so there I was working at being a better son, taking on the business responsibilities, the home stuff, and generally doing better, with some slip-ups……..I was trying to run the family business. I was actually doing OK. Then one day the sales manager from the main company called me and asked what was going on. At that point, I’m not sure if and how we specifically told him that my dad had a heart attack. It seemed that a customer had called in and tried to tell them that things weren’t being done, deliveries weren’t happening, calls weren’t being returned.
The customer was trying to convince the factory that he instead should now be the sales rep and take over the territory. Another sales rep from another area had found out and called the factory asking to take over our territory.
Luckily I had kept a journal and went through it with the sales manager. I was able to show that I was returning calls and when I didn’t know something, I’d call the factory customer service team and work it out. I learned so much about people, life, business, money, logistics, etc. I had to pay the bills and get money to my parents so they could keep the home going. My dad wasn’t allowed in the office and my mother was busy taking care of everything else, the business was all my responsibility.
I remember being simulteanously disappointed and encouraged by customers during that time. Some sent flowers, cards, made calls and genuinely cared about my dad. It wasn’t unusual to have a customer call and spend 20 minutes on the phone telling me how much my dad helped him, how much he looked up to my dad, and eventually hearing the customer get choked up on the phone. I’d often hang up with tears of pride.
Other times client would complain to me and say that they should now be ‘house accounts’. That my father was overpaid. They’d say things like he didn’t take care of himself and the heart attack was his fault. Some decided not to pay their bills because my father wasn’t around to reinforce things. Others were just plain rude.
We had a few relatives that seemed to circle like vultures. They’d call to see if my dad was still alive. Seriously, they did, only one or two but they were weird conversations, ones that I always hid from my parents. One relative tried to convince me that he should take over the business, even though he had never been part of it and had not really talked to us in over a year.
Other relatives were caring, helpful and supportive. One aunt lived near the hospital and would allow us to stay at her house many nights, come and go as we please like a hotel.
It’s funny how stress and emotions can really blow things out of proportion sometimes right?
One of my sisters became alarmed with me one day. See, I was still pretty thin and like many young guys, I wanted to bulk up a bit and get some muscle. At that moment I was drinking Ensure to gain weight. It didn’t help but I did it anyways. The cans had a pull off top that looked like some old-school oil can. I guess I left one in a car and my sister found it. She immediately thought I was drinking and driving. She told my parents and I admitted that I was drinking and driving;….. drinking Ensure. When I showed them the cans and the lid in question, they were fine with it. Beer cans had the tops that actually didn’t come off, which my sister failed to recognize.
During that period, I had someone close to me accuse me of being homosexual, using drugs, and being irresponsible. This person thought that I should drop out of college and join the service. It was ironic because for the first time in my life I finally felt responsible. Luckily my parents supported me and knew that I was none of the above. I recall Wayne Dyer saying something like, ‘When squeezed, whatever is in a person, comes out.” I guess she was full of fear and self-doubt because that’s what she projected on me.
My father had some setbacks and had to go back to Pittsburgh for a few weeks here and there. My sister went back to Florida. I began to get into a groove and a few times I had some friends over and things became more relaxed. There were two great friends, whom I still stay in contact with, who made the summer bearable. We joked around, played volleyball, and had a good time despite the challenges. There were two girls who hung with us too, mostly as friends. They were often around the house, just hanging with us and having fun. These were good friends that put up with our shenanigans and our practical jokes. I look back and I am so grateful for their friendship, the laughter and just the normalcy. We had fun.
My family had a mini-van and a large Jeep Waggoneer. It became routine that we’d make the two girls ride in the far back. Then I’d take them on the “death run”. The death run was a windy country road. It had a hairpin curve and then a number of S-curves followed by two jumps that gave you a moment of zero-G. It was hilarious to look in the rear-view mirror and see Jill and Karen sliding back and forth, then being momentarily airborn during the death run. Good times. Ironically one of those girls, who I never dated until 3 or 4 years later, would turn out to be my beautiful, wonderful wife. Who knew.
I remember near the end of the summer I was talking with an older customer about the times and he shared how he went through a similar experience with his family when he was young. He said something like, “It makes a man out of you, doesn’t it?” I thought about it, yes, it did. The responsibilities were thrust on me. I almost lost my father but thank God he recovered. We all went through some trying times. Getting through it made us all stronger.
My dad continued to recover. We all felt and acted better and things improved that summer. Eventually he came back to work and made a full recovery.
When college started back up in the fall I felt like a different person. I began to eat better, I started exercising and continued to work out 5 days a week. I felt more confident, I was focused. I began to notice that people treated me different too. I brought my grades back while still working about 15 hours in the business. Girls approached me differently. I had new types of relationships with friends and girlfriends. I seemed to encounter better people. From January to April my parents went to Sarasota and I ran the business totally on my own while attending college. I was earning money and doing well in school. I was building momentum.
As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What started out as a terrible summer, finished as a wake up call that turned my world around in the best way. I was so grateful for my family and my dad’s health and for the second chance.
This and other experiences in my life taught me many life lessons. One of the lessons I learned during this time was the WORD TO LIVE BY : Faith. I learned to have faith in others. I had to put my trust and faith in people that worked with the family business, with my friends, with my family members, in God, and in myself. For a guy in his early twenties, an immature guy, that was unusual. I never really had faith in others outside my family. I guess I had faith in my parents but not my other relatives before that summer. My faith in God and something bigger was previously just a child’s faith.
As I faced challenges about my father’s health, our business, the household, my identity, and family issues, I searched for ways to work it out. Letting go and letting God was one way that I finally came to……..and last but not least, I had no faith in myself until then. I didn’t believe in myself and that’s probably why I didn’t do well the academic year before. My relationships were pretty shallow until then too. Faith in myself, my common humans, and in God/a Creator/Universe/The Source were wonderful gifts…..
As I grew up, I grew grateful………..