What indelible impressions are we leaving on others? Let’s be honest, we think we’re really important, but even the biggest footprints in the sand wash away by morning.
However, we are creating lasting memories for the people in our lives every day. What will they remember?
My Dad was a great man. No, he wasn’t perfect – how could he be growing up in the Depression with a single Mom, living like nomads until he was an adolescent, moving from relative to relative? And dealing with getting only an 8th grade education, two years in a tent in North Africa serving in World War II, and leaving Alabama for a California entreprenurial dream that was stolen away from him too soon? No, he wasn’t perfect, but he was a great man.
And not because he achieved storybook fame and fortune coming from modest means – not that version of “great”. My Dad worked hard as a 33-year union man with Hughes Aircraft while moonlighting as a watchmaker at home in the evenings – he was always so busy that I appreciated the times he would break away to play catch with his sports-crazed son. No, he didn’t conquer the world, but he was a great man.
And not because he achieved major acclaim in the community by being the President of this or the Grand Poobah of that. He was a valuable part of groups like the Masonic Lodge, and a volunteer par-excellance in all the worlds where my brother and I were involved, but he never “led” anything. No, he was not prominent, but he was a great man.
Now four years after he left us at age 84 I look back on his life and realize what greatness really means. To put it simply – everyone loved my Dad. He has always been remembered so fondly by everyone who knew him – family, friends and the people he worked and volunteered with.
• My brother and I just went to a family reunion in Alabama and everyone raved about how wonderful “Charlie” had been – and the reunion was with our Mom’s side of the family!
• Early in my corporate life at Hughes (where one of his watchmaking customers gave me my first job) I was a brash, energetic, and pretty annoying young guy, but anybody that knew I was Charlie Black’s son immediately treated me like I was okay with them.
• My Dad embodied the true definition of volunteer – I still cherish a special carved hatchet he made for every kid in our tribe as an invitation to a YMCA Indian Guides meeting – where did he find the time to make those while working two jobs? Anything I ever learned about helping others I learned from his example.
I could learn from my Dad’s life that it’s not about being perfect, it’s about persevering through challenges and leaving the campsite cleaner than you found it (both literally and in relationships); I could learn from my Dad that not everyone conquers the world, but working really hard makes a difference to everyone around us in addition to ourselves; I could learn from my Dad that giving our time and talent in a caring way is our greatest volunteer gift – we impact people’s lives whether we are a leader or not.
Maybe it would help us all to remember that the stories people tell, and will tell about us, are most likely about how we made them feel – I truly believe that is our best way to really matter. That’s the kind of greatness we can all truly hope to realize.
Thanks for sharing time with me; as always, I welcome your feedback and please feel free to pass this message along to others who may find value.
A final tribute to my Dad – this story intentionally coincides with the Angels hosting the MLB All-Star Game. While my brother and I (both life-long Dodger fans) could never really understand it, Dad always loved the Angels and we couldn’t convince him otherwise – like I said, he wasn’t perfect!
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