As I have written in the past, my father was my true north. We did not always agree, but he was a good man, a talented retail baker/cake decorator, a devoted husband, and a man who loved ideas. He loved a good debate and could strike up a conversation with a brick wall.
My friends, who knew or heard stories about my father, understand that I come by my annoying verbal tendencies honestly.
More importantly, my father, perhaps unconsciously, created a wonderful legacy that guides me to this day. He was a true leader, not because he had a fancy office or reminded everyone that he was in charge. He had no office. His employees knew he was the leader because they saw him, day in, day out, try to do the right thing. In the 1960s, before it was common practice in small businesses, my father bought health insurance for all of his employees because it was the right thing to do. When an employee was having trouble, my father quietly lent a helping hand.
We spent hours around the kitchen table drinking coffee arguing obscure theological concepts or politics. He was ambidextrous – he could argue persuasively either side of an issue, depending on his mood and what he had been reading. But he was also a good listener. When I had a problem, or was suffering romantic/dating angst, I knew I could stop by my father’s bakery after finishing my shift as a reporter for the local newspaper, and unburden my soul in relative privacy. I knew when he was working late because his car would be parked out in front of the bakery and the front lights would be on.
My father, a lifelong smoker, developed a nasty case of Chronic Pulmonary Obstruction Disease. In 1983 he sold the bakery he had owned for more than 40 years. He died in 1989 never having fulfilled many of his retirement fantasies.
More than 20 years later, I returned to Tyler – the scene of the crime of my youth – to work for a regional health system. As I was heading home after a particularly brutal day – I found myself under the bus several times – I passed by the bakery. A light was on, a car was parked out front. Without thinking, I started to turn in to the parking lot.
I will always remember that moment. I just hope I have given my sons that gift. As the leader of a family – or a large organization – the gift of a legacy is an important value that can sometimes be pushed aside.
© 2012 John Gregory Self