My Dad (we called him Pap) did a lot of great things, but maybe the best thing he ever did for me was encourage me to do things and learn things. He never once said, “Well, that’s a crazy idea,” or “Did they get you mixed up at the hospital,” or “You’ll never be able to do that.”
My Dad was not a psychologist. He had no higher learning and a limited amount of “lower” learning; however, he excelled in common sense which I think is much more valuable.
I didn’t just wake up one morning as the Colonel. I took a lot of detours before I found my way there. My Dad was with me and encouraging me all the way.
Once, when I was young and trying to figure things out, I had the brilliant idea that I needed to get into the hog business. I was about as likely a candidate for the hog business as I was to be a neurosurgeon and I’m sure he knew that; but he was right there with me.
Now, I didn’t want to be just a farmer with pigs. I wanted to do it like the agricultural experts said it should be done. So we got in Pap’s truck and drove 100 miles to get the “registered” Durocs that I insisted on. He had already helped get the barn ready and put up fencing.
All the way to get the pigs, I kept talking about not wanting to put the pigs in the bare truck bed . . . we needed to stop and get some straw. See, I was already an expert.
He kept saying, “Yeah, we’ll get some,” and kept on driving, probably thinking if pigs were happy in mud they’d probably be all right in the truck bed. We got about three miles from the farm where the pigs were; and, lo and behold, there were three bales of straw in the middle of the road. “See there, I told you we’d get some,” he said.
I interpreted the straw “find” to be an omen from God that I was on the right path; however, after the new wore off the registered hog business (which was pretty quick) I moved on to something else and my Dad became the accidental and unintentional hog farmer. I’m sure you Dads out there can relate to that.
Then I wanted to be in the horse-drawn-buggy restoration business; so, I bought one and Dad was with me on that, too . . . most likely on the financial end of it. Luckily, the buggy business didn’t make it too far down the road (since I was about 100 years too late) and again I moved on.
My Dad was a millwright by trade, so I decided I wanted to work on big construction jobs and building dams. You had to go through an apprenticeship to be a journeyman millwright and have your own tools. Guess who got me the tools. He also gave me some good advice. He said, “When you get there, they’ll put you with three or four older, experienced people. Don’t go in there acting like you know everything, because they’ll let you know very quickly that you don’t know anything. If you listen and ask questions and show them you want to learn, they’ll help you out.” He was right. I listened and learned a lot before I moved on.
When I got my first car, I wanted to tear out the engine and put in a big hot rod engine. He was all for that, knowing that if I tore it all out and had to figure out how to put it back together, even though I might have some pieces left over I would have the experience and learn something. I learned because he was an encourager.
Pap and I had a bond that was at least partially cemented by a mutual love of automobiles. I grew up in the shop with him. We talked about automobiles nonstop and worked on everything from T-Models to motorcycles. When he was about 80 he bought, restored and rode a Cushman Scooter, which made the family more than a little nervous. He was also a carpenter – he personally built the house we lived in from the ground up. We shared a love for all things mechanical and a natural curiosity about how things work and why. Whatever design ability I have, I owe to him.
My Dad had a fascination with people. There was not an ounce of pretense in him . . . he was who he was no matter who he was with. He was comfortable in his own skin and not one for “putting on airs.” He loved people and didn’t shy away from talking to anyone. He would have been just as comfortable striking up a conversation with the President or the Queen of England as he would have been talking to the clerk at the hardware store. He wouldn’t have changed a thing.
He thought experience was the best teacher, and I think he was right. Somewhere between encouragement and experience, I had a world-class education. That’s because I had a world-class Father.