FIVE LESSONS FROM MY FATHER
Albert Einstein once quipped that there are only three ways to influence others: (1) Example; (2) Example; & (3) Example. The following are five lessons from my father. They are presented here in order of ascending importance.
(1) TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
When I was 10 years old, my father noticed that I was an early riser. I had a terrible habit of waking everyone up in the house, especially on weekends. My family is still tormented by this proclivity. I have always been restless. Dad called this “having ants in my pants”. That gave me a great idea about how to make fun of my eldest brother, Lance. Ants, France, Dance, Lance, etc. One day, I made the mistake of asking my father about this cool thing that the other kids at school were talking about. Apparently, there was something called “an allowance”, by which sorcery children actually got $ from their parents through the application of some childhood version of socialism.
When I asked for an allowance, my father’s response was one that will be both familiar and ominous to my siblings: he said “we’ll see”. A few days later, I was rousted out of bed on a July morning at 6 a.m. Dad was careful to get to me before even I awakened. Bleary eyed, he led me to the sidewalk outside of our rented duplex in Kensington. There were newspapers, and I was to deliver them. Dad explained how this was done, and for the first two days, he walked the route with me and we delivered the newspapers. This was fun; the best part was just being with my dad. It felt special to have alone time with your Dad in a house filled with 5 kids. On the third day, I got up on my own.
Dad was not around. I went to wake him up. He said that as of today, I was on my own. If I wanted $, I would need to deliver those papers every day, rain or shine. I would have to collect the $ from customers. All of the profit would be mine. He did not force me to deliver those papers. He gave me the choice. I kept delivering those papers and came to fancy myself rather an Elon Musk. One day, I decided to show off to my friends by flashing all of the $ I had collected from customers to my friends at the local arcade. They were so impressed. I was on a real high, until I noticed on the way home that all of the $ was gone. I had not yet paid the Sun for the papers I delivered, and had no $ to pay for them.
I had a sort of Justin Trudeau approach to fiscal matters back then. Knees were trembling and palms were sweating when I told my dad. It was like walking down death row. He was not above spanking, especially when it was deserved. Dad would go for that belt like Burt Lancaster went for his gun as Wyatt Earp in “Gunfight at OK Corral”, one of Dad’s faves within his favourite movie genre. I thought that I was really going to get it—and I did. But not the spanking. He paid the Sun but then made me pay him back. Every cent. For two months, I was working for the man, just like Roy Orbison. There was no profit. Just debt. This was lesson #1: Take Responsibility. I have never forgotten this, and it guides me in my business and private life to this very day;
(2) READ, LEARN, AND GROW
Although not formally educated, I still do not know anyone who read more than my father. He read constantly: newspapers, magazines, hockey books, trade manuals, self-help books, novels, anything that he could get his hands on. He read voraciously, and particularly enjoyed completing the very difficult crossword puzzles published in newspapers. Although we were poor by most standards, there were always books in the house, and I learned to read before I went to school.
We had encyclopedias, nature books, my brothers had car and nature books, and of course comic books! Dad even read on the john. The lesson here is that it is important to be a lifelong learner, and to be constantly acquiring knowledge and new skills. He was a printer, a newspaper composer, a production manager, a general manager, an executive, an entrepreneur, and even a philanthropist. The job of becoming the best version of yourself is never finished, and dad spent his last day teaching fitness to elderly people.
His desire to learn and grow maintained and sustained him, even through very tough times. He never stopped believing that he could become the best version of himself, or that he could not continually improve. In this sense, he retained a boyish quality that prevented him from ever really growing old. This was lesson #2 Read, Learn, & Grow;
(3) SPEAK THE TRUTH, EVEN WHEN IT IS RISKY
Dad was truly oblivious to the need to please other people. He would form very strong, informed opinions, and Heaven help anyone who dared to try to tell him that he was wrong. This was best revealed in his irreverent sense of humour. He would poke fun at anyone or anything. Nothing and no one was safe. He loved to laugh, especially at the folly of others. He would always be the first to tell the Emperor that he had no clothes. His wit could be biting, but there was always honesty in it. The best example of his willingness to speak the truth occurred when he was still working at the Edmonton Journal in the mid-seventies.
A scandal arose at the Junior High School that my two elder brothers, Lance and Lindsay, were attending. It seems that there was an abusive gym teacher there who operated something called a shark-bait ring, by which he got bullies in his gym class to dispense vigilante justice against students that this teacher disliked. This was being done, for example, in mock wrestling matches during gym class. Dad discovered this, was outraged, and took swift action. At great personal risk, he applied the maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword.
He began a ferocious written campaign to the Edmonton Journal. In a series of letters to the editor, he exposed what was going on at the school, and his exposes put a stop to the abuse and resulted in the gym teacher being suspended. He could have lost his job by doing this; he was a lowly night pressman at the Journal. He was eminently replaceable. If the teacher’s union had pressured the Journal to fire this upstart loudmouth, the dye might have been cast. Despite this, Dad publicly spoke the truth. He was not paid to do it, and there was no Pulitzer Prize.
It was just the right thing to do. In an epilogue to this story, Dad paid this teacher a legendary visit after he was reinstated by the School Board. It seems that Dad suspected bias after Lindsay came home with a zero on his report card. I was not there, but I have it on good authority that Dad tore that teacher a new one that day. This was lesson #3: Speak The Truth, Even When It Is Risky. When people ask me why I have spoken out against Government tyranny, I recite this particular lesson;
(4) BET ON YOURSELF
This one is important, and too few people understand how empowering it is. In 1978, when Dad was not yet 37 years of age, he had a wife at home and 5 kids to support. He had a very secure, stable job with The Edmonton Journal as a pressman. He had left Regina with my mother 9 years earlier to take that job. It paid the rent. It put food on the table. It paid for the cloth that my mother used to sew our garments with upside down sailboats and our names engraved in them. Sidebar: I once got my ass kicked by a group of older boys because they said I was wearing my sister’s coat. It was a home spun denim jacket with the name “Lindsay” sewn on it. It had belonged to my elder brother!
Back to Dad. He decided to forego the security of the stable job that supported his family for the sake of something vitally important to him: opportunity. He took a new job with a fledgling newspaper called The Edmonton Sun, which was published for the first time on 2 April 1978. In under a decade, he rose to become the second highest paid employee at the Sun, second only to the publisher. As general manager, he ran the entire newspaper. This success changed his life and led to employment for every one of his 5 children. All of us at some point worked for The Sun. Those jobs helped me to work my way through University. Lance apprenticed there and rose to become
Foreman in the Maintenance department. Lindsay and Lovell worked there full-time on the presses, just as their dad once had. This was the most meaningful and successful work that Dad ever did, and it all happened because he had the courage and conviction to do what too many of us refuse or fail to do. To take the very best risk that we can ever wage: he bet on himself. He knew that if he applied himself, sacrificed and work hard, it would all be worth it somehow. He just knew that it would all turn out Ok, because there was no mountain to high or valley too low if you just kept going. Thanks to dad, this trait is in my DNA. This was lesson #4: Bet on Yourself; & now the most important one of all,
(5) THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE
Over the course of his long life, Dad faced many challenges. There were a lot of ups and downs. Such is the very cycle of life. There is no vertical trajectory towards either success or failure; in fact they are two sides of the same coin. For Dad, there was no such thing as a failure. His life was a journey. He once told me that he started life as the kid who everyone else hated. He was a half-breed boy growing up in post-WWII Manitoba with a Nazi surname. He was born with a target on his back.
The four lessons I have listed here guided him through that journey, and fed his belief that there was always going to be another day, another chance, a better day ahead, if he could just persevere and get through his present turmoils, which where were ever ample. In his 20’s, he fathered five kids and emigrated from Regina to Edmonton, which must have been terrifying for such a young man.
In his 30’s, he struggled to support his family and carve out a place for himself in the world. In his 40’s, he went through a difficult divorce and then nearly died from a severe strain of pneumonia known as Legionnaire’s disease. In his 50’s, he fought and beat bladder cancer. In his 60’s, he developed type 2 diabetes but still founded Spiritkeeper Youth Society, which literally saved the lives of many indigenous kids in the foster care system and those trying to leave native gangs.
In his 70’s, he suffered a stroke and finally ended his lifelong love affair with big tobacco. He once smoked so much that Players noticed a ten point drop in their stock prices after he quit. I cannot imagine the level of determination that this took. He just stopped: cold turkey. Even as an octogenarian, he continued to exercise and work. His very last day before the MVA that ultimately took his life was spent helping other seniors as a personal fitness trainer. This is perhaps his greatest legacy to me.
That every decision charts a course and you must follow it until “The End of The Trail”. We must never surrender to fate or lose faith. We must always imagine that no matter what may come, a man can truly author his own destiny if he only has the courage to dream big and to be steadfast, loyal, and true to his vision of who and what he can become. In the end, his old heart finally failed him, but the spirit of optimism that beat there throughout his life remains. Such is his greatest legacy to me. Goodnight father. Sleep well. I shall remember these 5 lessons and pass them on to my sons, and through them, the best parts of you shall live on, and on, and on.