Thursday, January 10, 2013

Poems in a Drawer

We are born, then we die.
There is so little time in between.
Why do we waste it on the trivial?
The greatest legacy we can leave is love.
Love is a legacy passed on to those who may never know us.
Love is the only legacy passed on forever.
-- Lenny Arnold (1943-1989)

I'm just months short of my father's lifespan, which was about a month shy of 46. It's hard for me to fathom now as an expiration date.  In many ways, I feel as though life has just begun.

Had he been given another 45 years, what would he have done?

Last year on my vision list I wrote "Live the last half of Dad's life."  Whatever that means.  My intention, I suppose, was to fulfill the unfulfilled dreams I imagine he may have had or perhaps simply to live as though I were given a gift he wasn't.  One should live that way regardless, of course, because, well, you just don't know.

For a couple of years after his mother died, my father wrote a series of poems.  Then he put them in his desk drawer.  He never attempted to publish them or share them.  I don't know what a poetry critic would say about them, but I think they're quite good.

The poems remained in his desk drawer for 10 years until for his funeral service they were printed and bound in a small book, which was distributed to friends and relatives.  A poem was read during the service, the one quoted above.

I've been conflicted for years about the meaning and impact of my father's life.  I write of leadership, here, and the strength of vision, strategy and goals.

By the usual definitions of leadership, my father didn't fit the bill.  He was a pretty ordinary guy who didn't demonstrate much ambition.  As he was dying, a process that took several months, he didn't seem compelled to check off a bucket list or do anything extraordinary.  In fact, he just spent time at home with the family doing ordinary things like playing video games.  And telling us he loved us.

While he may not have made a major impact on the world, no one, I think, has had a greater influence on me as a leader. 

When I was nearly failing out of sixth grade and I came home with a report card with an F and three D's, he didn't get angry.  He simply said, "If I knew this were the best you could do, I wouldn't be bothered by it.  But I know you.  You can do better."  The following semester I had all A's and B's, no C's, D's or F's.  By the end of the next year, I had straight A's.  I was among the top 3% of my class upon graduating high school.

Many times he said, "I'm proud of you."  I remember a few years after he died, I was mowing the lawn and suddenly started sobbing, thinking to myself, "Who's going to say they're proud of me now?"

I had a new insight on what leadership is.  It's love.  Nothing has been a more powerful motivator for me to succeed than to hear my father's voice inside my head saying, "I'm proud of you."


  1. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for this amazing touched me and made me aware of the dreams I want to "put in a drawer" because of thinking I dont deserve them.

    Your dad sounds like a lovely man and I am impressed with the son he has left in his legacy.

    Carol Shannon

  2. Thanks, Carol. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and hope you don't keep your dreams in a drawer. Share them with the world.