Today: How an embarrassing childhood incident helped to create a successful husband, father and businessman.
“Look, he’s all alone,” said an 8-year-old girl to her father, as she and others stared at me.
It was 1953 and I too was 8-years-old and stood alone in the center of a crowded grade school cafeteria after everyone else had been seated.
It was a night time school celebration and every other child was there with a parent or guardian and they were joined by the teaching and administrative staff.
But as usual, my mother did not get involved and my dad, who had promised to be there, had not shown up. I had no money to pay for dinner and now that everyone was seated and enjoying their meal, I did not know what to do or where to go and felt terrible.
Just then that 8-year-old girl’s father walked up to me, leaned down and put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Would you like to join us?”
I hung my head and replied, “Thank you,” and then embarrassed and fighting back tears added, “But I don’t have any money.” He smiled warmly at me and said, “Don’t worry about that, I’ll take care of it.” And he did.
At the table, he and the others welcomed me and talked to me. Later, when it was time to leave, this same man asked me to join him and his family in their car and they’d take me home.
As we were driving out, my dad sped into the parking lot, his tires squealing as he made a sharp turn in at too high a speed. “That’s my dad,” I told this man. “Thank you for everything,” I added. “But I should go home with him.”
He smiled and told me how nice it was to have had my company and everyone else did the same. I actually regretted getting out of their car.
A moment later, my dad filled me in on what a busy man he is and how these things could not be helped. I had to listen to it, for I was a captive audience in his car.
He and my mother had separated the prior year and he moved out leaving my younger sisters and me, one sister a toddler, to parent ourselves. I became a sort of parent looking after them and assisting my mother.
But his leaving actually was a tremendous relief because I was sick of them screaming at each other when he finally did get home at night. While we tried to sleep all their dirty laundry echoed across the home sometimes voiced as loud as a revved up motorcycle.
“I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this home,” he would yell. “And my kids have to eat and I don’t have the money.” This destroyed any sense of security I had. And my mother would scream back what a bum he was, spending his money on himself and on other women.
When my dad had lived at home he sometimes took out his frustrations in part by whipping off his belt and beating me and my next youngest sister.
When he left, he promised to visit, but he would either show up late or did not show up, despite us waiting for him. After awhile, I stopped waiting and my sisters followed my lead.
As the years passed, we saw him only occasionally, but he always made promises about how we would some day do things together as a family. Of course those promises were not kept.
But from that 1953 childhood incident, I began the process of becoming strong and independent.
When I became an adult, I forgave him. But I told him if he ever mistreated my children he would have no relationship with them. He turned out to be a loving grandfather.
But here is why I shared this story with you: My dad made me a loving and devoted husband and father. Does that surprise you? How did he do that?
Thanks to him, I was determined never to treat my wife and children as he had treated his. When Anne and I married, at ages 20 and 19, I treated her with consideration and respect and from the start, did everything I could to bring home a paycheck.
And as our three sons were born, I treated their mother lovingly as an example of how a husband should treat his wife.
As the boys grew-up, although a great group of employees and I were building a major business, I was at nearly all of their events, including coaching baseball and on occasion basketball.
And I would bring home surprises such as baseball cards.
We often had dinner together and I was there to tell them stories, do puppet shows and tuck them in. And I listened to them and helped them to solve their problems.
As for discipline, in the worst case, it was literally a slap on the wrist or the hand. But if I had to do over, it would not even be that, for violence has no place in loving relationships.
Perhaps most important of all, I always told their mother and them, I love them and everyone got a hug and a kiss. Even today, I hug and kiss Anne and our adult sons. She and I take great pride that they treat their wives and children the same way.
For a real man has the self-confidence to share his tender side and set an example, remembering how important his family is. If you are a father, it is you and not a celebrity, who is a role model for your children.
This is not to say Anne and I have a perfect marriage. Far from it. But we have been married for 45 years and she is as beautiful now as she was the day we married.
This is also not to say I was a perfect father. Far from it. But I have a wonderful relationship with our sons, their wives and their children.
If you want to uplift your life and those of your loved ones, be sure they know you love them and show it by your actions. Make them the priority. Make the time to listen and care enough to help. Not only will you live a dramatically happier life, but so will those closest to you.
Success Tip of the Week:
Do “the little things.” Tomorrow morning, you fix breakfast or wash the dishes afterward. And if she has a favorite TV show, as Anne likes “Amazing Wedding Cakes” on the Women’s Entertainment Channel, watch and enjoy it with her. And on occasion, surprise her with flowers. You will be amazed at what a joyful difference these things will make in your life.
Thank you to my friend Mary Ellen who persisted in persuading me to write today’s story. Thank you as well to my father’s younger brother, my Uncle Gene, who was there to advise me during those tough times in my childhood.
In the next KazanToday:
A top Hollywood writer who overcame an almost impossible limitation.