Stan Marshall

Dad as a Role Model

Even though my father passed away ten years ago this August I’m surprised how often I think about him.  Something happens during the normal course of my day, and it triggers a flashback of him.  It wasn’t a conscious decision to think about him, but rather some random thing happens and instantaneously I’m transported back in time forty years hearing my dad say or do something.  It happens all the time.  Does that happen to you?  Dad in many ways was a good role model.  He also had his faults but as time passes the good memories of him are winning out and the not so pleasant memories are fading.  I hope that’s what happens with my two adult children when I’m dead and gone.

As I said my dad was a good role model, but he was a lousy teacher.  I don’t ever recall him ever trying to teach me an important life lesson.  He just lived what he believed.  At the time, I didn’t understand the importance or appreciate what I was witnessing.  It was just my dad saying or doing what he always said or did.  It was nothing special, or so it seemed.  It was just vintage Dad.  But the older I get the more I appreciate the values that he lived.

So what life lessons did I learn from my father?

Live well within your means

Growing up my family lived in a very middle class neighborhood.  The neighbor on our left was a grocer and the neighbor on our right owned a gas station.  Although my mom drove new cars, I can’t ever recall Dad driving anything but used pickups.  A vacation to us was visiting our relatives, certainly not going to a destination resort.  We lived quite modestly.  It wasn’t until I was in college that it dawned on me that my parents were financially well off.  Over the years there had been hints of my parent’s wealth but I hadn’t been able to put the pieces together.  That changed when my dad, who owned his own CPA practice, sold his business and retired at the age of 52.  He lived quite comfortably for the next 30+ years off the income generated from his investments.

Treat everyone with equal respect

After retiring, my dad spent most of his days working on his tree farms.  Having grown up in the rolling farmland of Iowa he was in awe of the beauty of the forests in the Pacific Northwest.  About ten years before he retired he bought logged over timberland and spent his weekends nursing the land back to health.  He was very comfortable working alongside loggers, foresters, and other blue collar workers associated with the forest products industry.  And they were equally accepting of him as one of their own.

I’m not sure why (it’s a question I wish I had asked him) but he was politically well connected in Oregon state politics.  I remember back in the sixties he was a pallbearer at a funeral where a fellow pallbearer was Mark Hatfield, the then governor of Oregon.  Dad never showed preferential treatment to his wealthy friends.  Those in a lower socio economic class were treated no differently than the rich and powerful. He treated everyone with the same friendly Jimmy Stewart like manner.

Put together win/win agreements

Dad didn’t believe in win at all costs.  He proposed agreements that were fair for both parties, not just for him.  He had no problem leaving a little bit on the table if it meant getting the deal done sooner rather than later and with both parties satisfied.  Sometimes the person he was negotiating with would attempt to take advantage of his desire to strike a fair deal and would respond back with some unrealistic and unjustified counter offer.  You see, not everyone plays by the same set of rules.  But for the most part, people intuitively understood that he was proposing an agreement that was fair to both sides and they respected him for doing so.

Sometimes life’s most important lessons are better absorbed not through formal instruction but by the consistent actions of a role model over a lifetime.