How Swinging a Hammer and Fetching Beer for Your Dad Are the Foundation of Entrepreneurship

My Dad just butt FaceTimed me. I know it was a butt FaceTime as I am almost positive my Dad does not know how to FaceTime. I am not even sure he knows what it is. Anyway, the missed FaceTime from my Dad made me smile, and got me all nostalgic. I started taking a trip down old memory lane – when my Dad taught me everything I knew. Don’t tell him I said that though. I don’t want him getting a big(ger) head. He will likely get the cliff notes version of this BLOG post from my stepmom anyway.

I grew up in the time of no seatbelts, staying outside until the streetlights came on, wearing sunburns with pride as they represented a good day out in the sun, riding in the back of a pick-up truck all the way to my grandmother’s (like 30 miles and often in the dark), when chores were not optional or paid for and often included “get me a beer from the cooler”, you ate what you were given when you were given it, got ready for school and went to the bus stop on your own (from the age of 5), did your homework yourself, were responsible for your own grades and you didn’t talk back for fear of what was going to happen to you – with death being the best of all potential punishment options. And most importantly, you did not speak or make even the slightest sound during the weather portion of the news each night. Ever. For any reason. No matter what. I am not kidding. I am 44 and still refuse to speak during any weather forecast.

If our bikes were not put away, my Dad would hide them and tell us they had been stolen. If we didn’t put our toys away, they got thrown away – and they were not replaced. If we were told (not asked) to do something, we did it. If my Dad was working on the car, we were working on the car. If my Dad was working on the house, we worked on the house. If my Dad was working in the yard, we worked in the yard. When it came time to drive, we had to know how to change a tire AND the oil (we weren’t cruising down to the Jiffy Lube).

My Dad taught me a ton of life skills. He taught me:

  • How to swing a hammer (TIP: do not miss the nail as it makes a dent in the wood and absolutely do NOT hit the nail crooked as only idiots do that)
  • How to use a drill (uhmm, do not even tell me you stripped the screw – again you may die)
  • How to change a tire (it did not matter if it was snowing or raining or blazing hot with 100% humidity)
  • How to patch a wall (and sand it flush, by hand, and repaint it – this came in handy in my teen years after a few small social gatherings I accidently threw)
  • How to hang drywall (you know in case at age 8 I needed to build my own house)
  • How to shingle the outside of a house up on staging with no safety equipment (imminent death was always a few seconds away at any given time)
  • How to change the oil (and let me tell you, getting oil on the driveway, which was basically a dirt patch and not even paved was not an option you wanted to explore)
  • How to use tools (if you banged your thumb you waited until the project was finished for any type of medical attention which was likely a bag of frozen veggies from the freezer)
  • How to mow the lawn perfectly (if you left an “island” and your rows were not perfect then you were in deep shit)
  • How to sail a boat to Cape Cod (sometimes in gale force winds, 12-15 foot waves, and zero visibility – fear of dying was a regular event)
  • How to clean the bottom of that same 22’ boat (while it was IN the ocean and moving around on a mooring or anchor lol)
  • How to swim (by throwing me off a dock)
  • How to work hard (for 12-15 hours a day – tired and/or sick were not an options in our house)
  • How to earn a living (which did not include all the work you did for free around the house since you lived in it and all)
  • How to write thank-you notes (because being an ungrateful punk would get you a slap)

My Dad wasn’t actually a tradesman. He worked at the same company that manufactured heart and lung equipment for three decades. He wore a tie to work (sometimes with a short sleeved button down, but that is another story). He worked his way up from an entry-level job, to the boss. I remember his office – it was a MESS and had like seven ashtrays and at least two or three of them had cigarettes burning in them at any given time. He got to work on time every day, never left early and I don’t think he ever took a sick day. I was “lucky” enough to work there (as my 2nd or 3rd job as I always seemed to have multiple jobs) and various points filling tubes with some sort of stuff (probably poison) for hours on end. It was the worst, most boring job ever (sorry Dad, but it was terrible) – but my Dad would eat lunch with me sometimes. I pretended I didn’t care if we ate lunch together or not, but I did.

Ultimately, all those things he taught me, were priming me to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t know it at the time and he probably didn’t either – although he may claim it was all some well laid-out plan he had. He taught me through actions, behavior and tough lessons. He taught me:

  • Excuses will not get you anywhere in life
  • We have to do a bunch of shit in life we don’t want to – it’s just part of the deal
  • How to be self-sufficient and support myself
  • To take responsibility for my own actions
  • Accountability and follow through are paramount – finish what you start
  • Persistence and resilience – life will knock you in the teeth
  • The importance of a strong work ethic and putting in a day’s work for a day’s pay
  • Manners and respect

My Dad, Big Jim as we call him (he is not big, but he can be loud and has a big personality) was not the most nurturing. He was harsh, definitive, boisterous, opinionated and strict. He was constantly shouting things like:

  • Use your head for something besides a hat rack
  • Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
  • If you want to cry, I will give you something to cry about
  • I brought you into this world and I can take you out and make another one just like you

And perhaps his most famous saying “proper prior planning prevent piss poor performance” – at five years old, I didn’t even know what those words meant, but I knew the saying. I always thought he made that up. He didn’t. But he liked to say it, a lot. And I am glad he did.

He made his fair share of mistakes. Many things he did (or didn’t do) would get parents today arrested in a heartbeat. His main goal was to make sure my brother and I were halfway decent people and, productive members of society who weren’t entitled assholes. I think he did ok.

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