Where do lessons in leadership come from for you? Was it a book you read, a podcast you listen to, a scholastic experience that gave you letters behind your name? Maybe you had a mentor. I sure did. His name was Jack Law and he was my Dad.
For complete transparency, I always write a tribute to my Dad on Father’s Day. Honestly, “Days” bug me a bit. Especially the ones where the profit margins of the greeting card companies spike! But I’m not trying to be cynical. I don’t need a special day to remember the man who taught me so much. I’ll get to the “Lessons” in a bit but some context first, please.
Jack Law was born John Vernon Law in Northampton, England in 1907. His family were typical low to middle classers, more low than middle, and his father worked in a shoe factory. Jack became restless in his teens, so in 1923, he hatched a plan with a mate to hop on a boat to Canada! It would literally take weeks to make the crossing and his boat landed in Quebec City. After foolishly losing all the meagre money he had in a poker game, he had a decent man take him in and guide him to Western Canada.
Jack wasn’t very skilled at anything in particular, but he was a serious “learner”. He was also pretty well put together. At six foot three and two hundred thirty pounds he had athletic abilities and became quite a good heavy weight boxer. His journey riding the rails across Canada found him in a small town called Canora, Saskatchewan. He would never leave until almost thirty years later! He married a farm girl named Hilda Ehrlich in 1930. They had two boys; John in 1932 and Terry in 1936. He enlisted to fight in World War Two for Canada and the Commonwealth (as he used to say) and came home affected by conflict. In 1958, he accepted a position working for the new International Harvester Dealership thirty minutes down the road in Yorkton. With their sons grown up and moved far away, they moved to Yorkton and bought their first new house. It was a 900 square foot, two bedroom bungalow on a huge corner lot in a new area of this rapidly growing community of around 10,000.
Life was good, probably for the first time, as money was not plentiful for the Law’s until Jack became the Service Manager for Mickelson’s Truck & Implements. He was also one of five principals in the company and was put in a profit sharing plan. The shop was not unionized and employed around twenty people, almost all men.
Not long after Jack and Hilda relocated, Hilda convinced Jack that they should act on their religious faith and take in short term foster kids. These lost souls were always older and troubled.
Hilda worked her magic and Jack supported her the best he could, often working eighteen hour days and not being paid hourly. In 1960, I was born without arms in the Yorkton hospital to a farm family in the area named Pacholko. My arrival stunned the community when they heard about this literal freak of nature being born. It shocked my birth family so much, they decided to give me up for adoption… at five days of age! Not a week old and I was armless and homeless. Until I was placed with Hilda Law for a short stay. I never left!
A Life Path To Leadership
It fascinates me how my life path led me to two of the most remarkable people. I speak and write about Hilda Law all the time as she was my main caregiver. I rarely speak or write about my Dad! Both of them barely finished today’s equivalent of Junior High School. Neither had been to college or even a trade school. Because of the era, Mom didn’t have a career but did have a few paying jobs in retail. Dad was trained as an apprentice mechanic and his “boss” was not a nice man. Dad filed that away and promised that if he was ever in charge, he wouldn’t be like that, yet he also acknowledged the impact “working his way up” had on him.
As an aside, my wife, Darlene, and I worked in Ireland and got to have wonderful tour of the Guinness Plant in Dublin. Most of the place is a museum tracing the history of the world famous beer. We found out it took seven years apprenticing before you were allowed to make your own barrel for the beer. Seven years to make a barrel! Would you commit to that? We also found out Guinness was the first company around to build employee housing in the area of its plant. It created benefits and bonuses and was “the” place to work. If you were a lady, marrying a Guinness worker was like winning the lottery! And yes, only men worked there at first, but even that changed. Guinness place great value in their employees and it was not a union shop.
That’s my first memory of my Dad’s perspective on Leadership. He may have been the Service Manager and the boss, but Dad valued every employee and led by example. Some would view being a “mechanic” low on the totem pole of jobs but Dad believed they were an integral part of the farm and trucking economy of the area. He had pride in his work and taught his people to do the same.
Dad hated the expression…”There’s nothing we can do”! He never used it…ever! “There’s always something we can do” was his phrase. Can you imagine what that sentiment meant in helping raise an armless child?
Remember, this was farming country. Do you know any farmers? They can be challenging to work with. Dad viewed them as the most important cog in the livelihoods of everyone in the community.
Dad showed no favouritism to anyone. Nobody was more important than the next person and he had an amazing ability to command respect, but it wasn’t overt or aggressive.
Dad could fix anything and when something new came along, he learned how to fix that! He could literally tear down a huge Diesel engine, clean it, fix it and put it back together all by himself. He never made an employee do something he wasn’t willing to do.
Dad also had great partners in the business. The owner was Roy Mickelson and he was a great man himself. I’m pretty sure they never called themselves “a team” but it was a well oiled machine. They were also all good friends. I can’t count the number of times my parents played the card game, Bridge, with his boss and wife, Joyce. It wasn’t always at their house either, but I loved going to their house…it was huge and nice! They spoiled me rotten.
On that note, Dad could have been the person who invented “work/life balance”. He lived it! He worked long days but never Sunday and usually not Saturday either. If he had to work late, he always came home for supper, as we called it and was never and I mean “Never” late! And when he “played”, he played for the love of the sport. He hated to lose but not one time did I witness a “bad sport”. I’m sure that’s why I can’t stand professional athletes who are bad sports, show aggression to officials and disrespect the other team!
His favourites were golf, curling and bowling…in that order and he was excellent at all three. Not surprising, Mom also played these sports and very well too.
They also loved to party! In my entire life while he was around, I only saw Dad drunk once. He loved his beer and rye whiskey. In fact, and he’d smack me if he knew I was writing this; every Friday Dad would make sure he took a new bottle of rye to work because at 5:00, all his mechanics would gather together in the shop and they’d have a drink or two. Not sure occupational health and safety would approve of that today, let alone the police! But there was never a problem. Dad felt firmly to treat his men like men and with respect and it was mutual.
Dad also volunteered. He was a member of the local Legion, Masonic Lodge and our church. He even used to visit shut in seniors whose families never came around and he’d usually play cribbage with these lonely men!
Maybe the most important Leadership example he gave me was how he treated my Mom! True, this was an old style marriage but the respect he had for his wife was profound. He was never violent and they just never fought! When Mom passed in 1996, they’d been married 66 years! If you are wondering why a good marriage is important in Leadership Lessons, it speaks to character.
By the way, his example went deeper.
I struggled over various times in my life about “Masculinity”. Think about it? No arms…no kidding. In most human culture, masculinity is the domain of the alpha male. Thankfully, that’s also changing but it wasn’t when I was a kid. Homosexuality was a taboo subject and we never talked about it at home. I liked females, that’s for sure but not many “liked” me! That makes sense now but not so much back then. This is a bit more personal than I’d like but my first marriage was one of pregnant necessity, not love. And frankly, my Dad was very disappointed in me. It taught me a great lesson. After two years, we divorced and I became a single dad to my son Vance, born in 1985. When I met Darlene in 1991, I fell instantly. When we became a “couple”, I brought her to Yorkton to meet my parents. My Dad fell instantly too! He even threatened to kill me if I messed this one up! He was kidding…I think?
When Dad died in 2001, he was almost 94 years old. There were over 900 people in a standing room only church in Yorkton and the receiving line took over two hours alone! A significant percentage of attendees were my Dad’s customers and I have never, not once, heard anyone have a bad thing to say about Jack Law!
For me, this seems like a serious “no-brainer”! Just be a good person. Character isn’t something you can purchase or have delivered by Amazon! My Dad’s “character” also grew over time…duh! Leadership is a life long pursuit of growth as a human being. By the way, I learned about the specifics of Dad’s change from my brothers who witnessed a kinder, gentler soul raising me than them. Of course! They grew up in poverty in the 30’s and 40’s and watched our father leave and come back from war! He definitely had some demons. Everyone does. But aren’t we luckier than we sometimes acknowledge?
Last thing. Dad loved living. He genuinely loved people. He taught himself that. Dad was a life long learner even though he never read a “self help” book, attended a personal development seminar or listened to podcasts. He even learned to become a “hugger”. He gave good hugs!
I admit my bias but why can’t everyone make the choice to Lead like Jack Law did? It’s not real complicated, is it? I hope this blog has allowed you to reflect on your own world and if you are in a Leadership role of any kind, that you might have been helped by this. If my Dad taught me anything it is…I Like To Help!