Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Smartest person I have ever known...

I have a University degree.  I have a Doctorate.  I have known many people with multiple degrees, as well as people who successfully ran large companies.  I have also known those in the Academic World, studying, ad nauseam, the intricacies of various parts of our world, both physical and mental.  I have also spoken to those who were homeless, those who begged on the street and at traffic lights.  Each and every one of those people taught me something that I had not known before speaking with them.  Everyone we meet has the potential to teach us something if we take the time to listen without pre-judging.  Yet they each pale in the mental presence of the smartest person I have ever met or known:  my father.

My father was born in Norway.  His father died in a mining accident when he was very young, leaving his mother and sister in very dire financial circumstances.  He had to quite school after the 6th grade in order to help earn money so the family would not starve.  That experience formed his attitude about life forever.  He had suffered poverty.  He grew into a man who was generous to a fault, yet very, very aware that one needs to be frugal and consider that you never looked at any opportunity with an eye to "what can I make?" but rather to first ask, "what can I lose?", followed by "Can  afford to lose it?".  Only then would he evaluate the possible gain.  When recessions hit, he saw them earlier than most around him and by the time it was obvious to all, he had explained that our family was going to have to do with less, that we were going to keep as much in savings as possible, cutting costs and doing everything possible to be ready if everything "went south."

My father came to this country in 1921, not speaking the language.  He could not tell anyone that he was trained as an electrician.  The saw that he was from Norway and assumed that he was a carpenter and offered him a job laying hardwood floors.  He worked hard, learned well, grew to be a foreman in the firm, stayed employed, albeit at a lower wage, through the depression.  He quickly agreed to take lower pay, understanding that some pay was better than no pay at all.  Again, the experience underscored and intensified his belief that he had to take responsibility for watching out for his own economic security.  He started his own business in the suburbs of New York City (actually, at that time it was "the country", before people started living outside the city and commuting...it was mostly farmland), and always lived within his means...and trained me to do the same.

I have survived pretty well over the years...mostly by applying the rules of life taught to me by my father.  I did this when I was young out of knee-jerk training, even as I thought my father was behind the times.  But as I grew older and saw the wisdom of being self-reliant wherever possible, I began consciously considering "what would Dad have said about this" whenever making decisions for me or for my family.  The only time I have ever been disappointed was whenever I failed to follow that remembered quiet voice in my mind.

Thank you, Dad.  You prove, as do so many who came to this country with real life experience rather than letters after your name, that being smart is not formal learning...it is application of the practical experiences in our lives, using them...even the failures...to make the future better.

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