Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Portrait of a father's lessons

In honor of Father's Day, this is the column I wrote for the Tri-Valley Herald in June 2006.

In a favorite black-and-white photograph, my father stands behind me, giving me a haircut when I was six years old.

In the photo, I sit on the tray of my sister’s wooden highchair, looking into the lens.

As my dad cuts my hair, his left hand holds my head steady as his right hand guides electric clippers above my right ear.

My jeans are patched, hand-me-downs from my brother. They’re rolled up to fit, and my feet are bare.

A white towel is pulled around my neck, and this all happens in a plain kitchen in Hanford, California.

Snapping the picture is my mother, Janet. You can’t see her, but she is as pretty as my father is handsome.

Back then, my parents were in their twenties, and my dad, whose name is Bill, was a high school English teacher.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, I pulled out this photo and called my dad.

“I remember that picture,” he said. “Those were great days, and we all had our lives ahead of us.”

Born in 1930, my dad spent his early years in Buffalo, New York. His mother died when he was three, and his father worked in a steel mill.

As I grew up, I didn’t think much about my dad’s life. It wasn’t until I got into college that I came to appreciate his decision to serve in the Air Force and then become the first in our family’s history to go to college where he earned a master’s degree.

With that education he became a teacher and later a guidance counselor at a community college.

Similarly, I never thought much about the quiet advice he gave us kids.

Today, of course, I know that my dad’s choices taught me about life, and I find myself sharing his wisdom not only with my children, but with employees and my students.

Here in the midst of the graduation season, let me share one of my dad’s observations appropriate for graduating students: “You’re always being interviewed.”

To illuminate this phrase, I contacted Pat Mayfield, a national business consultant and author based in Pleasanton.

“This is true in both professional and personal situations,” Mayfield said. “The continuous life interview is a natural process. Not only are we always being interviewed, we’re also always interviewing.”

Mayfield noted that at any given time, we never know who might be looking for a new employee: “It’s not unusual for opportunities to appear because of a chance meeting or observation. A random meeting on an airplane or a casual encounter at a networking or social event may lead to life altering changes.”

The idea that you’re always being interviewed also suggests that employees shouldn’t wait to interview for the next position in their company. Whether we realize it or not, we’re already being interviewed by the way we perform our current assignment.

This advice has served me well throughout my career. Yet my dad’s advice is also a reminder to me to live each moment in a way that will make my children proud.

This is the interview that matters most to me, the one where I’m assessed each day on what I do with my time, whether I make a difference in people’s lives, whether I share my love and create happy memories.

Like that photograph of my dad cutting my hair, I want to leave a portrait for my daughters to look back on, a memory of me standing behind them, a reason for them to say about me what today I say about my own father, that he taught me lifelong lessons.


she said...

a wonderful tribute and treat to read.

hope you won't mind me reminding you (and your readers) that -nor do you know when and where (not your next boss; co-worker or employee might be, but..) you might be meeting a very dear and life-long friend. i met len when he was filming a commercial -and what a find! and you.. at a poetry, prose and art festival.. and your poetry and stories elevate my spirit

life is not exclusively about interviewing/being interviewed for employment. who wants to be that vigilant all the time? i've seen the weight of that agenda/message spoil many a conversation... so many other relationships matter, and for so many other reasons.

i prefer to see people be themselves vs. be on their toes all the time. (then again, i'm not in the market for a boss or employee..)

-just couldn't resist pointing that out in case any graduates are reading this ")


happy father's day!

i really lucked out in that area too... "to great dads!"


Jim Ott said...

Thanks for your observations about whom we might be meeting as we walk through life--a future friend, as you note. But I do want to say that the beauty of my dad's phrase about always being interviewed is that it extends beyond the "employment" interview. He and I agree that "life is not exclusively about...being interviewed for employment." We also agree that "i prefer to see people be themselves" because in an interview we want to see people as they really are--not so much being on their "best behavior." I want to know the core of people, whether they have a sense of humor, whether they take themselves too seriously, whether they are kind. And that goes for whether I want them as an employee or as a friend. In its deepest sense (which was what I was going for at the end of the column), we should be mindful that each action and choice we take should be about integrity--who we are inside, what we stand for, whether we love one another. It's the spiritual sense of being "interviewed" that is the most important to me, which allows me to know that even when I relax and laugh and let down my hair, who I am and my values aren't cheated. Those are the people I want to be around--not the ones who know how to wear a tie to impress me, but the ones who are real people who care and have a good attitude about life and have positive energy...and as humans we can't help but interview people. Often, such "interviews" come to fruition months or years later, when opportunities open up. I'm often asked if I know anyine who would be good for a certain job or volunteer position. My mind then scans back to whom I've met, and those people who were genuine and positive and seemed to have the right fit or skill set I've referred for those jobs or positions, etc. Anyway, thanks again for the comments!