Lessons From A Life Well Lived

Unlike our mother, who pontificated most of her advice from the comfort of her large brown recliner, Dad taught most of his lessons by the way he lived his life. When it came to work, my sister and I could observe his life and see the lessons.

When we lived in Chicago and Dad was attending the University of Chicago, he decided to tend bar as a way to support his family. Dad qualified for the GI Bill, but that only covered his tuition and books at the University of Chicago. That meant he had to find some means of paying for food and shelter, and Mother was not about to chip in. Dad applied at the Kimbark Tap in Chicago and was told by the owner that he would be paid the princely sum of fifteen dollars a week. Dad thought that was too low and said so.

I actually think the wage should be twenty five dollars a week.

Dad told the man.

Well, I’ll pay you fifteen and you’ll steal the rest.

the owner replied. Dad looked at him incredulously but the owner continued:

All bartenders steal. They give their friends free drinks and they pocket some of the cash that should go in the till.

Dad looked him in the eye and said:

Pay me twenty five and I will never steal from you.

The owner said okay and the rest as they say is history.

After graduating from law school, Dad’s first law office was not a money maker. We moved from the delightful little house in the Rainbow to the dingy apartment upstairs over a machine shop because money was very tight. Dad interviewed with one of the best law firms in Decatur and was told:

Thanks, but we don’t need anyone right now.

Dad was finding it difficult to pay for even the little apartment and Mother had no intention of doing anything except continuing to find her way to the conveniently located little bar one block up the street. He was desperate and so he looked Mr. Wilson (the senior partner in the law firm) in the eye and said:

I will work for you for three months for three hundred dollars a month. At the end of that time if you don’t think I am worth a lot more, we are both wasting our time and I will leave.

Mr. Wilson couldn’t wait to shake on that deal. Dad worked day and night and proved to be worth a whole lot more than they were paying him.

In every job I ever had, Dad would tell me:

Give them more value than they are giving you in pay.

I have always tried to do that. His other piece of advice is illustrated by the law firm story:

Don’t worry about where you start on the pay scale.  Just make sure you can advance.

Dad’s words and examples are treasures that my sister and I will always remember. What did your parents teach you about work?

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