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An Example of Leadership

Editor's Note-- Please pardon me if this appears a little self-indulgent. I wrote this column four years ago for a blogsite and the Toledo Free Press. It's as relevant today as it was then. My father turns 79 years young Tuesday, the same week as Father's Day. He and my mom also mark 54 years of marriage next week. Happy birthday and Father's Day, Dad-- and thank you for all the lessons you have taught and showed me.


I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about my dad, but the reasons why go well beyond the traditional fond memories associated with Father’s Day.
My dad marks some of life’s bigger milestones this month. Last week, he reached his 75th birthday. He and my mom will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend.
If life’s a journey and not a destination, those are two historical markers you don’t often see together along life’s road these days.
At the same time, one gets a little weary and worn traveling that far: deciding which path to take, weathering the bumps and potholes along the way, and surviving the storms that slow your progress.
My father has recently begun to experience some health issues that come with all the experience, wisdom, and knowledge he has accumulated along his journey.
My parents still live in the only house I ever knew as a child. It has been home to seven kids: a big brick structure on a hill at the edge of the woods. They now live there alone, still trying to maintain all those empty rooms, a big backyard where grandchildren only laugh and play occasionally, and all the plumbing, electrical and other systems that start to break down with age.
I went home on consecutive weekends to help mow the grass and do other chores, not out of a sense of duty as a son. Not because I had to do it. I could have found a million excuses within a busy work and family life to avoid a three-hour drive. I wanted to help my friend, my mentor, my role model.
My father filled all those roles in my life, and continues to do so. He even came outside to help me clean brush off a hillside, even though the medication he’s on requires him to stay out of the sunlight as much as possible.
Some would call that stubborn. I call it quietly leading by example.
Without a word, he showed me he would never ask me to do something he was not willing to do himself. Any man willing to get his hands dirty alongside me is someone I’m willing to go the extra mile to help.
Sure, he can only do so much these days. But the conversation and companionship made the job go by much more quickly.
After the sun and medication wore him out after a while, my father smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and said he needed to go inside and rest for a while.
His effort inspired me to keep plugging away. I worked eight hours that day in
90-degree heat and typical Ohio humidity, just trying to give a little back to a man who had already given me so much.
As my father walked away and I got back to the task at hand, I got lost in reminiscing about some of the lessons that quiet leader left in the hearts and minds of his children, lessons he’s now helping to teach his many grandkids.
A strong work ethic was only one of those lessons. I worked summers on the assembly line to pay for my college education. My dad was a ceramic engineer, the guy who helped pave your journey through life with bricks and smoothly-glazed tile. He was part of the management team at the factory.
I was known as the “boss’s kid”, or BK. That fact made it tough to be accepted by the rank-and-file, the union stewards, and other managers. But I kept hearing the same thing over and over, when I found myself alone with each of those people.
“Hey, I just wanted you to know—your old man, he’s a great guy. Always been fair to me. He’s a good man. Honest man. That makes you cool by me.”
My dad and I worked different shifts. But I heard those same phrases from workers and managers 24-7. I began to see the merits of treating all people at all levels in the same way: with dignity, respect, and fairness.
My father also set an example of leadership in the small Northeast Ohio community where I grew up, by serving on the local school board for nearly a quarter-century.
He never had to run a political campaign. No baby-kissing, flag-waving, sign-in-every-front-yard, travel-to-every-festival, a-handshake-and-a-million-promises summertime extravaganza for him.
People elected him every four years because they saw him for what he was: the quiet voice of reason and common sense in the cesspool of politics.
Sure, my father held his employees, our community’s educators, and his children accountable. But never did you see ranting and raving, waving arms, and senseless screaming to get the message across, like a mayor who wants the grass cut at local parks.
Our school board didn’t have the egos, in-fighting, and childish games involving a bunch of so-called “leaders” who say they’re working on behalf of our community’s children.
Kind of makes you wish for a little quiet inspiration from a leader with common sense and old-fashioned values. Someone like my dad.