With Father’s Day this weekend, I’ve been thinking about the things I learned from my Dad. He passed away 13 years ago and, honestly, I can remember only two lessons he taught me verbally: “Turn the lights off when you leave a room,” and “When you borrow something, return it in better shape than when it was lent to you.”
No, most of the really important lessons I learned from Dad, I learned by watching him.
Dad worked for IBM for 20 years and then ran his own consulting company for 25 more. He traveled extensively and sometimes he’d take me along. Everywhere my dad went, he was greeted warmly by seemingly everyone. Hotel bellhops and front desk workers, diner waitresses, airline counter attendants; he greeted all these people by name. Often, he’d even give them small gifts – their favorite toffee or candy or some small item he’d picked up in his travels. I never got the sense this was an effort for him. He just loved people, and loved making them feel appreciated and valued, so it was simply a natural expression of who he was.
It wasn’t until later in my life that I realized some of him had rubbed off on me. At college, as far as I could tell, I was the only student who knew the names of most of the kitchen workers and cooks, and some of the janitors and gym personnel. These people seemed to be invisible to everyone else. But because of my father, to this day – even with my poor memory – I’ve learned that it’s important to know the names of the people who serve, wherever I go.
Something significant happens in these short interactions. For me, I feel a connection to someone when I greet them by name. In the act of remembering their names, and finding out something about them, they become infinitely more “real” to me and I begin to truly care about them. For the other person, I hope that they feel valued and appreciated, beyond the norm. So, because of my father, I’ve learned it’s good to give people significance, and brighten their day.
Behaving this way, of course, isn’t without benefits. My dad always got upgraded to first class if there was room, and he always seemed to get the best hotel rooms. But I know full well that these little perks were never the reason he treated people kindly. In the same way, in my world, people repay my kindness with kindness. But, again, I never behave the way I do to get special treatment. No, because of my father, I do it because I learned that it’s the right way to behave.
Someone gave me a great analogy about success. When you’re the top monkey in the tree and you look down, you see lots of cute monkey faces looking up at you. But when you’re lower down in the tree and you look up, the view is not the same. No matter where you are in life, it is important to remember that there are always people lower down on the tree than you, and it is good (good for them and good for you) to get to their level and have a real face-to-face encounter every time you have the opportunity.
So, Dad, because of you – and for all the lessons you taught me, just by being who you are – I want to say thank you.