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My Dad’s Example

August 2, 2011

by Derek W. Christian

So why on Earth is there a car in a newsletter about running a cleaning service? I guess because it is the holidays and I find myself thinking of my dad. That is my dad’s car who died way too young in 2003 at the age of 56 from Leukemia. I had always loved him as a father but as I got older he became my role model for work and life.

My dad was a high school drop-out who started his adult life working at Arby’s yet he achieved the position of General Manager of a $500 million public company and then went on to help found and grow a company from $3 to $30 million in just four years. While I always looked up to him for his success, I am even more proud of how he did it.

There are so many lessons I learned from watching my dad in both work and life in general. What is amazing to me is looking back I cannot ever remember him telling me any of this; I learned it all from watching him. First, always try to make the days of the people around you happier and NEVER treat anyone with disrespect. Even though my dad achieved success he never treated anyone as his lesser. He always tried to make the tired check-out clerk laugh. He always held open doors. He always called the woman cleaning the office ma’am or by name when he asked for something. I watched this over the years and learned that this is the way I wanted to live. I saw that he felt great joy every time he could make someone smile. I also saw the way it endeared people to him. Even at the end when he was in great pain at the hospital he tried to make people laugh and usually succeeded. His entire stay in the hospital the nurses used to fight over who would get to watch him. He used to say his chemo medication looked and smelled like “cat piss”. He developed a goofy song about cat piss which he would sing when he was getting chemo.

Second lesson, always try to have fun and never ever give up. My dad had so many opportunities to be defeated. He was not a good student and dropped out of high school. When I was born he was working at Arby’s as a cashier. His first attempt to better his family was a computer and business supply store that went out of business. At 30 he was forced to move back to his mom’s house with a wife and two kids because he did not have any money. His first real employer, Olevetti, went out of business. His second employer pushed him out in a political overthrow. After finally achieving his dreams for his career and life he was hit with Leukemia at the age of 56. Yet he was never defeated. He never gave up. He had some very bad times but I don’t remember him ever being anything but up-beat and ready to move on. Even in the last week of his life, he was sad to be leaving us, but was always more grateful for his great life. His last week of life was more like a slumber party than a sad event as my brother and I stayed up late telling stories. Him of all the stupid things he did when he was our age and us admitting all the things we did as kids. We laughed most of that last week.

Probably the greatest lesson as it applies to this business was how to treat the people that worked for us. Even as a child the worst thing we could do was disrespect someone who was working. My father had worked as a mechanic and fast food cashier in the hard years. His first business left him bankrupt. My father had a deep and personal respect for any individual that was working in any job to support and better their family. If we ever treated a waiter, cleaning person, or cashier with anything other than respect he would lecture us on how that person deserved our respect because of they labor they put forward. In his eyes manual labor was to be respected more, not less than office work because these people were making real personal sacrifices to support themselves. This is why I developed the program I now use with my own employees to help them move above and beyond my own company. I think this program would have made my dad proud.

Anyway back to the car. When my dad died one of his prize possessions was his 300 Z. He always loved cars and that was the car he wanted most. Finally he got it and he took great care of it. When he died he did not leave it to my brother or I. He left it to one of his employees, a guy named Joe Casey. He explained that Joe was a great kid that reminded him so much of himself and he worked very hard for him. My dad explained he left us with many things worth more than that car but Joe had never had those same chances. Finally, Shawn and I just were not car guys and it would mean so much more to Joe. When we told Joe about the car, he declared he was going to take great care of it but he really did not consider it his car. He felt he was given the honor of taking care of it for my dad and he was going to give it the to only grandchild, Tanner, when he turned 16. Tanner had just been born at this time. It has now been 7 years and every year Joe sends Tanner, now 7, pictures of the car and descriptions of what he has done to it in the last year. The Z is now about 600 HP and can go almost 190 mph, which terrifies my poor brother. This guy could have just taken his free car said thank you and never thought of it again. But instead for 7 years he has taken great care of my dad’s car and promised to give it to Tanner when he turned 16. Joe is not a long running family friend. He was just one example of the many dedicated people that worked for my dad.

So I guess the point is, some day I am not going to be here anymore and I cannot think of something that would make me as happy as having my employees feel this strongly about me. More than the money or the things, I hope to leave behind a whole bunch of current and former employees will walk up to Lindsay at the funeral and tell her how much I meant to them like my dad’s employees did to me. I hope I can help the people that work for me realize they can do so many greater things than they ever believed is possible. After all, they all did not have the great example I had with my dad.

Originally published by ARCSI.org: My Dad’s Example

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