March 14, 2010, is a date that I will never forget — it is the day I lost my dad to cancer. There hasn’t been a single day over the past five years that I haven’t thought about him and reflected back on the time we spent together, the laughs we had and the lessons he taught me — both directly and indirectly.
Here are five lessons I learned from my dad over the years that will remain etched in my mind for the rest of my life.
1. There is no substitute for hard work.
I started working at a very young age. I wanted a dirt bike as a kid and my dad saw it as an opportunity to teach me a valuable lesson. While my mom wasn’t too keen on the idea, my dad said I could get one, but I was going to have to work for it.
He was a photographer and that meant on most weekends I was attending weddings with him, lugging equipment and setting up lighting. I was getting up at the crack of dawn, loading up the car and arriving at the venues before anyone else to get set up. While most kids my age were sleeping in and watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was working hard — I wanted something and he made sure I understood that it was going to require hard work.
Those are some of my best memories as a child. I got to travel with my dad and get dressed up. He always made me feel like I was an important part of his business. I also learned my Rob Gronkowski-like dance moves at a very young age — there was always a girl in the bridal party that had a bit too much to drink and felt the need to bring me out on the dance floor.
2. Winning in business is a lot like winning in baseball.
My family’s a huge baseball family. My bothers and I played growing up and my dad coached us in little league. He also preached to us about how baseball was the greatest game on the planet.
I don’t think there has ever been a more intense coach — and not in the “crazy parent” type of way. While other coaches just went through the motions, my dad was all about strategy and having a plan. He always said going into a game without a plan was setting the team up for failure.
The same can be said for business. If you just attempt to wing it without a well thought out plan and strategy you are going to fail.
3. Give back as much as possible.
I don’t necessarily mean monetarily, either.
My dad was very generous when it came to helping other aspiring photographers. This was before the days of digital cameras and Photoshop — back when developing film was an art form.
He would talk about techniques and offer tips and suggestions to experienced photographers and those just starting out. If someone had a genuine love for photography or an interest in learning, he was willing to answer any questions he could.
He also had a soft spot for the homeless, especially veterans. Very rarely would he pass someone without making a detour to get them some food. I don’t think I was much older than 10 years old the first time I witnessed it.
I remember him saying, “I don’t give them money because they can use that to buy alcohol and drugs. By giving them food I know it will actually help them,” like it was yesterday.
His influence definitely rubbed off on me. I find myself willing to talk about online marketing to people that are genuinely interested in it, even if they are not clients, just because they share the same passion that I do. I also often find myself putting a meal in the hands of the less fortunate when I can — and as selfish as it might sound, it makes me feel connected to him every time I do it.
4. Love what you do.
My dad was a photographer because he absolutely loved it. He picked up a camera after serving in the Marines and fell in love with it. He was completely self-taught and was always working on his craft. He did it because he loved being behind the camera and creating art. He wasn’t chasing money — the fact that he could earn a living doing what he loved was a bonus.
I started Market Domination Media because I truly love online marketing. I’m sure I feel the same way about being able to help brands grow online as my dad felt about being able to take pictures for a living.
5. Always make time for family.
No matter what, my dad was never too tired or too busy to play. He was a big kid at heart and was always up for a game of catch in the yard. I don’t think he ever said no. If I was playing basketball with friends in the evening, he was out there too, challenging us to three-point competitions.
Every entrepreneur is guilty at one point or another of becoming so consumed with work that family is put on the backburner. I was lucky that I got to speak to my dad before he passed. The last 14 words he spoke to me before his body shut down replay in my mind daily.
You take care of your mom, brothers and sister for me. I love you.
Our families should always be number one — our businesses can still be winners, even in the second-priority position.
I want to end this with an entry that was left on his obituary. It is something I look at every day because it sums him up so well.
I miss you dad.