I recently conducted a keynote for an association in Southern California. They bring me in every year. At the last minute, I changed up and ended with the story below. Afterward, a man in his fifties said to me, "I heard you tell that story a few years ago. It GETS ME every time!" His eyes were red and filled with tears. They were the bittersweet kind. He continued, "I'm going to write my father that letter you suggested, telling him the ten great things I got from him." I smiled and said, "Good for you. You will both be glad you did."
It was the summer of '67, the Summer of Love. I was ten years old, so I missed it. I did, however, LOVE to swim. I was a fish. Many times I said to myself, "One day, I will have a pool of my own!" Hey, I was ten.
We were in England for three weeks, and my father and I were at the Brighton Pool. It was an amazing place. It was the size of a football field and had three different diving boards. One of the three was a thirty-five-foot platform. It might as well been thirty-five hundred feet to my ten-year-old eyes. If only I could jump off THAT! It would be an act of courage and honor. It would something I could brag about to my friends. I could gloat all summer.
It took me over an hour to muster the courage to do it. I slowly ascended the steps like a condemned man climbing the gallows. Each step was deliberate and forced. I stood on the edge of that platform for what seemed like a week. No one was watching; my father was reading the paper on the chaise lounge. I took the bold leap of faith, I jumped!
It was exhilarating. It was magical. It was the highlight of the summer. I ran over to tell my dad. He stared at me with indifference. I had interrupted his reading, but I didn't care. This was too important. "I'm gonna do it again, Dad, watch!" He nodded with the enthusiasm of a Benedictine monk.
This time I raced up the steps. I glanced over at my dad. He had put his paper down and was watching. I jumped and let out a howl. The only other person at the pool that morning, the pool guy, glanced up and then went back to checking the filter. I looked over at Dad. He had gone back to reading his paper. Then I hit the water.
Some things you never forget, even when you're ten years old. That moment in time stayed with me. My father simply didn't know how important that was to me. As parents, we all operate on our best awareness until that awareness changes. Had he known, he would have most certainly watched.
Self-worth is a gift we give to the young people in our care. Self-esteem is transferred from parent to child. When you are a kid, what your parents say to you matters. What they reward shapes your character. What they punish forms your values. What they don't do can mold and shape your self-concept. The implied message that day was, "The newspaper is more important than you. You are an interruption."
In 1993, Evan, our youngest son, was not quite three years old. He was fearless, he was passionate, and he craved my attention and praise. Our home, at 9100 Olympic View Drive, in Edmonds, Washington, had a kidney-shaped in-ground pool. At the deep end, it was maybe eight or nine feet deep. The diving board had all the spring of steel girder. Wearing his water wings, Evan stood on the diving board and called out, "Dad, watch!" He had never gone "off the board" like his older brother Colin had done many times before.
I glanced up to see an expression on his face that I had never seen. Doubt. He wondered if I thought he had the courage to jump. Our eyes locked. "Go for it, Ev," I said. "I'm watching."
He jumped. He sprang up out of the water like a whale breeching. My eyes were fixed on his. He saw that I saw! He swam toward me, jumped into my arms, and exclaimed, "I love you Dad!" He beamed. I cannot recall ever seeing him happier. He was proud and confident.
He didn't know that inside something had changed in me. At that moment, I was able to forgive my father for his sins of omission and commission. It was a kind of long-lost healing. He waited to hear my response. I finally said, "Great job, son! I am so proud of you." Evan beamed. He squeezed me a little tighter. Then I made a mistake. I said, "Do it again!" And he did-over and over and over again.
I spent the next hour watching him jump a hundred more times. It was a great day for father and son and a defining moment in each of our lives. It was the beginning of one success after another for Evan; it was an old wound finally healed for me.
It's not WHERE you start, it's HOW you finish! Has life given you lemons? Make lemonade and sell it on the corner!
From the time they were old enough to understand, I told my boys, "Your future is so bright, it burns my eyes to look at it." Adding with sincerity, I predicted, "You will go so much farther than I ever did in school, sports, and business." Guess what? They have. They will continue to do so. Perhaps most important, they will pass that on to their children.
Did you know that ALL your employees, especially salespeople, are saying, "Hey, Dad, watch this!" As I wrote in my book, Freedom from Fear, (available on my website, www.sparkingsuccess.net
"Everyone from eight to eighty-eight needs three things: appreciation, respect, and understanding."
What do you celebrate in your company? What do you get a high-five for? Does your acknowledgment program need revamping? Do you even have a formalized recognition program? Do you have an internal newsletter acknowledging birthdays, extra-mile achievements, and acts of courage and risk on the customer's behalf?
I can see it now: It is the summer of 2020 and I am at the pool, reading the New York Times on my Kindle, version 9.0. I hear a voice holler out, "Grandpa, watch! I'm going off the high dive!" Evan and I look up. We lock eyes with the intrepid young diver. My son and I say in unison, "Go for it!"
In the last 15 years of my father's life, he I became very close. He was a good man. He loved his family. I can only hope my children say that about me after I am gone.
Enjoy the journey. The best is yet to come.