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