The Power of Dad: Lessons Learned

My father as a Green Beret in Vietnam
My father is, hands down, the toughest, hardest working man I have ever met. A lot of people say this about their fathers, and I don’t doubt them, but how many can say they watched their father calmly hobble into the house to take a shower and then drive to the ER after accidentally sticking an ax blade into his shin? What truly amazed me about that memory, though, was waking to the sound of the crunching gravel from our driveway as my father left for work the following morning. At the time he was the company president, and everyone would’ve certainly understood had he decided to take it easy for a few days. But that wasn’t my father.

My father was the youngest of six who grew up on a meager, Pennsylvania farm, fought in Vietnam as a Green Beret, and then drove the length of the country to pick up my mother after proposing to her over the phone. Soon I and my three younger sisters would come into the picture, and through the years we watched our father come home from drawn out days at the chain of agri-businesses he and his brothers had started only to go right back to work mowing the yard or tending to the massive garden that would feed us through winter.

If anyone ever out-worked my father, I imagine it was his father, a fearsome bare-handed boxer who laid street bricks during the day before putting in a shift at the local factory. No doubt this is who my father gained his tireless ethic from, and it was a trait he intended to pass on to his own children.

The worst place any of us kids could be was caught parked in front of the TV on a Saturday afternoon, especially when a ceaseless number of tasks awaited—planting rows of potatoes, cutting fields of weeds, splitting piles of firewood, or shoveling snow from the drive. There were times I swore my father invented chores just to aggravate me.

I recall my father telling me to pick up dead branches in our yard one early spring evening. Eager to return to the game I had been playing, I rushed the job, missing a fair amount of sticks in the process. When my father later expressed his disappointment I burst out bawling. “I haven’t been in the Army!”

The overly dramatic reaction by my 9 year-old self threw my dad off, and his stern expression eased. “What’s that got to do with anything?” he wanted to know.

“Because,” I said through my tears. “I’m never gonna be able to work as hard as you.” I don’t remember what my father said next, but I do remember him smiling at this. Maybe it was because he took it as a compliment, or maybe he realized that I was already measuring myself against his high standards. And they were high.

At eleven I began working at my father’s company on Saturdays and sometimes after school; as I got older this would extend to my summers as well. Having a wad of cash in my pocket was a good feeling, but I can’t say it was always fun earning it. My father wasn’t about to let me be “the boss’s kid” who got over on the others. Lord help me if Dad ever caught me without a broom in my hand or lounging on the loading dock. At the times it seemed unfair, but looking back I see the lesson along with many others.

Over the course of my teens I would learn about perseverance, personal responsibility, and selflessness to name a few. I also learned what respect meant. No matter what mill I worked at the warehouse guys, a roughneck bunch, all admired my dad for his frequent tendency to get out of the front office and come help unload a semi-truck delivering a load of rock salt or mix up a two-ton grist order for a customer. In other words, being willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty with everyone else was a noble quality.

Actions spoke the loudest of my father who had few paternal platitudes (other than the proverb stating that if a man wasn’t willing to work, he shouldn’t be allowed to eat). But he didn’t need them to endue his children with compassion, humility, and a mischievous sense of humor to go along with his work ethic.

It was what these thoughts that passed through my head as my two oldest sons helped me move last weekend. As a marketing manager and part-time writer who sits in front of a computer all day I don’t work near as hard as my father, and I also don’t have a feed mill for my sons to learn what I did which has me constantly looking for just such an opportunity to convey to them the importance of hard work. 

Beyond this, though, I wonder too what my sons see in my actions. The power of my dad’s example came not in one or two isolated examples, but in a whole multitude of moments strung together to paint a consistent picture I would try to pattern my own life on. I suppose such a concern is inherent to fatherhood, and it will constantly be on my mind. If this thought ever troubled my father, he needn’t have worried. I’ve earned every meal I’ve ever eaten since leaving home.     


Oral-B recognizes that fatherhood is a compilation of moments too. Join them as they partner with the March of Dimes and with “Football’s First Family,” NY Giants quarterback, Eli Manning, his father Archie, and daughter Ava in celebrating fatherhood’s little moments. See other dads celebrating these moments using #PowerofDad on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And if you’re looking for a great gift for your hard-working father, Oral-B is offering $7 off on their Oral-B 7000 Black power toothbrush. (Click here for savings.)

Disclosure: In accordance with the rules that government agency made I am letting everyone know that I was compensated for this post by Oral-B in conjunction with the Life of Dad network which should not detract from the sentiment behind the words. This is just one of those ways in which I earn food for me and my family. 

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