Say it forward

A close friend visited recently. He worked for me almost ten years ago when he was an undergraduate. His late father had been my professor when I was an undergraduate.

I told him the story of how his father continues to influence me. He was a well respected professor, and I ended up taking two or three of his classes. I never sought him out to build a genuine friendship with him. I, regrettably, never did that with any of my instructors, not wanting to seem like I was sucking up and not wanting to be a bother.

(College students: Don’t do as I did. Get to know your teachers. Seek out the good ones, and find a mentor or two each year you’re in school.)

However, as I told my friend, I wrote an essay for an assignment in his father’s class. He later returned it to me with a big red “A” at the top. Always a nice sight. And he wrote a note on it that said something like “You should consider becoming a writer. You’ve got some talent.”

Twain said, “I can live for two months off a good compliment.” Twain understates. That compliment and encouragement from my professor still motivates me, almost three decades later. Writing has been a part of my career from day one of my first job. And when I lose focus and am feeling a bit lost in my work, that short line of encouragement written on a college homework assignment reminds me of a skill I need to return to and nurture.

After sharing this story with my professor’s son, he told me that he is now pursuing comedy and improv on the side and remembers me encouraging him when he was a student to stick with his talent for comedy. I had paid forward the father’s gift without being conscious of it.

Never underestimate the power of a genuine compliment, an acknowledgement of someone’s talent, even if, especially if, that talent is unrefined or just barely glimmering. Don’t hold back when you see something in someone that ought to be nurtured. Master the art of giving encouragement. Be specific and clear. Write a note. Seek them out in person. Just say it.

I need to be more intentional about this with my own family and with the people I work with. I’m surrounded by such big-hearted, talented people, and they need to be told regularly not only how awesome they are in general but specifically what I see that is remarkable in them.

Hopefully, receiving that kind of encouragement will spark the desire to pass it along to others. Appreciate when you receive words of encouragement, and then say it forward.

Fathers, be good to their mothers, too

Years ago I was sitting with a group of student leaders going through a training session about university services. The head of the counseling department was explaining all the programs his office offered, and he mentioned they even provide relationship counseling. He asked our group, “How many of you want a relationship like your parents have?” I raised my hand immediately and then found everyone staring at me. There were no other raised hands in the room. The counseling director was trying to make the point that no one wants a relationship like their parents, and he was mostly right.

I, however, didn’t even have to ponder the question. My parents had a beautiful relationship that had always been my standard of what a marriage should be. Maybe that’s why I was a bachelor late into my thirties. I was not willing to settle for a typical relationship when my parents had shown me all my life how awesome a marriage could be.

The way my dad loved my mom was even more instructive than the way he loved me and my sister. And he was, and is, an amazing, inspiring, kind-hearted father and grandfather. But I’ve never known anyone who loved another as much as my dad loves my mom. I never heard him utter a sharp word to her. He put her first in everything. His highest aim was to delight her.

My parents modeled love in a powerful way, and dad doesn’t hesitate to let me know he expects the best from me, too. Shortly after I got married, my wife and I visited my parents’ home. They stood on the porch as we got in the car to drive away. Minutes later I got a phone call from my dad. “Son, I saw that you didn’t open the car door for Shanna as you left. Even though you’re married now, especially now that you’re married, you need to keep treating her like you did when you were dating.”

Thanks, dad, for continuing to remind me in word and deed to love my wife and kids with no ordinary love, and to show my own kids what they need to expect and create in their relationships.

On Father’s Day we are supposed to acknowledge the role that dad’s play in the lives of their children. It’s not enough to just be there for your kids, though, dads. Be awesome for the moms, too. The John Mayer song implores “fathers be good to your daughters”, yes, but being good to the mother of your daughters and sons is just as important.

Mom & Dad, 1958
Mom & Dad, 1958