Web design and development defines what I do; serving others will define who I am.
A Living Example
I've been fortunate to have some talented leaders pour into my life. I will always be grateful for the gifts they passed on to me and hopefully they know their deposits will be reinvested. But when I'm asked about who has influenced me the most, it's an easy answer - my father. His active presence in my life has had the greatest impact on who I am today.
Always Give Your Best
Growing up, it was understood that after dinner, all the men cleaned up the kitchen. On one occasion, I was tasked with sweeping the kitchen floor and cleaning the stove. After I completed my chores, I went to my room to finish my homework. In less than five minutes, my father asked with a disappointed tone that I come downstairs. When I walked into the kitchen, I noticed a sponge on the stove counter-top. And his only words to me were, "The stove is still dirty. Do the job right!"
Like most teenagers, I was initially frustrated with my dad asking me to do something all over again. It looked fine to me. But as I looked closer, he was right. The job wasn't finished. There were areas I had missed.
Even as a 14 year old, I walked away knowing there was something significant my father was trying to teach me. The immediate issue was my failure to clean the stove properly, but there was a greater lesson he was hoping I would see for myself — that anything I do, it should always be done with excellence.
As long as I can remember, whether it was in business, how he interacted with others or his family, my father taught me excellence by how he led his life, not by what he said. It was a profound way of learning such an important life principle. Excellence simply permeated everything he did and it was part of his DNA. For him, excellence was not just going the extra mile for others but becoming it.
Not Always What It Seems
From working for the government to running his own companies, my father was known for his exceptional business standards and practices. But it was his integrity that seemed to mark him by people from all backgrounds - from US and global dignitaries to ordinary people facing some of life's greatest challenges.
Traveling the globe and meeting with some of the worlds most influential leaders was very exciting but that came at a price, as he was often away from home 2-3 weeks at a time. In an ironic turn of events, he began noticing a unique phenomena: the more "success" he had, the greater he sensed an inner emptiness. But it was his faith which brought clarity to his impasse. He concluded the real issue wasn't so much his success as it was what he valued.
This newfound perspective quickly began to affect every area of his life. Besides more time with his family, he (along with my mother) began reaching out to people in great need. These included widows, the sick, the homeless, the poor, the fatherless, addicts, children/teenagers living on the streets, and many others. I can attest to these changes as it was a part of my upbringing.
One Life Touching Many
In 1977, my parents partnered with a mission based out of Brooklyn, NY - a non-profit organization that reached out to young boys who were homeless or heavily involved with drugs or gangs. Retired from the Army and recently widowed in the early 70s, Rev. Russel Wanner took what he learned from the Army and started a cadet program as a way to attract kids off the streets. This extraordinary idea began with just 12 young boys and grew into a mission that fed and clothed 100s of young people on a weekly basis.
The more my dad recognized the needs of these young kids and the impact this organization was having, the more my parents wanted to help. As a result during my childhood and teenage years, it wasn't uncommon to have 15-20 boys at our home on a Friday evening. Besides providing a great meal and clothes, my parents viewed it as opportunity to spend time with each boy, to know them by name and listen to their stories. Over time, the boys became more like my brothers. What I didn't realize back then was the immense impact my father was having on each boy. This became more evident over the years as many of them, who were now young men, began reaching out to my dad during some very difficult times.
What began as a partnership between my dad and Rev. Wanner slowly transformed into a very close friendship, a unique bond they carried throughout their lives. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, Rev. Wanner would spend his holidays with us. He was treated like our family and my brothers and I considered him our uncle.
My father's love for people and his family was always evident to those who knew him. Whenever I returned home from college and bumped into old acquaintances, they would often start their conversation about how my dad recently visited them and did something extraordinary to remind him he was thinking of them. I wasn't surprised by their comments but, even as his eldest son, I never fully understood how large of an influence my father had on people.
That all became clear six weeks prior to July 17, 2003, the day my father passed away of a very rare form of cancer. During those six long weeks, I witnessed something I've never seen before. As my father laid in his hospital bed, people from all walks of life lined up and waited to see him just to share their stories of how he went out of his way to show them he cared for them. I watched widows, drug addicts, kids from broken homes, couples struggling with their marriages, ex-convicts, and many more go out of their way to thank him for his special way of demonstrating kindness to them.
Day after day, story after story, I witnessed what my father had modeled to me my entire life: that people, not things, matter in this world.
A Living Legacy
You might think that was the closing chapter of my father's story. But it was only just the beginning. Shortly after he passed, something remarkable occurred. People all across the globe - many of whom I had never met before - began reaching out to me by phone, e-mail, and hand-written letters to share a telling moment of how my father made them feel like they were the most important person to him. What made those recollections even more touching was that I was hearing many of them for the very first time. My dad rarely discussed how his days went at the dinner table. And he rarely spoke of his accomplishments or successes. His thoughts were focused on each family member.
As you can imagine, I was overwhelmed by the responses. But there is one such story that continues to linger in the back of my mind. I received a phone call one evening from a gentleman I had never met or heard of before a little more than a year after my dad had passed away. They apparently worked together for the government and he shared an incident that really impressed him.
At the time, my father held an executive position and was responsible for about 1,500 - 2,000 employees. It was on his watch that he received an urgent phone call that one of his plant workers had a steel rod impale his body and that he was rushed off to the hospital by ambulance.
My father stopped everything he was doing and immediately headed to the hospital. Upon his arrival the man's wife was already frantically waiting in the emergency room while the doctors were doing everything possible to keep her husband alive. Apparently, my dad sat with the man's wife throughout the entire evening and into the early morning hours until the husband's situation was stabilized.
Several weeks went by and at some point, the husband and wife showed up at my father's office. As they sat down, the husband shared (and I paraphrase), "We had to stop by your office just to thank you because I never expected a senior executive to come down to the hospital and sit with my wife until she knew I was OK. I've never had someone care for me like that before and I can't tell you how much that meant to us. Thank you."
That story seems to capture the very essence of my father's life. He simply cared for people. And he did so by showing them, not just telling them, they were special.
My Greater Purpose
As I look back on my father's life, there are two clear themes I continually draw from: a life of excellence and a life of caring for others. So when I'm asked why I do what I do, it's very clear: to touch the hearts of others by providing excellence in both my professional and personal life.
In a more practical way, this is currently expressed through my work on the web. Everything I do with Skylar Design, it must be done with excellence. I view my work as a unique opportunity to serve my clients and give them my very best. But through those services, my hope is to show them that I truly care about them. After working at this for some time now, I've concluded that when you surpass what others expect from you, you communicate two things: 1) that you value your work, and 2) that you value the person.
I may never have the sphere of influence my father once had, but that's OK. Because touching one life is far more valuable than touching none!