark.

  • salomon konig

    You could have said A MENSCH.

    From Wikipedia: A “mensch” is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.” The term is used as a high compliment, expressing the rarity and value of that individual’s qualities.

  • Shojib Ashrafi Na Ashrafi

    My thoughts exactly… you’d think people who either own or plan to ride in a limo would like to know that information!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Thanks, Joe. Fixed. Touche.

    I do remember our last meeting very well (and our previous ones as a different team). I hope to have a few more. Gets harder with time commitments but not out of lack of interest.

    Hope the business is going well.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Awesome, Rob. I talked about this in a fireside chat I did recently (video online soon) with Startup Grind. This generation simply doesn’t know how easy we have it relative to our parents and especially grandparents. And I think we also take for granted how lucky we are to win the birth lottery relative to the 4 billion who did not.

    It’s a tough world out there. We need to all appreciate more what we have.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes. I know. My dad is a mensch.

  • Pat Sullivan

    Great Post Mark. So good that you had such a wonderful Dad! Happy Father’s day.

  • http://www.twitter.com/rohamg Roham

    Touching post, Marc, it’s evident from the photos you’ve taken your dad’s lessons to heart – and by sharing them hopefully others may follow. Happy father’s day to you too!

  • http://robbie.robnrob.com/ Robbie Coleman

    Happy Fathers’ day Mark! The Gravity team is fortunate to have you as one of our 4 dads. Hey! Four Fathers!

  • http://deliciouskarma.com/ Michelle | Delicious Karma

    Beautifully written, with great love, deep thought and profound appreciation; brought tears to my eyes! :-) It’s the right way to “celebrate” fathers day…to take stock in the riches our fathers have bestowed upon us in terms of the things they have taught us and the ways they have helped shape us into the people we are today. Thank you for sharing this. It certainly made me think today.

  • http://dandemole.com Dan

    My favorite “lesson” from my dad was something he said to me once in high school after losing a basketball game to what I believed was a cheating team. He pulled me aside and said that he was proud of me regardless of the outcome. That sometimes it isn’t about winning and losing. The most important thing is to play and live with integrity and honesty. With your teammates, your work, your family and friends. It’s the real measure of success.

    Pretty good words that have stuck with me and kept me centered. My father has lived with Parkinson’s for 14 years now as well. Hell of a disease. Happy Fathers Day.

  • Mark Date

    Hi Mark

    Yes, the circle of life indeed – but I wish I knew then what I know now!

  • Mark Date

    Hi Donna
    A powerful combination indeed – something i’m struggling to master with as much ease as my father..
    For our parents to remain our heroes in this media age, shows us how precious they really are.

  • http://www.wehelpyourock.com/ Mike Walsh

    nice post Mark – great lessons!

  • http://www.foursquare.com/ Holger Luedorf

    Great post. Still learning new stuff about you and your family. Have a great Father’s Day. You deserve it.

  • petermengo

    Oops, got a bit ahead of myself. He’s first getting married this fall – but they’re not going to wait too long starting a family. He’ll be a great dad…

  • LaVonne Reimer

    Great post. There is a consistency in your writings and presentations that says your Dad did well! Lately my memories of my father have centered on something he shared with me from early on. He was in construction and often brought home blueprints for jobs (back when they were really blue). After dinner he’d get to work. I had three brothers, not one of whom seemed to have any interest but I did. I snagged the chair next to him. Every time was the same. He’d flip through all the sheets quickly and then turn to me with a twinkle in his eyes as if to say “watch this!” He’d write 2 numbers, one the length of the project and the other the total cost. Then he’d do the detailed study page by page ending by adding it all up. Every time he nailed it. I think of this every time my team has launched into a new phase of software dev. I can size it up pretty accurately. That’s one of the gifts from Dad. But the biggest of all is that this man who wasn’t otherwise a feminist, took the time to share the best skills he had with his young daughter.

  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    Great post Mark. For sure great day for all of us to remember how we got where we are today. I would add these things I learned from Dad:

    1. always show up on time

    2. do what you say you’re going to do

    3. return things you borrow in a better condition than you got them.

    Words to live by.

    Oh and he taught me to balance a checkbook. These days a skill apparently rarer than a Snow Leopard.

  • Amy Murch

    Really enjoyed this post, Mark. I heard you first mention your dad the other day at the StartupGrind event (which I very much enjoyed – it was nice to finally meet you – hope you can come by the Adly office soon). I think it’s so important to think about people who shaped or influenced your life, your personality, they way you conduct yourself and the way you aspire to lead and treat others. I really value my relationship with my father now, but I wish I had always felt that way – I wish I had appreciated everything he did for me without having been so resistant or critical of him at times, especially because I know that at the end of the day, he’ll always be my biggest fan. Even now.

    I came across this poem awhile back. It seemed to resonate with me because I reference it occasionally even now. Maybe you’ll like it. Thanks for the post.

    Those Winter Sundays
    By Robert Hayden

    Sundays too my father got up early
    and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
    then with cracked hands that ached
    from labor in the weekday weather made
    banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress,
    fearing the chronic angers of that house,

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well.
    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices?

  • http://www.kineplay.com/ben Ben Milstead

    What a wonderful post, really enjoyed this one Mark.