Most people can automatically name those who have influenced their lives most without giving it much thought. So can I.
A summary by name and major influence:
1. My dad: unconditional love
2. My mom: Be different
3. My brother: believe in yourself
4. Mr. Bell: All people fear
5. Steve K.: You can do it
It is so easy to say, "I love my parents. They made me who I am today." But what does that mean? How did they do it? For me, I understand the uniqueness of each contribution.
1. My Dad: Here was a gruff, farmer/rancher who was the most "artificially" bigoted, sexist man I knew growing up. To believe a man such as that could have such a positive influence on my life might be a challenge for a reader. Dad had a slanderous nickname for every nationality with whom he was not associated. The secret that I knew was that dad grew up in an isolated North Dakota farm learning those values from those around him. He lacked exposure and associations. However, whenever dad actually met and got to know someone of any of those nationalities or color, he would no longer use those terms. He was a vary softhearted, generous man underneath the facade of bigotry and sexism. There were no black people in our town, one very well respected Japanese family and few Hispanics other than the migrants working the beet farms in the summer. We grew up in South Dakota surrounded by Indian (yes Indian) reservations and had a healthy respect for them and empathy for their situation. Whenever, a family would make a pilgrimage past the house to Bear Butte for religious reasons, Dad would be the first to offer them water and a loaf of Mom's homemade bread if one was available.
Dad's only sexist attitude towards me can be summed up in a comment he made when I was in high school. "I will never pay for a daughter to go to college because all they will do is get married and have kids." Words like that are never forgotten. They only hurt a little at the time because I knew that Dad had no means to pay for anyone's college education and that each of us would have to make it on our own; and we did.
The gruffness, sexist comments and all, every one of the seven children knew that our father loved us deeply and unconditionally. It has been a challenge for me at times to do so with my own children as they work through some of their own issues.
2. My Mom: Be different. That was her oft stated directive when I would be dismayed that I was not like, could not be like, could not afford to be like most of my classmates. "Be different." Little did she know that this statement would be a moniker of independence for me. After high school I seldom wanted to be a "part of" anything unless it was an organization with a purpose. Socially, I was and have been a total isolation from most of the world.
3. My Brother Dan: Two years older than me, I followed him or was led by him pretty much everywhere. He guided me, he cajoled me, he guarded me, he consoled me and he led me right up until his death from the affects of Agent Orange at age 58. My best friend and guidance, his death pulled rug of support out from under me as it did to his wife, children and grandchildren. He fought a liver tumor for years, deteriorating to a skeleton and back again to a strong human being only to lose the battle again. Never did he complain or blame Viet Nam. It was his job and he accepted the consequences. Through chemo, radiation and numerous testings he worked every day as manager of a department store. Like our father, Dan's work ethic was exemplary. From these two I learned commitment and responsibility to family, company and country.
4. Mr. Bell my Speech & Theatre Teacher: There is always "one" standout teacher in a person's life. Mine was Mr. Bell. I had to take a semester of speech as a sophomore and dreaded it beyond panic. Up to that point in my life I had never even spoke up in class so severely shy was I. Even though I tried hard for good grades, I accepted an "F" in Freshman English class one six week term because we were required to stand up in front of the class and do a monologue as part of a theatre session. Nope. I not only did not prepare one, I totally refused to stand up in class.
Enter Mr. Bell in Sophomore speech class. He helped me to understand that I was no different than anyone else and that I had something of value to say. I almost cried during my first short speech but by the end of the semester I was giving speeches that were too long and giving those speeches with comfort.
Theatre: again enter Mr. Bell. The following year the theatre department did a production of "January Thaw." The main young girl character was to be Paige, a really good actress. Paige, however, was quite short and Mr. Bell needed someone to play her younger (littler) sister. I was one of the few girls in school shorter than Paige. The most enlightening lesson learned from acting (or not acting) in that productions was that, I seem to not be able to repeat the same lines over and over again, enter that scene at the correct time or even deliver the correct lines for the scene. Acting was too repetitious and fragmented for me. Even though I essentially failed on stage, I gained an absolute love for theatre and continued my involvement to this day with few years off for raising a family.
5. Steve K. My project leader: Last but far from least is Steve, a direct supervisor during my construction days. We did not start out on good terms during our earlier working relationship. I thought he was arrogant and would remind him of it when we joined in partnership on a major project. He had matured in his leadership talents and my independent yet team oriented nature fit into that partnership. As project director of an extremely fast paced $112 million dollar project, Steve often was in search of talent to fill unusual staffing needs such as manager of warranty issues or project manager of small projects. He handed those projects to me with a smile and said, "you can do it." Was he passing off the projects to me as a last resort and was I taking on the responsibility because I was flattered at being asked? Maybe a little of both but the end result was that I performed for Steve to his expectations and I learned and added to my resume for my satisfaction. Every element of project management that Steve and I worked together on became an important stepping stone in my career that led to really interesting projects.