Tag Archives: advice for children

A Eulogy for My Dad – What My Dad Taught Me

My dad passed away on June 19, 2012.  These are the words I shared with the community as we paid final tribute to him on June 23, 2012.

On June 3, 2012, just about three weeks ago, Dad turned 76 years old.  He seemed always to rally for the weekend get-togethers we’ve held since his diagnosis and his birthday weekend was no different.  I’m a lot like my dad, and my mom of course, as is my brother John.  It is true that we as children find ourselves evolving into our parents – physically (those ugly Gettel feet – that Hungarian (hunky) hair!) and in personality and character.

My dad, often had a hard time speaking about his feelings.  As Pastor Jackie will mention, he showed his love in many other ways and most often with delicious meals – our favorites served so many times.  I’m was a lot like my dad when trying to tell him about how proud I have been to be his daughter and to be part of the family that he and mom have fostered.  I have an easier time writing it down, so that’s what I did.  And as I gave him a hug and kiss to head back to Chelsea that birthday Sunday, I gave him a letter which my mom read to him. 

These are what I call, “the big three life lessons” that if I’m asked about what I learned from my dad, my mom, or growing up in a farm family that I try to convey.  There are more lessons to be sure, but these are the ones I share most with my friends and colleagues.

Work like a farmer – I believe I was a senior in high school and I overheard my dad talking with Uncle Earl or perhaps Uncle Tom.  I was in the side room probably studying notes from one of Mr. Thies’ science classes.  I heard him tell his brother something like, “No, I don’t have to get on her at all.  She’s so busy she doesn’t have time to get into trouble.  It’s hard to keep up with her and sometimes I think she should slow down.”  I recall being a bit shocked that he didn’t think that I had time to make trouble.  Why I was rebellious, I thought.  I’d show him, after getting through my science notes, I picked up my flute and only practiced for a half hour. (I had planned to practice for an hour.  This was my rebellion.)

The truth of it is that I learned to work this way from him.  I work like my dad – like a farmer.  I prepare and practice like I am planting or harvesting all that I can before the rain comes.  And when it’s raining, instead of moping around complaining that the rain is interrupting my progress, I make progress on things that the rain doesn’t impact.  I work ahead such that if an unexpected break-down happens, and it always does, it doesn’t severely hamper the process.  This has served me well in so many instances from being well-prepared for final exams to being over-prepared for work deadlines and presentations such that my project managers always wanted me for their projects (cheap labor!) and when things like “downsizing” came along, I somehow was overlooked.

Even if you mess up, we still will love you – This is that story that we still laugh about where on a sunny day in July, I found myself mowing over one of the new apple trees that had been planted in the spring.  After the shock of the sound of a shredding fruit tree between the blades of that old riding mower, I remember running into the house to find the file in the grey file drawer that had the information and map of all the apple trees.  Desperately, I tried to find the price of the tree.  I could not but went and found all the money I had and asked John if he thought it was enough to cover the cost.  He was sure it was not, and dejected, I went up and packed a few things as I figured I would be excommunicated from the house.  I then went and lay down on the couch dreading my fate and waiting until my dad or mom got home.  He arrived first, and upon hearing my story asked me one simple question, “Did you mean to do it?”  I responded that no, of course I hadn’t wanted to mow over the tree.  You said, “Then why would I be mad at you?”  The weight from my shoulders lifted and the sickness in my stomach went away.  Shortly thereafter, mom drove in from her hair appointment (those were the bu-font days – they call them up-do’s now!) that had been lengthened from a persistent Alec Kovach who insisted on buying her a birthday drink at “George’s.”  Not only was Mom not upset with me, she felt terrible because I had suffered so long waiting for a return of a parent to let me know my fate – that even if I messed up, I’d still be loved and still be welcomed into my home.  And that brings me to my last point today.

Go ahead and try.  You can always come home.  There isn’t a specific incident here.  It’s really just a feeling I’ve had of unconditional support.  And while I hope to demonstrate the two lessons just noted above to Nicholas and Alexander, this lesson is what I hope as a parent to duplicate most.  I want my sons to know that they always will have a safety net as long as they are trying their best.  As a girl from the small town of Owendale, heading off to Alma College was one thing, but taking a job in downtown Detroit, then heading to Duke in North Carolina along with a stint in California had a lot of risks.  But I always knew in my heart that if things went terribly wrong and I needed to, I could always come home and start over.  There would always be a tray of lasagna, a crockpot of clam chowder, or a fresh batch of fudge that would help me find my way.  This feeling of home and unconditional support has freed me to take risks (let me emphasize calculated risks that didn’t include bodily harm – except for the skydiving incident, of course!) – to take risks even when I had no confidence of my own success, and this has made the difference in what I have become.

Thank you – So Dad, I wrote, as you celebrate your birthday today, in addition to wishing you a “Happy Birthday,” I also want to thank you for all of the life lessons that perhaps you didn’t know yourself that you were teaching me.  It has and will make me a better person and a better parent.

Welcome home Dad – So that was my birthday gift to him just 21 days ago – a simple thank you with words that I found difficult to share out loud.  And as I think about dad today, there is sadness since from this day forward, so many things will be different for me and for my family.  The family gatherings may take on a different flavor as we try, but just can’t exactly replicate the clam chowder and lasagna and dishes we’ve come to savor; Aunt Mary may have an easier time keeping her Christmas auction gifts since Dad won’t steal all of them; and we’ll likely to struggle with the fine details of our memories of the old days since it was Dad who always recalled even the smallest of details.

There is a sadness for sure, but there is also comfort as I imagine him going to live with Jesus (as we explained it to our boys) and reuniting with his community and friends and farmers who have gone to live with Jesus before him.  I can imagine as he made his way that he may have heard a loud, familiar yawn and sigh coming from Windy Weinlander, that Alec Kovach invited him to play a game of euchre, or that his deer-camp buddies and friends welcomed him home and handed him a pan & told him to get cooking.  I can imagine my grandpa and grandma Gettel smiling at him with their gentle, approving smiles as he came their way.  I can imagine Grandpa Retford giving him the “Grandpa wave” before he gave him a hug and a welcome.  And I can imagine Grandma Retford taking him in his arms, giving him the familiar hug that only moms can give and saying, “Billy, you always knew you could take some risks and then come home to us when you were ready.  Welcome home Billy.  Welcome home son.” 

Welcome home Dad.


Blurbs for My Boys – Be nice to clerks. Treating them poorly does not make you a powerful or admirable person. Rather, it demonstrates quite the opposite.

It’s been a while since I posted a blurb, but having witnessed some inappropriate behavior by an aggressive customer recently, I’ll get back on my pulpit and do some preaching!

Much of what I have to share on this topic is related to unfortunately, repeated experiences I witness or somehow find myself entangled.  A sad, but recurring situation is with respect to the treatment of sales clerks.  From retail to fast food to dry cleaner clerks, it seems that many in our population believe that as a customer, they have the right to treat clerks poorly – that somehow being on the cash-paying end versus the cash-receiving end, that they have the right to insult, degrade and demand loudly as if the rest of the clientele within an ear’s shot are their audience.  While you will often hear the phrase, “the customer is always right,” let me introduce you to the notion that sometimes, “a customer isn’t worth the trouble.”  Moreover, the angry and demanding customer often isn’t profitable, if that makes it easier for the business person, especially in these times, to agree.

I believe that every individual should be forced to work as a clerk for several months and will encourage you, my sons, to do so.  Only then perhaps, will you really appreciate the sometimes humiliating and challenging work that these individuals are forced to endure.  My experience was as a fast food clerk.  During my second summer as an undergraduate student, I was able to work at Wendy’s for three months.  I had a particular knack for timing fries to ensure that even during rush periods, that our customers did not have to wait in line for the fries to complete cooking.  This was key to guest satisfaction since a wait of even thirty seconds is somehow unbearable to the common fast food customer.  So, I spent most of my summer bent over a hot bat of oil frying, salting, stuffing, and distributing fries.

One doesn’t realize the skill and stamina needed to work in this environment.  For the financial reward of minimum wage, you are on your feet for hours, and when you are not preparing or serving food, you are cleaning.  Your skin is covered with a slimy layer of grease, you run through a fine vapor of heat and humidity spewed out by the cooking machines as you rush to fill orders, and the smell that permeates your clothes is one that will not come out even after several attempts at washing.  You look forward to collecting the trash and taking it to the large dumpster hidden behind the wood fixture in the back of the parking lot, even though the aroma of decaying leftovers turns the stomach.  You look forward to it because it is a chance to escape the stale restaurant air and capture some fresh, exhilarating air while walking to and from “the dump.”  Indeed, everything is relative.

So, all that glory as a fast food clerk and cook, and then comes, “the customer.”  While there were several interesting experiences, the most memorable was the “overbearing grandma takes granddaughter out for lunch” episode.  The finely dressed little girl must have been about age five or six.  Grandma, immediately recognizable as the overbearing kind, proceeded to order her granddaughter a cheeseburger.  The register clerk kindly inquired whether she would like a kid’s meal since it had a special toy.  Grandma barked that “all she wanted was a cheeseburger, fries and some milk” – no kid’s meal was necessary.  Of course, overbearing grandma also was sure to announce this loudly enough that all those in line heard her orders to the lowly clerk.  Grandma had an audience to impress.  She was in the power position.  The register clerk, again having multiple experiences with the desires of young children made grandma aware that the cheeseburger, yummy as it was, came with catsup, pickles, onions and mustard – would the young customer just like catsup?  To that question, overbearing grandma loudly exclaimed that she just wanted a cheeseburger – just get her hungry girl a cheeseburger and stop asking questions!  Just take the order!  All in line were impressed with velocity and volume she used – that’s why they were all looking at their feet I suppose.

The manager, overhearing the interaction, whispered to me that she would like to bet five dollars, well over the hourly wage we were making, that when the cheeseburger was opened in the dining room, that the sandwich would be coming back.  This was one of my rare occasions at the sandwich-making station, since fries were my specialty, and I made the cheeseburger, as requested, no questions.  Just as the manager predicted, within a few minutes, overbearing grandma was back at the counter.  It would have been bad enough had she just came back and yelled about our incompetence as citizens in the US having put more than just catsup on the burger.  But it was worse.  While screaming about how her granddaughter was now in tears because she only wanted catsup on her cheeseburger, overbearing grandma had mashed the cheeseburger up within its wrapper and then proceeded to throw it across the counter.  I must give her credit.  She had a good arm and good aim.  To this day, I can visualize the mangled cheeseburger flying down the counter starting at the register, completing its trip down the counter and nearly hitting me at the sandwich preparation station on the other end.  There were bits of burger, cheese, catsup, pickles, onions and mustard from the point where it landed to the point where it came to rest.  It looked like a mangled cheeseburger buffet.  She had made her point.  She was the customer and ruled the moment.

And what was our response?  We quietly prepared a new cheeseburger with catsup only, provided it to overbearing grandma free of charge (see, not a profitable customer), cleaned up the counter and continued serving.  All in a days work, and the manager won her imaginary bet, since I could not afford to bet over an hour’s worth of pay.

I learned much that day.  First, my own personal restraint, physically and verbally.  It was difficult not to reach across the counter, grab overbearing grandma’s arm and advise her what a horrible demonstration of human behavior she was for her granddaughter , for all those in the restaurant and for greater humanity.  Second, I learned patience as a customer.  Never would I become the impatient, downright nasty customer overbearing grandma represented, and in the scheme of things, is waiting a few minutes for service or answering a few simple questions, particularly if clerks are being responsive, really that much trouble?  And third, and most importantly, I learned that no matter how stressful college life seemed at the time, that I was going to finish it and escape the need to finance my life by making sandwiches and timing fries that just might come flying back at me!

So my boys, be nice to sales clerks and practice the Golden Rule with them.  Generally, clerks do not control much.  They don’t have the power to ensure that all spots come out of your clothing, to stock the specific size you’re looking for, to make the gasoline cheaper, to make the food spicier or less so, to fix the mechanical problems with the airplane, or to increase the number of lanes that are open for check-out at the grocery store.  Beating them up verbally is not impressive or admirable, nor does show you are a powerful person.  They don’t give out rewards or money or fame for rude and boorish behavior (unless of course you are a socialite and sons, your parents aren’t in that socioeconomic class).  And those waiting in line behind you aren’t going to congratulate you on your rude behavior – usually they just look at their feet.  And certainly most importantly, you’re mother wouldn’t be proud of you (See “Making Good Choices” post)!

Blurbs for My Boys – Cell Phone Etiquette and More

Cell phones are everywhere, and I am a fan.  I like them for safety, for something to do while stuck in an airport or in traffic, for the ability to call when I am lost or going to be late, and I like the fact that after I’ve figured out how to program them, I never have to remember a phone number again.

In the beginning, cell phones were a mark of success.  You were someone if in the airport, you pulled out your cell phone and started talking with the home office.  Of course, I never had one in the beginning, and I’d find myself both envious and annoyed by those who did.  Envious because of the utility of the phone, but slightly annoyed because I often had to listen to how successful the person’s trip just was.  And strangely, extremely successful people with cell phones seem to come equipped with voices that carry over the noise of flight departure announcements, a whole room of waiting passengers, and jet engine noise.

So now, everybody has them – young and old, successful and otherwise.  And recently, during my scurry to pick up the dry-cleaning, I was reminded, that it’s not only flying salesmen who can become “slightly” annoying when using this grand technology.  The gentleman who entered the establishment just before me was talking so loud, my ears hurt.  And, incredibly, the clerk waited patiently, as did those of us waiting in line, when his conversation was so involved he had to pause during the transaction to pay full attention to the caller, all the time motioning wildly with his hands!  There we all stood and watched and waited for him in an eight by ten space as he set up an ever-important tee-time before he could proceed to hand his credit card to the clerk.  So with that vivid reminder, I would like to introduce some cell phone etiquette.  It’s really not that complicated.  My sons, it really boils down to simple manners.

1.       First, it is indeed inappropriate to continue your conversation while you are interacting in-person with others, whether they are drycleaners, retail sales clerks, physicians, lawyers, or flight attendants.  It’s not only rude for the person tending to you, but it is rude to the person on the phone.  And still ruder yet is to make the person tending to you (and the others waiting in line) wait while you finish your thoughts and plans for your tee time, because in fact you can’t make tee-time plans, produce your payment, and collect your clothes all at the same time.  Excuse yourself from the call.  Conduct your transaction.  Thank the clerk with a smile.  Then hit redial.

2.       The microphones in the cell phone are very sensitive.  You do not need to shout for the individual on the other end to hear you.  In fact, the person on the other end is likely holding their phone a few feet from their ear.

3.       If I were not your mother, but rather a stranger, I would not care nor be impressed by the client meeting you just concluded (unless I’m competing for your business and thus collecting competitive intelligence that you are announcing to all around you), your past exploits, your detailed wedding plans, or your plans for a drunken weekend (when you’re of age, of course).  And lace it with lots of profanity – I am even less impressed.  You really don’t have to share your part of the conversation with strangers.

The summary blurb for this entry:  You are never too important or too busy to give people your undivided attention, whether they are sales clerks, your colleagues, your buddies, or even your mom.  So bear with me as I repeat myself (you do that a lot at my age):  Excuse yourself from the call.  Conduct your transaction.  Say thanks with a smile.  Then hit redial.

Blurbs for My Boys – An Introduction

I’ve always had fantasies of writing a book or two.  Before the children arrived, I wanted to write a book narrating the many crazy things we as marketers and market researchers come across on a daily basis.  It would describe amusing stories of professionals misbehaving and interesting decision-making in the corporate ranks that was in clear contrast to the research data.  And the stories of common, everyday consumers and their use of and reaction to everyday products were often better than Saturday Night Live skits.

The second book was a concept I’ve contemplated since Nicholas was born.  When my former colleague passed away (see A Reminder Call post) leaving her three young boys, I started to think about the things I wanted to share with Nicholas, and now Alexander, in the event that I am to suffer the same fate.  (I’ve become much more fatalistic since the birth of my children, as well as a bigger worrier, lighter sleeper, endlessly tired, heavier, and just plain out of shape.)  Anyway, I wanted to impart a few practical life lessons, basically, what my boys will come to describe as “Mom’s Nag List,” in case I’m not here to do the nagging in person.

So, my hope with these particular posts to come, is to articulate the things I want to share with my boys in some short blurbs.  Before Alexander arrived, I was going to title the book, “Notes for Nicholas.”  That hardly seems fair now, so I’ve settled on “Blurbs for My Boys.”  I’ll identify these all under that category – thanks to WordPress for adding that capability.  Most will be simple and short (yes, I will try hard on that), and I will attempt to add humor, hopefully through every day observances.  Some, of course, will be serious, since some things in life are.  So, no book on the horizon, but alas, the nag list will be documented!