Posted by: CeCe | March 11, 2012

The last summer

The summer before my dad died, he took the time to explain to my brother and me who he is, and some of the most important things he learned over the course of his life.  At the time, I had no idea that that’s what he was doing.  I thought he was just telling us somewhat interesting stories about his childhood, his teenage years, his early adult years before he met Mom, his time in both the Korean War and Vietnam, and his parents (whom I never knew, since they died before I was born).  I learned many things about my dad that last summer, like that he came from a very broken home, his mother was an absolutely horrible person, and that he only had an 8th grade education.  How he wound up using that education to work at Boeing is completely beyond me; my dad was an autodidact who taught himself as much as he could.  I remember him helping me with my math homework, and simplifying fractions to the point where I’m still quite proficient at solving them, even 20 years after his death.

Anyway, there were two things that my dad taught me that have really stuck with me. Without me realizing it, he taught me two extremely important lessons and shaped the course of my teenage and adult years.

The first story he told us was that at one point during Vietnam, he had to make a snap decision in which neither result was preferable.  He didn’t say exactly what the situation was, but I’m sure knowing what I know of the Vietnam War, I’ve figured it out.  He told us to imagine that we were driving in a car with a couple friends and it came to the point where we were absolutely going to crash, and there was simply no way to avoid it.  The only question was what we were going to choose to hit.  He told us we were either going to hit a school bus with a couple kids on it (the end result being their death), or hit a gas station, killing us, our friends, and everyone in the gas station including several children.   My brother and I thought about it, and both of us agreed that the most preferable course would be to hit the bus.  And my dad responded that yes, that was the best solution.  He also told us that it was a decision that he had to live with for the rest of his life and it wasn’t easy, but he believed and was probably correct that there was simply no other option.

What I took from that is that sometimes when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, you just have to pick a side and hope for the best.  I’ve made the same sort of decision (though not nearly as extreme) many times over the course of my life, and every time, it’s been my dad’s voice echoing in my mind.

The second story he told us was about when he was up for a promotion at work, and it was between him and one other person.  At one point, he was called into the supervisor’s office to be interviewed for the position, and he was asked what he thought of the other candidate for the job.  My dad considered, and he responded that the other man was hard-working, great at his job, and would be good in the position for which he and my dad were both being considered.  The supervisor sat back, and then asked what my dad’s relationship with the man was like, and my dad responded that they were cordial.  That was when the supervisor announced that my dad was getting the promotion.  He explained that it was because the other man had said horrible things about my dad, like that he was lazy, horrible at his job, and would be awful for the position.  The supervisor knew this wasn’t true, which is why he promoted my dad instead of the other man.

After he told us this story, he made it clear that he believed that if a person couldn’t keep their job or become promoted by working hard and being ethical, they didn’t deserve the job.

Ever since then, in every single job I’ve had and in my dealings with school, I made it a point to try to never step on those below me or around me to get ahead.  Every time I think about it, I always hear my dad telling me that if the only way a person can get ahead is by stepping on everyone else, then they don’t deserve to get ahead.  This has helped me at times, because it makes me an excellent coworker and team player.  On the other hand, it also means that I’ve had to leave several jobs in which my coworkers had no compunctions about stepping on those around them.

I believe that this shows what kind of person my dad was, that he could break down two very adult lessons to the point that a ten year old me could understand them, and have them remain indelible in my mind for decades after his death.  It makes me feel like he’s still with me somehow.

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