Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Father's Wisdom

I was very fortunate in having the father I had.  He passed away about two and a half years ago, but he left a lot of good sense in his wake.

My father was the son of Italian immigrants.  His first language was Italian, and he didn't learn English until going to school.  He actually skipped kindergarten, because he ran away the first three days. So, his teacher told his mom to keep him home until first grade.  After that, he did very well in school, although he never enjoyed it.  And that was one of his lessons to us -- sometimes, you just do what you are supposed to do, because you are supposed to do it.  And you do your best, whether or not you are having a good time.  More people could use that lesson, methinks.

After high school, my dad was drafted into the U.S. Army during the time of the Korean War.  Being in the army was something he didn't much care for, either.  But, he was of good character and had some excellent leadership skills, so he was made a squad leader.  During his time in this position, my dad got so angry with a fellow soldier -- who was unwilling to take part in the weekly cleaning of the barracks -- that he broke a broom over his back.  Yeah, my dad was kind of fiery sometimes.  You know how Italians can be.  As he said, though, he did not want to have his weekend liberty revoked because of this lazy dude.  Understandable.

After his hitch in the army, my dad tried college, but he only lasted a semester.  As I understand it, he was unwilling to spend his time listening to philosophy teachers wonder about whether or not we actually exist.  So, he took a job as a teller at Bank of America, and was quickly promoted up through the ranks.  During the 1970's, though, BofA began hiring a lot of MBA's fresh out of places like Stanford University.  My father announced to our family that these guys were going to ruin the bank -- but, not out of any fault of their own.  He explained that the Powers That Be at BofA hired these people fresh out of school, with no experience, and had them follow him around with clip boards for a couple of weeks, after which they were expected to do the same kind of job he was doing after working there for 16 years.  When the big financial crisis hit a few years back, and we all found out the shenanigans that had been going on at BofA, I called my dad and said, "Well, you were right.  The MBA's did end up ruining the bank."  He did not disagree.

Upon seeing the writing on the wall at Bank of America, my dad fell back on the trade he learned from his own father.  He renewed his general contractor's license and went into business for himself.  He built new homes and remodeled older ones, always doing gorgeous work.  People would often wait a year for him to do a job, rather than try to find anyone else.  He built his own custom cabinets out of maple in the workshop he had in our garage; and he always, always cleaned up each job site immaculately at the end of each and every work day -- something that was greatly appreciated by his customers.

My dad had a reputation, among many people, of pretty much always being right.  One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that he had an excellent intuitive grasp of human nature, of what makes people tick.  Everyone loved my dad, no matter their religion, politics, sexual ethics, whatever -- because he was cool with all of them.  He did dispense his advice, but usually gently, with an understanding that if you push people too hard, it will inevitably backfire.  Here are a few of examples of what I mean.

 My father interacted with a lot of young people -- family, children of his friends, subcontractors -- during the era of the "sexual revolution".  Now, my father was a very good Catholic and very old-fashioned in his values.  But, he also made people feel comfortable around him.  So, often these young people -- well, the guys, anyway -- would tell him of their sexual adventures.  Instead of acting shocked and lecturing them, my dad would listening patiently and with good humor.  And then, with a small smile on his lips, would ask something like, "Do you really think that's a good idea?"  You see, my father understood that people have to make up their own minds about things, that they have to make their own choices and learn from them.  And these people would, over the course of the years, come back to my father at the different phases of their lives and talk to him about their issues.  And he always would listen and have some wisdom to quietly impart.  His patient manner invited them back.  If he had moralized, they never would have given him another chance.

His parenting style was very similar.  As I have said before, I was kind of a rebel.  I would take it into my head that I wanted to do some crazy thing or other.  My dad would have it out with me.  We would often argue, quite loudly.  But, in the end, he would say, quietly, "Well, it's your life.  Do what you want to do."  My defenses would thus go down, and I would think to myself, "Uh. Do I really want to do that crazy-ass thing?"  And the answer was, usually -- no.

One of the best things my father ever did for me was this.  When I was 20 years old and in college, I became engaged.  It did not work out.  Due to reasons I will not go into here, I called off the wedding one week before it was supposed to happen.  I was 21 and devastated.  I did not have the mental energy to go back to school.  My father was sitting in his recliner chair a few days after the big event was cancelled, and he said to me, "You need a job."  He then picked up the Want Ad section of the paper, looked for a few minutes, and announced, "Here is a good job.  They need a loan clerk at the San Mateo County Credit Union.  Call this lady -- Devonia."  And he showed me the number.  I picked up the phone that very minute and called this nice lady.  I went for an interview the next day and was hired on the spot.  It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.  It was a wonderful job -- great co-workers, great life lessons, money in my pocket.  And, there were LOTS of cops, deputies, and firefighters who had accounts at the credit union, and all of us gals there had great fun with them.  Most of these guys had wonderful forearms; and if you have read my other posts, you know how I feel about great forearms on a guy. ;)  This was all just what I needed to get over Mr. Wrong.  I did end up going back to college, but I will always treasure the time I spent at the credit union.  It is one of my fondest memories.

I really miss my dad.  A lot of people do.  He had a great impact on many, and this impact came through his quiet wisdom about life and about people.  He taught me to listen; to not push too hard, especially as a parent; to respect the right of individuals to make their own decisions and to learn from them; to trust that, if given the freedom to do so, most people will make the right choices for themselves, at least eventually.  And maybe we need to strive to learn from my dad's insights when looking at our society.  Perhaps we need to give each other some space, even when we don't like each others' opinions and decisions, having hope that the majority of our fellow citizens do want to do the right thing when all is said and done.

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