My father died before I became a principal but he would have been happy with that. Here was a fellow with a grade 6 education who started out as a deckhand in the merchant navy. He went on to become a ship’s captain. When he retired he was responsible for the operation of three ships and over 300 personnel. He would have seen becoming a principal as a logical progression.
He did see me promoted twice in the Naval Reserve and we often talked about the leadership and management of people – I learned a lot from him. I recall the day he said to me, “Son, as you rise in positions of greater responsibility, you will be faced with some tough decisions and will need to have some difficult conversations. Don’t avoid them. If you are not willing to deal with the uncomfortable issues then get the hell out of the job and make room for someone who is.” There’s noting like an old sailor to get right to the point.
During my career in both the military and in education I thought of these words often, and I like to think I lived up to my father’s expectations. I only wish he had also said, “Oh, and don’t be surprised if those you report to, don’t want you to deal with difficult personnel issues; particularly, if it makes work for them.” Anyway, I figured that one out on my own (other stories for other days). But when he told me these words I didn’t realize that I would, one day, have to have one of those difficult conversations with him.
When Dad hit the age of 70 it was quite obvious that, physically, things were heading downhill. He didn’t seem as steady on his feet and his coordination had diminished; however, he was still driving. My brothers and I met, and we all agreed that it was time for him to give up driving, but who was going to deliver the news? I talked to our mother about it, and she agreed that it was time. She suggested that perhaps the family doctor should be the one to convey the message. I thought that was a great idea, and they already had an appointment coming up.
I called their doctor and explained the situation. She agreed that she would be the one to tell him it was time to stop driving. We were happy with this – it certainly took the pressure off of us.
I drove my parents to the appointment. They went in together as I sat in the waiting room reading year-old magazines. Eventually, the door opened and out they came. I looked at my father to see if there was any sign that he had been given the news. Nothing seemed different.
We returned to my parents home and Dad went out to the front room for his regular power nap. In the kitchen, I asked my mother, “So, how did it go?”
“The doctor didn’t mention anything about driving.”
“Seriously? She said that she would.”
“I’m sorry. Nothing was mentioned.”
I heard my father’s words, If you are not willing to deal with the uncomfortable issues then get the hell out of the job and make room for someone who is. Getting out of this job wasn’t an option in this case.
After his nap we sat down at the kitchen table. After a bit of small talk I said, “Dad, this is really hard for me to say but I think it is time for you to give up driving. I am going to ask you for your keys.”
He stared at me for a few seconds and then said, “I think you are right.” He then picked up his keys and handed them to me.
Well, that was easy. I couldn’t believe it – no anger, no tears, no arguing – what a relief!, for me anyway.
Dad was later diagnosed with a Parkinson’s related disease – things started to make sense.
I miss him.
“There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle, and a very happy start.”
― Shel Silverstein,
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