My father has less than two weeks to live. He is suffering from cancer of the esophagus. If you or a relative are going through something similar, my prayers are with you.
My father is someone who never quite understood his creative eldest child. A younger son who is vice president of a large company and a daughter who followed his academic path, then married a wonderful guy who owns a company — them he understands.
While I was growing up, he worked 80 to 100 hours a week. As a CPA, he would take care of everyone’s problems, regardless of how well he knew them. Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve wrestled with the father/son stuff. I’ve figured out that he is who he is, I am who I am, and that’s going to have to work.
Here are some terrific lessons I’ve learned from my father:
- Do the right thing every time. Growing up, dinners were always interrupted by clients. He’d take the call or leave the house to take care of something. When asked why he always did it, he replied, “If you can do something good for someone, do it and don’t look for anything in return.”
- Know what’s going on in the world. One vivid memory I have was the unreal amount of newspapers we received. We got the Hartford Courant, New York Times, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Post, and Wall Street Journal. Once a year, my mother would stand over the pile with a lit match and threaten to drop it. She never did, but Stu got the hint and threw some away.
- Education comes first. My father was blessed with a photographic memory. We could be driving in the car and he’d say, “Who was pitching for the Dodgers eight years ago today?” He would know. He (and my mother) would always stress that school came first. After a less-than-illustrious high school career, I wanted to go to Europe and follow acts such as The Sex Pistols, Ian Hunter, and The Boomtown Rats. They suggested that I finish at least one year of college, then I could do what I want. I grudgingly went to Boston University and spent four fantastic years there.
- Family also comes first. While it may be a contradiction for a workaholic to say he puts family first, he wanted everyone to be OK. He’d do whatever it took to make things right. I never understood why he missed the Little League games and school concerts, but I see the way he plays with my kids and my nephews and nieces, and I know he’s sorry he missed out on our growing up.
- Keep the vices to a minimum. My father never smoked and probably hasn’t had a drink since college (he graduated in 1954). He could never understand why we’d go to a bar to watch a ballgame when our den was more comfortable, cheaper, and had a better view of the TV. My list of vices is a bit longer than his, but the older I get, shorter the list gets.
- Have a sense of humor. My parents have traveled all over the world. Before leaving on a trip, my dad would grab a pile of postcards with scenes from home. From Russia he’d send a postcard of our town hall and write, “Hey, it looks just like home.” Lots of people don’t get the joke, but it still makes me laugh.
- Answer mail promptly and courteously. If you’ve ever written to me, you might have noticed that I respond quickly. If you take the time to write, the least I can do is have the courtesy to thank you (even if you hate what I wrote).
I talked to my father in the hospital last night. I asked how he felt and what he was doing to pass the time. Boredom is not something he handles well. He told me that since his firm sent out his retirement notice, he’s received more than 300 cards and letters from long-time clients and friends. “I’m not going anywhere until every one of them gets answered,” he affirmed. I have no doubt he’ll keep his promise.
So, Dad, thanks for everything you’ve taught me. Thanks for letting your creative son do things you didn’t approve of and figure out what he needed to do. I guess the longer I tried to distance myself from my square CPA dad, the more I realized (at the tender age of 42) that we’re pretty similar after all. I love you.
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