If you saw my father dressed in his dark green Dickies and his Red Wing work boots he would probably look like any old factory worker. To me—he was a hero—the hardest working man I could imagine. He would arrive at work a half hour before his shift started to make sure he was never late.
From the 1920s through the 1980s, my hometown of Hamilton, Ohio was the safe manufacturing capital of the world. Three different competitors had manufacturing plants lined up in a row right next to each other making safes and cement-lined, fire-proof cabinets.
My father’s day job was called “hand trucking.” That’s a fancy name for a human forklift. He would move safes from one assembly point to the next. With his type of work, the green Dickies uniform didn’t stand a chance. The salt stains of his sweat would transform the shirt from green to grey each and every day.
My father’s story wasn’t about being born in 1922 and growing up in the depression, although I’m sure that helped shape his work ethic. His story wasn’t about his intelligence or his character or his wit or his insatiable curiosity to meet and learn about others. What made him extraordinary was that he was deaf. As was my mother.
As the child of two deaf parents, I grew up quickly and learned from them that there’s a big difference between “hearing” someone and “listening” to someone. My job was to act as the interpreter to the world around us. I listened to everything and then synthesized it into the relevant message or story and relayed it to my parents. I watched the news every night at 11 pm (long after all other children had long been asleep) and shared the stories of the day with my parents years before closed captioning opened up television for the deaf. I talked with the insurance salesman and the person at the counter – I talked with everyone – listening to what they had to say and interpreting it for my parents.
What I couldn’t possibly have known then was that by acting as the eyes and ears and even voice to the world for my parents, it would shape how I see, hear and think about the world. In effect, my childhood was spent in the study of how people acted and reacted based on information and how that information was communicated. I learned quickly that what people said vs. what people did was sometimes two very different things.
This gift my parents unknowingly gave me was the gift of a deep understanding of how to gather data, understand psychology, actions and motivations and then be able to synthesize all that information into a compelling story.
Great storytelling has given me a career of incredible successes that my father could never have imagined but I know has always dreamed for me. I have helped build companies from startup to IPO and into multi-billion dollar successes and taken good businesses and helped them become wildly successful – all because I was lucky enough to be my father’s son and use the life lessons he taught me to write my own unique story.
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