This Friday my father turns 89–which is an utterly amazing achievement. He’s confronted a wide variety of health issues over the past five years, ranging from hypoglycemia to broken bones, yet like the Energizer bunny keeps thumping away. While our conversations these days are fairly limited, due to his advancing dementia, we still have a good time together. During our last talk I reminded him of a few lessons he’d taught me, which include the following:

1. If it’s your money, it’s your rules. When I was about ten years old I needed a new suit for some family function (I think it was a cousin’s wedding.) My father drove me down to Al Berman’s in Wynnefield, and we selected a nice suit. However, I saw a sign over the cash register that said, “All alterations taken today will be ready in ten days.” I pointed this out to my father and said, “Dad, we can’t get the suit here. I need it for this coming Saturday, and they need ten days for the alterations.” My father replied, “We’re paying for the suit. We tell them that they can finish the alterations by Thursday, or we won’t buy the suit here.” Amazingly they had the alterations done by Thursday.

2. Learn to ignore drama. My father said to be wary of acting precipitously if the person like to turn any event into drama. In his example, my aunt (who is still thriving at 93) called him to report a slight from a friend of hers. My father leaped to her defense, and declined a party invitation from the friend, noting my aunt’s poor treatment. When he told my aunt that he’d come to her defense, she seemed surprised, and told him that she’d made up with the friend some time ago. From that time forward he took her requests with a truckload of salt.

3. If a relative suggests an investment, assume that it’s money down the drain. My late uncle recommended that my father invest in a ski resort with him; my father demurred (mainly because at the time his money was tied up in orthodontia and a new roof), and subsequently learned that the ski resort never materialized, though the investors’ money vanished. Later the same uncle told my father to invest in a corporation that owned his franchised business. My father did so out of loyalty, and the stock sat there for years. When my father asked my uncle if it were time to sell, my uncle replied that he’d dumped his shares some time earlier. At least it wasn’t a major loss.

4. If someone in business says that an activity is strictly pro forma, it isn’t. There’s usually an ulterior motive behind their actions, which they’re loathe to disclose at the outset. Once the personnel director of his company told several employees that they were getting pro forma reviews that focused more on encouragement through improvement (or, as my father later put it, strength through joy.) The employees received the drubbing, only to discover a week later that it wasn’t a pro forma review, but an action that would have some bearing on their employment. My father had to intervene and tell the personnel director that pro forma meant pro forma, under threat of hiring a new personnel director.

5. Nurture strange employees, within reason. During his time directing more than eighty regional offices, he had to work with local managers who, though very talented, had some interesting peccadilloes. One laid a gun on the desk during a collection meeting with a delinquent account. While he was paid on the spot, it wasn’t exactly the style of the company; my father had to both compliment him on his effectiveness while letting him know that it must be a one-time performance. My father intervened with several managers who had nervous breakdowns, arranging for them to get help (and, often, a leave of absence with some money to carry them through their travails.) It paid in loyalty.

Here’s to many more years of happiness and comfort! His continued presence is a blessing in my life.


Jim Shulman