Recently, I heard John Maxwell speak about the life lessons he had learned from his dad, Melvin. As I listened, it made me think of similar lessons I had learned from my dad and I want to share a few with you. My dad’s name was Tommy.
He taught me to dream.
When Dad was 11, his mom died. His father soon remarried, but left his home and nine children behind to move in with his new wife. In essence, he abandoned his family, leaving them with an account at a local store where they could get a few groceries. Still, Dad had to quit school in the 5th grade to hunt for food. Along with his eight brothers and sisters, his childhood years were consumed by making sure they all had enough to eat.
He told me once that every time he walked by a brick house in town he would say to himself, “One day I am going to own a brick house.” He had nothing at the time but that dream. With no idea how to make it happen, he did know that he was going to have a better life than the one his father had left for him. Dad would often say, “Son, you can have whatever you want if you are willing to work hard enough for it.”
From childhood, I was taught to dream and to see beyond the present. This is faith. Dad taught me how to believe God for more, to see beyond what I see today and look down the road at what can be, if I will believe. In essence, I learned to not be satisfied with less than God’s best.
He taught me hard work.
Dad worked in the oil fields as a roughneck. For those who do not know what the word “roughneck” means, it’s the guy doing the dirty, lower-income kind of jobs on the oil rig. He was always covered with dirt and oil when in his work clothes. He was a hard worker, but he had a vision for more. My dad believed that hard work would solve just about any problem. He lived that work ethic every day of his life and as a kid, I never doubted his intention to see his dream become a reality.
As a 10-year old boy, I remember moving into our first brick home. Dad was so proud of that home as it was a dream fulfilled. Hard work had made it happen. You see, all the years he worked in the oil fields, Dad had been saving money, keeping the dream of having that brick home and one day, his own business. Eventually, he left the oil field and spent a year working under my uncle learning how to manage a shoe business and sell shoes. He then invested everything he had to buy a shoe store of his own. I watched him and my mother work endless hours to make it successful.
Every day when school was out, my twin brother Terry and I would walk from school to the shoe store where we would do chores in the store. When I was 12, Dad started letting me work with customers and taught me how to sell shoes. I sold shoes until I left home for college, although I would still work at the store during college breaks. I think about the knowledge and training that I gained as a kid. I learned to speak to adults and got them to buy shoes for themselves and their kids… from a 12-year-old! I was in a mini-school of leadership development and never knew it.
He taught me faith.
Dad was never what we would call an “overly-spiritual guy.” He was simply a man who did his best to live the life of a Christian. He believed in God and read his Bible every Saturday night, studying to teach the junior boys’ Sunday School class. I rarely saw him read the Bible otherwise, but he was faithful to live out the values he learned from the Word. We were in church every time the doors were open and attended every revival service. Every morning, he and Mom would kneel down to pray, and then we would bend our knees in the kitchen before heading to school. It was a faithful practice in our family – I don’t recall ever going to school without praying first.
He taught me to save money.
As a kid, I saw Dad investing his savings into the shoe store, but that wasn’t the first time he taught me about the value of saving money. My twin brother and I, at 5-years-old, had chores to do around the house. We were given 15 cents a week for simple chores like picking up the yard. He taught us to put 5 cents in the church offering, save 5 cents, and then we were allowed to spend the remaining 5 cents on whatever we wanted. When I was 10, we started mowing people’s yards for money and Dad took me to the bank to open my first savings account. He showed me the importance of watching the money grow and saving it for an important purchase one day.
He taught me to tithe.
Putting 5 cents on my dresser every week to take to church on Sunday morning was a lesson I’ll never forget. I always tithed on every amount of income God provided and instilled this value into married life. My wife Libby and I have always made it our priority to pay tithe first. I can tell you that there have been times when funds were really tight, and we had three kids to raise, yet we were still faithful to pay our tithe. This value has been such a blessing to us and our family.
He taught me to keep promises.
Dad would always say, “I will never make a promise to you that I won’t keep,” and he lived up to that, never promising something that he didn’t deliver. You see, his dad had made promises to buy him things, but would never follow through, so he grew up being disappointed time and again by his own father. My dad said he would always be at every ball game we ever played when we were kids. He did just that, never missing a baseball, football, or basketball game that was in town. He tried to be at every key event that was important to us, even in college. He kept his word.
I have lived my life doing my best to never make a promise that I did not keep, not only to my family but to everyone at work and in business. I tend to trust when someone tells me that they will do something for me, and I have high expectations that it will be done. I have been disappointed from time to time, but I still believe the best in people. This value of keeping your word creates an incredible level of trust between you and everyone you engage with, and it influences people to believe in others.
He taught me to take care of what God provides.
My dad always said, “God will never give you more unless you are taking care of what you have.” He was strict about how we kept the yard, our room, and how we cleaned up the kitchen when it was our turn to help with the dishes. He would say things like, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” I know that is not a scripture, but he made it sound like it was. Dad felt God would honor our stewardship when we took care of the blessings He gave us. When we earned enough money to get a car, he expected us to keep it clean and maintained. He also taught us to never hold on too tight to the things God gives and be willing to share those things with others.
He taught me generosity.
I watched Dad give many pairs of shoes away to missionaries, pastors, and the poor. He felt like it was an opportunity to invest in those who had given themselves to ministry and to those deserving a break. My dad was also generous to those who in some way spoke into the lives of his kids, as well as those who were doing good in the community. Dad and Mom would have the senior citizens from the church over for thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. He was always doing something in the community to help with a ball team or with a charity project. We never had a fish fry or a cook-out that he didn’t invite someone to come join us.
All these things impacted and inspired me to live with a spirit of generosity. If all we have has been given to us by God, then we are simply stewards anyway, so why not be generous? Dad taught us to be rivers, not reservoirs. A river flows and passes forward. A reservoir is a holding place. He meant that we were not to hold tight to what God has given but hold loosely to what we have and pass it on to others.
He taught me to treat everyone with respect.
From childhood, I was taught to respect my elders, seniors, police officers, teachers, pastors, as well as city officials. He never let us get away with talking ill of any one of them. His rule was that “if you get a spanking at school, you will get a second one at home.” He trusted the teachers to do what was right for us and if they felt a spanking was in order, then he would follow suit at home. We had that fact in our minds every day we went to school. He also demanded that we treat everyone with respect no matter what color, race, or creed. We were to always be kind and respectful to everyone, period.
He taught me to always give 100 percent.
I’ll never forget Dad saying, “Whatever you commit to, do your best.” If you sign up to play a sport, then you are signing up to give your best. He expected us to give 100% of ourselves to the team and to the game. He would always coach us up when we were discouraged, and never let us get discouraged when we lost games. He continued to tell us to “work hard, be your best, and never let your team down.”
Think about this principle in leadership. If you commit to the team, give your best, always, no matter the circumstances. If you cannot give 100% and say to yourself or other team members, “Today I can only give 70%,” know that you can never get back the 30% you didn’t give yesterday because you can’t give more than a 100% today. I wish I had followed that advice every day of my life because I know there have been days that I just didn’t give it my all. I don’t accept that behavior and try to always do my best. May God help us as we press toward the mark of doing His will. If we can do our best for Him, as a direct result of our effort, the number of lives that will be changed will be more. Doing our best matters.
He promoted our education.
I wrote in the beginning that Dad had not finished school, but was an amazing businessman. I was always surprised at how good he was at business and numbers, in spite of his lack of formal education. I think that is why it was important to him that we get our education. He was thrilled when we finished high school and were going on to college. He was supportive of us enough to say that he would pay for our college if we kept up our grades. In fact, my twin brother and I were the first Nances in the family to finish college and he was so proud of us.
When I started my Doctorate degree, he consistently asked me when I would be finished. No Nance had ever completed a Doctorate. It took four years and a dissertation to complete my PhD, but when I did, he was there. He was supportive and proud of my accomplishment. I will never forget his face when he saw me walk the line. That meant so much to me.
You know, I could easily list more wonderful values Dad taught me, and maybe I will. For now, it’s enough to say that it was great having a father who invested so much in me. I only wish every boy and girl growing up could have a wonderful dad. If you are a dad, get on with it. Teach your kids the values you want them to go through life with and one day your son or daughter may write about the lessons they learned from you.
A most grateful son,
Jerry Nance, PhD
Global Teen Challenge