You could say my life was influenced more by my father’s absence than by his presence. When I was young, I didn’t have a father in the traditional sense. We had little interaction with him after we moved away when I was ten. I ached for him like any boy would.
When I was just shy of seventeen, he passed away, but I would soon learn that life had a different plan for me. At my journey’s most critical junctures, father figures stepped up to guide me. I was fortunate to have uncles, coaches, and mentors take me under their wings. One of those men was affectionately known as Smitty.
In keeping with the tradition I started on Mother’s Day, I’ll share an excerpt from Uncompromising about one of my greatest quiet allies in life.
Evans Smith worked with Uncle Horace at Citizens Gas and Coke, the gas utility in Indianapolis, and it was through that connection that he met my mother not long after we moved to Indiana.
Smitty had a unique ability to spend time with people and make them feel like they were the most important person in the world to him. He locked eyes, asked questions, and listened with a rapt attention that never came off as anything but heartfelt and genuine.
Smitty didn’t focus much attention on himself, but you could tell that the unspoken chapters of his life were full of fascinating stories. It was clear his experiences had run the gamut—disappointment, pain, sadness, pride, happiness, joy, and everything in between.
He had served as a noncommissioned officer in the US Army, a sergeant first class who saw action in the Korean War, and he did his blue-collar work for the gas company without complaint. His hair was gone on the top and thin on the sides when we first met, and his hands were hard as bricks. But he had a gentle soul and never dwelled on the injustices of his life or allowed them to steal his joy or strip him of his love for others.
He was easy to like and easier to respect.
Smitty became a frequent visitor to our home, often showing up after work with ice cream for the kids. And, in time, he and my mother became more than just friends. When I went to college, he was right there with Momma to drive me to Bloomington and help me move into my dorm room.
A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, he officially became my stepfather. And when he passed away on August 2, 2017, after eighty-nine years of life, Smitty’s obituary listed me and my brothers among his children. From the day he entered my life in the early 1970s until those final hours nearly five decades later, Smitty taught me the value of curiosity and a growth mindset, or what I like to call “living life as a learning lab.”
Without an uncompromising commitment to this pathway, I believe we can’t really live our best life —because if we aren’t learning, we aren’t growing, and if we aren’t growing, we’re just dying.
Smitty modeled many admirable qualities and one of them is among my seven pathways—to live life as a learning lab. The seven pathways are not only a valuable framework for your professional life, but they’re also meaningful for your personal journey. I’ve taken the liberty of showing you how by offering some guiding thoughts for father figures. Consider some of these applications:
- Find your fight. Finding your fight means discovering your why. What legacy do you want to leave? Answering this question will inform future decisions and the behavior you model.
- Focus on the (real) prize. As a father figure, what is unique and special for you and your child? Hint: The real prize can be how you spend intentional time together.
- Live life as a learning lab. What will you teach your child? What will serve them well in life? How can you share a passion for learning new things?
- Think and act like a business. Start with the big picture, and guide them to see the long view. Help your child chart a path that opens doors rather than closes them.
- Own your attitude and effort. Help your child understand the positive consequences of owning these two behaviors. Ease their anxiety about the small stuff. Hint: They mirror everything you do.
- Navigate uncertainty. Practice a flexible mindset with your child. Model this behavior when things don’t go as planned. Try going with the flow rather than swimming upstream.
- Commit to road-dog relationships. With your child, write down the kind of relationships you want them to have. Nurture this belief system.
A very happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father figures who are helping raise our next generation!
Live your why,
P.S. If you’d like to create your own narrative around each pathway, download my quick-reference guide here. For a deeper exploration of each pathway and how it applies to work and life, check out my new book, Uncompromising, and the reviews people have shared.