This week I’d like to share an excerpt from a book I’m working on that captures leadership lessons I’ve gotten from my father. From time to time I’ll post a new excerpt. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and comments about them.
My father was a presence; though short in stature, he was a very big man. At least that’s how I remember him. He was larger-than-life. The larger-than-life aspect of his life begins with his birth.
Neil Anthony Giuliano was born in 1928 to Maria and Albert Giuliano. According to the legend, my father was born at home and weighed in at 16 pounds and 10 ounces. He was the fourth of, what in the final tally would be, nine children, all of whom were born at home except the youngest. My grandmother was pregnant 14 times in her 17 years of marriage; only with my grandfather’s death when my dad was 10 did the baby-making cease. My grandmother was only 34 years old when she was widowed. Anyway, that’s another story. I tell you this because these experiences – being one of nine in an Italian immigrant family, being dirt poor through the Great Depression, witnessing the strength and generosity of his mother through those difficult times, and losing his father at 10 helped shape who my father was to become.
Growing up during the Great Depression my father learned to do what it takes to survive, to pitch in to help the family, and to be grateful for what you have. He worked to help the family even though he was very young and looked out for his younger brothers and sisters. He told my brothers and sister and me of how at Christmas each year they would be thrilled to receive an orange for a gift. Every year, until his last Christmas, we gave my father oranges before bringing out his other gifts. I think he always liked the oranges best.
Fiercely patriotic and service-oriented, I think my father always regretted that he missed World War II by a year. He joined the Marines right after high school in 1946 and spent two years on an aircraft carrier peacekeeping in the Mediterranean. This was another experience that shaped who he was. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was an oft-repeated phrase in our house.
My father was always of man of deep, settled faith. He was proud of the fact that he served Mass up until the week before he got married at 25. His faith inspired him to live a life of public service. He never turned away from someone in need. He served on our town’s school board and eventually the town council. Everyone in our family and our town for that matter knew that if you needed help, you called Neil.
My father was also a dreamer and risk-taker. When I was twelve, my father announced we were moving. We lived in a small town in New Jersey a mile away from my grandmother (his mother). In fact most of his living siblings also lived within a mile or two of “Grandma’s” house. We were there all the time; so moving across the country to Phoenix was a big deal! He used to say, “The world is a checkerboard and God moves you around until He gets you in the right spot.” I guess Bloomfield, NJ was no longer “the right spot.”
My father was an optimist who always looked forward. I don’t think he’d mind me telling you that one of his favorite songs is “Tomorrow” from the Broadway show “Annie.” It sums up his firm belief that no matter what today may be like, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”
As I grew into adulthood and began shaping a life and career of my own, I did so in conversation with my father. I think that all of us, especially men, live out our lives in conversation with our fathers. The big questions we must answer if we are to make the most of our human experience (how to live, love, and lead well) are answered in dialogue with our fathers. The answers our fathers live by and share with us are the starting point for our own journeys into adulthood. The answers we settle upon are formulated in the give and take with what we learned from our fathers as we grew up in their shadows. Their shadow touches all parts of who we are even after they are gone.
My father died many years ago when he was 50 and I was seventeen. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have a conversation about living, loving, and leading. We did and we do; his death just complicated things a bit. My father has taught me many lessons through the years. Some of these lessons he taught to me directly while I was a boy. Some of these lessons I’ve derived from my own journey into adulthood and my ongoing reflection on the life my father modeled for me in his 50 years.
My conversation with my father over the 30 plus years since his death has been an exercise in trying to see things as he would have seen them, trying to imagine his take on life’s events. The man I have become and continue to become is the result of a continuing conversation in which I compare and contrast my beliefs and actions with how he would see something and what he would do. Some things I’ve tried to emulate. Some things I’ve tried to do differently. Either way, he’s been a great teacher.
As a husband and father, and in my work, the lessons my father taught me continue to resonate with me and teach me how to live, how to love, and how to lead. I know that when I take these lessons to heart I become not just a better leader, but a better man. Thanks, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow.