LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY FOLKS

Do you remember how to do geometry and trigonometry from high school?  For most people geometry and trig are two of the subjects that they were required to learn in order to graduate, both of which most people will never need or use.  This article is about five important lifelong lessons I learned from my folks that I really needed and used throughout my lifetime and that they don’t teach you in school..

The five lessons are:

  1. The world’s a cold place without family and friends
  2. Help whoever and whenever you can
  3. Treat everyone fairly
  4. Get a good education
  5. Do the best you can

 

First lesson. I remember my mom telling me, “Michael, the world’s a cold place without family and friends.” My mom came from a very large family…9 brothers and sisters…and she had many friends…her neighbor friends, her work friends, and her poker friends. Why are family and friends so important…they’re the people that know you and care about you…so when you reach low points in your life or just need someone to talk to, they usually give invaluable emotional support…and of course you support them when they need it.  At my mom’s funeral there were about 500 family and friends who came to see her one last time and to pay their respects to her family. It was unbelievable!

Second lesson. “Help whoever and whenever you can.” I knew my father was a good person, helping anyone that needed help, but even I was surprised at his funeral when strangers came up to me and told stories about how my father had helped them. I worked at my father’s grocery store on weekends and during summers when I was a child. The store was located in a very poor neighborhood in Philadelphia and most of our customers were on welfare. The children of the poorest families would come to the store every day for one of my father’s “free sandwiches.” As I got older my father would often send me to Philadelphia’s city hall and to Pennsylvania’s state office building with needy people to speak on their behalf in an effort to get them emergency aid. In addition, my father told me that his mother gave baskets of food to poor families during the depression…so I understand where he learned his compassion and helped whoever and whenever he could.

Third lesson. “Treat everyone fairly.” My folks felt strongly about treating everyone fairly. Both had friends from other races and nationalities. They sent me to a junior high school that was 75% minority to help me learn how to get along with people who were different from me. My dad constantly asked me about my agency’s (US Department of the Interior) dealings with Native Americans and my mom frequently quoted pearls of wisdom and common sense from her African-American girlfriends at work.

Fourth lesson. “Get a good education.” My parents believed in their children getting a good education, although I only wanted to be a forest ranger even that required a college degree. So when the time came, my mom went to work for a meat-packing company making sausage in a cold, refrigerated room in order to pay for my sisters, brother and I to go to college.

Fifth lesson. “Do the best you can.” My first semester at Penn state was a failure. When I came home for spring break my parents tried to comfort me with, “Michael, as long as you did the best you could, you have nothing to be ashamed of.” Well, I wasn’t doing the best I could…playing ping pong until 3 am in the morning the night before my midterm exams, but I heeded my parents words and knuckled down and did the best I could…and consequently got good grades. Eventually I received my bachelor’s degree from Penn state and my master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

In conclusion, my folks taught my brother, sisters and me many lessons, just five of which I just shared with you. But unlike geometry and trig, they are lessons that have been useful throughout my entire life. Now, when I encounter a tough situation, I ask myself, “What would my parents advise?” Their advice has resulted in my making good decisions. So “Mom and Dad, wherever you are, thank you for teaching me the lessons I needed to live a good life.

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