Mark L. Hopkins: Lessons taught by my Father
This is the week each year when we celebrate Father’s Day so, obviously, my Father is on my mind. He has been gone for many years but I can still feel his influence in subtle ways every day. When I was raising my own children I would often say something to them and my mind would flash backwards in time and I would think, “My Dad said that.” More times than I care to admit, I measured my own accomplishments against his and wondered if I would ever measure up.
In recent years an essay entitled “All I ever Needed to Know, I learned in Kindergarten” made the rounds, and it touched us for its simplicity and its truth. Sometimes we try to make life just too complicated. My father had his own simple truths and they were born in a childhood of great difficulty. His Mother died when he was 6. His new step mother kicked him out of the house when he was 9. He slept in the loft of a livery stable until he was grown. At 15, he lost his arm in a hunting accident. Despite such a poor beginning all who knew him could testify that his most dominant trait was his buoyant spirit. He really did believe you could accomplish whatever you set your mind to. That was true of the small things, tying shoes or threading needle with one hand, or the more important ones such as learning the value treating people well and of hard work.
Necessity made him a high school dropout. His first job was as a “call boy” for the railroad.
Before the time of telephones, filling a crew for the trains necessitated someone taking a list of men who were scheduled to work and walking all over town knocking on doors to let them know when to report. Dad used to smile and say, “It was a lousy job, but I got to know everyone in town.” After the stent working for the railroad he opened a hole-in-the wall restaurant, graduated to running a food service for those who built the Atomic Bomb in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the 1940s and finished with his own cafeteria that served a solid 1,800 people a day in the 1960s.
My father’s glass was never half empty. Even if it was, any minute it was going to begin filling up. Whether it was his sons or his employees, my father never attempted to tell people what to do. He believed in leading by example and he generally took on the toughest jobs himself.
He once gambled his life savings, something over $2,000, in a business venture in Memphis.
Three months later it went broke. He could have lamented that happening but his response was that, “I just bought $2,000 worth of experience.” He liked the word “adaptability.” He would say, “It isn’t how many times you get knocked down, it is how many times you get back up. Bad things are going to happen. You can’t control what happens but you can control how you respond to those unfortunate happenings.”
Dad used to say that his sons were the only “wealth” he would ever have. One son was a career Navy officer who commanded ships in Viet Nam and the South Pacific. The other spent his life with the education of young people and, later in life, morphed into writing columns like this one.
If my Father had a motto it would be, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” If someone is keeping a list of “self-made” men, my father should certainly be on it. The lessons of my father’s positive attitude are still being taught, both in this generation and the next. Self-reliance with a positive attitude.
Now, that is a legacy worth passing on.
— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at email@example.com.