Sundays were always the day that I would talk to my Dad on the phone and every weekend is a reminder of how much I miss his voice and guidance.  He passed away two years ago and I can still vividly remember the last few days we spent together prior to his passing.  My father successfully battled cancer eight different times but I knew this time was different.

We reminisced about old times and the stories he told about his company which stood the test of time for 56 years.  I have always admired his entrepreneurship and competitive spirit.   On that last day I told him stories about the qualities of a father and leader that I always admired:

  • A Competitor – a man that would compete hard at whatever he did whether it was playing tennis, running his business, or fighting cancer eight times over 20+ years.
  • A Connector – no matter where we were around town everybody knew him and he made it a point to get to know people. That was just his way of doing business and making people feel special.  He was a celebrity in my eyes.
  • A Giver – a man with a big heart that gave to others unconditionally even when they did not expect it. His funeral only reinforced this by the many people who remarked on the special and touching things he did for them.
  • Do it in style – a man who does everything, first class, with attention to extreme detail.

My father smiled and laughed as I talked about those qualities but I knew he appreciated hearing those words about how I saw him.

On this last day, I asked him about his secrets to business success and he shared the following:

  • I didn’t need to be smart, I just need to have smart people around me”.  My father never went to college but he was a learner and would find out everything possible about something he was interested in.
  • Pay your employees great and look after them“.  He cared for the financial and well-being of his employees which explained the deep loyalty and commitment they had for so many years.
  • Use other people’s money, have great credit“.   Running a profitable business and taking advantage of cash flow and great credit is important during tough times.
  • Take care of your customers, go out for lunch and get to know their business“.  My father’s business and personal connections were truly remarkable and he invested in developing relationships in a charismatic way.
  • Do it right or don’t do it at all even if it cost you some money“.  There is something to be said about giving it your all no matter what you do in life and doing it right was perhaps his most memorable hallmark.
  • Be a hustler“.  I always remembered him saying you need to work hard and be scrappy to get ahead in life.
  • Don’t screw people“.  Business can be a small world and he spoke about playing by the rules and respecting your competitors.

The afternoon turned into early evening and my Dad was getting tired.  He turned to me and asked if we could call it day.  I thought this may be the last time I would talk with my Dad. The last two days were full of memories and stories but yet there was something I still wanted to hear before I left.

My Dad cherished our relationship and loved me but it was those three simple words I never actually heard him say to me. Over the years I would often say “I love you Dad” in the hopes of making it easy for him to reply with similar words but it never happened.   I knew it was just his upbringing that made it feel awkward for him.   This would be the last opportunity to hear those words.

I turned to my father one last time and said “I love you Dad”. He looked at me and replied, “I love you son”.  I kissed my father on the forehead and said that I would talk to him soon.  I felt the emotions of both sorrow and happiness as I left the nursing home. These were the three simple words I was waiting a lifetime to hear.  I cried in the car after hearing those words but I also knew this was probably the last time I would see him alive.

My Dad’s condition accelerated and a few days later he would no longer talk again.  I will always cherish that last day and the stories that were shared.  Perhaps it was the lesson I learned on that day that will last a lifetime.

Life is unpredictable and we may lose the chance to tell somebody something important. It’s easier to avoid a challenging conversation, avoid saying you are sorry, or putting something big out there when you don’t know how somebody will respond.

Go for it – it may be the greatest thing you ever tell someone.