My father died on December 23rd and. because of the holiday, we were only able to post an obituary for one day before the funeral proceedings. It was a blustery Christmas that year, with the weather fluctuating between freezing rain and snow squalls, making driving a hazard. We had little expectation that anyone would come out for the service.
Surprisingly, many came, and we stood in line for hours greeting people, and listening to tales of our father. Friends I remembered from my childhood days appeared and fussed over how grown we all are, but many of the faces were unfamiliar. Regardless of the connection, the stories all expressed a common thread.
“If it wasn’t for your father,” one man told me, “I don’t know where I’d be today. Your father took me in at time when even I didn’t believe in myself. Hired me when he could have had a hundred other, younger, more experienced men.” I listened politely, as the man still clung to my hand. “I even asked him why me? You know what he said?” No, I shook my head, trying to picture my father even having this conversation. “He said I was a regular guy, down-to-earth; that people would relate to me. He said he couldn’t train the young whipper-snappers (definitely my dad’s words) to have what I had. I’ve been quite successful too, thanks to your dad.”
“Your father found me sleeping on a bench in the train station.” Another man told me. “I had hit rock bottom, didn’t know where to go next or how to carry on. I had one suit draped over the bench behind me. In your father came, grabbed up the suit in one hand, and literally pulled me off the bench. ‘Come on, Man!’ he said. ‘You’re too good for this. I’m getting you a job.’ He was my angel.” I knew this man. He’d been far more successful than my father in his life. I never knew about the role my father played.
“Your father always had a way of motivating us,” one man told me. “We were his team, but we were more than that. He made us feel important, like family. And he never asked us to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. We felt respected.”
“He fired me once,” another man chuckled. “But you know, I deserved it. Told me to come back when I grew up and got my priorities right. I did, and we worked together again. I credit him with giving me the kick I needed. He never held a grudge, and neither did I.”
It was difficult through it all not to picture the tyrant that had ruled our household with terror for so many years, and yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had always seen this potential in my father.
He had been a great leader in his field, as witnessed on this stormy December day. The many who dared to come despite the weather gave us a wonderful gift that day – a new understanding of the man we called ‘father’, and a new purpose to our grieving.
I, personally, grieve that the type of leadership my father practiced in his working life seldom made it home where it was sorely needed.