Father’s Day And Leadership
On Friday, October 25, 1968, I flew home from Syracuse University early in the morning. I had no special reason to be home that weekend, but my parents gave me the OK. So I flew home to Long Island on the long-gone Mohawk Airlines.
That afternoon I drove to Mineola, the county seat, to cover a trial for a journalism assignment. Friday night, I watched the finals of the Olympic basketball tournament with my father Joe – we both loved sports – as the U.S. won the gold medal. He and I made a date to meet him for lunch the next day at the golf course after he finished his 18 holes.
I drove out to the course and decided to hang around the 18th green, watching other foursomes finishing their rounds and waiting for my dad. I waited and waited and he did not show up. I heard a rumor that a golfer had been hit in the head by a golf ball and been taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, a man approached me and asked me “Are you Larry Center?” After I acknowledged my identity, he said “Son, I have bad news for you. Your father had a heart attack on the golf course.”
I asked, “How bad was it?”
He said “it was “the worst.”
Then I knew that my father had died.
I was the first one in my family to know. I had to decide what to do and who to tell. I wanted so much to be with my mother and my brother at that moment, but I had to think about what the right thing to do was on the spot. I called my mother’s best friend, Jean, who had the good sense to walk over to our rabbi’s house and go with the rabbi to tell my mom. Then I called my uncle, who was my father‘s business partner, and he and his wife headed to our house.
Every Father’s Day since 1968 I think about my dad. I regret that he and I never really developed an adult-to-adult relationship. And yet in the 19 years I had with him, I learned a great deal about leadership. And this Father’s Day, as a tribute to him, and as I look forward to driving up to New York today to spend Father’s Day with my sons Jared and Ben, I want to share the biggest leadership lessons Joseph Center taught me:
1. Always tell the truth, even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient.
2. Always do what you think is right. If you do, you will be able to live with the consequences.
3. Always treat people with dignity and respect, especially people with whom you may disagree.
4. Always maintain high moral standards, regardless of the behaviors you may see around you.
5. Always be kind to other people.
6. Always participate in your community and strive to give back to others.
7. Always maintain your sense of humor because it will often save you in tough circumstances.
8. Always work hard, but know that family comes first.
9. Always treat other people the way they would like to be treated.
10. Always remember that as a leader, you serve as a role model for others.
On this Father’s Day, I encourage you to think about the lessons you have learned from your fathers and your father figures. Just like with all leaders, sometimes we learn from our dads or their stand-ins what to do and sometimes we learn what not to do.
In all cases, we can be learners.
For all you dads out there, I wish you a very happy Father’s Day! Please savor the joy and responsibility of fatherhood.