We Are Only As Good As That Which We Leave Behind

Last Father’s Day I wrote a blog titled Father’s Day, It’s More Important than You Think that was inspired by a young neighbor of mine (Cameron) who lost his father at age 51 after a long battle with cancer. I was luckier than Cameron, my father lived to be 93 and essentially died of natural causes this past January. I haven’t talked with Cameron since this time last year but I imagine that he is thinking about his father this Father’s Day as I am thinking about mine.

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My dad, William Wallace Fenn ll on the front porch of the Cliff House overlooking Canandaigua Lake circa 1942

My dad was born in 1920 in Boston, MA. His father, my grandfather was a professor of physiology at the University of Rochester. When my dad was in high school, his parents bought a summer place on Canandaigua Lake in up-state New York where he learned to sail. Like his father and grandfather, he attended Harvard College where he played lacrosse and eventually became the captain of the team. He graduated with a degree in Biology in 1942 and like all young men of that time went off to fight in World War ll. He joined the Army Air Corps and was sent to the Philippines where he became a radar countermeasures officer. Radar was in its infancy in those days and my dad flew in the nose of a B-29 looking for enemy outposts. It was a dangerous job and at least once they took a bullet or two through the engine of their plane. He told me that they were lucky because the engine kept running and they landed safely. After the war he went back to school at Rensselaer Politechnic Institute and earned a second degree in electrical engineering. He married my mother in 1947 and soon after had two daughters, my sister’s Bonnie and Betsy. I came along in 1959.

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My dad and my Aunt Ruth sailing on Canandaigua Lake aboard the Lorna Doone about 1938. Dad loved to sail and always tried to get all that he could out of the boat and the conditions. I love this picture with his leg draped over the side in an effort to keep the boat sailing flat.

Growing up my dad was always there for me. Like all good dads he taught me right from wrong. He taught me how to sail and how to tie a bowline at a young age. He taught me how to handle a jack-knife and how to split and stack wood. He taught me how to change a flat tire, use a power mower and run an outboard engine. Somewhere along the way by way of example, he taught me how to be a good husband and a father to my three children.

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Mom, dad and me about 1963 I’m guessing

This is my first Father’s Day without a father to give a gift to or make a phone call to. But thankfully, my memories of my dad are clear and happy ones. More and more I am struck by the idea that we are only as good as that which we leave behind. Not so much by our accomplishments but rather by the examples we set, the lessons we pass on and the tone by which we lead our lives. Perhaps this is why we are here.

Happy Father’s Day!

On we go…

Rush Towards the Ball, Rush Towards Life

DSC01068So last night, my son Will had a baseball game, he turns 11 next Monday, April 29th. This year he moved up from the Minors to the Majors and is now playing with 11 and 12 year olds. Most, if not all of these kids, have been playing baseball for several years and at this point are pretty good. In fact, I was surprised at just how much more intense the level of play was with this older group compared to last year’s younger group. Gone are the days of teaching the kids how to throw, catch and bat and teaching them the love of the game. Now it’s all about how to play well and win games. If a kid isn’t qualified to play first base then he plays some other position, like left field or maybe third base. Will is not a first basemen but he has a decent arm and is fairly good at getting his glove on the ball so he often plays second or third base or sometimes shortstop, occasionally he’ll also play in the outfield.

Will is also a decent batter. He doesn’t have a lot of power but his accuracy is pretty good and when he connects, he usually manages to get the ball over the heads of the infielders and out to the outfield. His real talent however is as a base-runner. Will is fast and willing to take risks which makes him the ideal player when it comes to stealing bases. And, since Will loves to be on stage and the center of attention, stealing bases to great applause is right down his alley!

DSC01064A team is only as good as the coach and this year the coach is especially good. For one thing, he’s especially good at being in charge and giving the boys clear direction of how to do things or how to do things better the next time around. He has a knack for using just the right amount of sarcasm to make his point without going so far as to embarrass the kids. For example, “Billy, don’t you think you would have a better chance of stopping that ground ball if you put your glove down?” “Yea” says Billy in a not-so-sure voice. “Well get it down then, glove in the dirt, glove in the dirt” he’ll shout. Or, “You know, we’d have a much better chance of winning if you guys would actually catch the ball instead of letting it hit the ground!” My favorite however was directed at Will on the first day of practice when he said, “Hey Will, is that a batting stance you have there or are you planning to take a dump on home plate?” All of us parents standing along the baselines that day got a real kick out of that one, especially me!

So the game is underway and our team, the Philly’s, are playing pretty well. Will’s first time to bat results in a walk,  From there he goes on to steal second and third base and then steals home. As I said, Will loves to be the center of attention and there simply is no better way to do this in baseball than hitting a home run or stealing home plate so Will is now in his glory with lots of yelling and screaming and back slapping from his teammates.

Sometime in the 5th inning, a kid from the opposing team knocked the ball out of the infield but well in front of the guys playing in the outfield. The coach was immediately on his feet shouting “don’t just stand there, rush towards the ball, rush towards the ball.” I started thinking about this statement, which was really more of a command, and it struck a chord with me. “Rush towards the ball” I repeated to myself “rush towards the ball.” 

As a marketing guy trying to push high-priced yachts in a tough economy, this concept of rushing towards the ball or in my world, rushing towards the customer or the market, makes complete sense. In a tough market such as we have had for the past few years, the only effective way I could see to possibly win the game was to tune up my advertising, marketing and sales program and run full steam ahead towards the market with the enthusiasm and the attitude that screams, “we’re your guys, buy from us.”

Rushing towards the market, especially a slow one, is not always easy or instinctive. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. One reason for this is that it’s not always clear how to reach the market or more difficult still, what it will take to capture the market. Another reason is that to capture the market and catch the customer, means spending precious resources which you either don’t have in the first place or are unwilling to spend in the second place, especially when there’s no guarantee that you’ll be successful. And lastly, it’s always easier and safer to stay put and let the market come back to you rather than for you to venture out into the field to get it. Unfortunately, the problem with playing it safe is that by doing nothing, you run the risk that your competition might be going with a more aggressive game plan and taking your customers and the market.

It’s not always clear what course to take but history has shown time and time again that those companies that turn up the heat during slow times always come out ahead when better times return. In other words, those companies that rush towards the ball do better than those companies that don’t. For me, the time to rush forward and discover what lies ahead is now.

By the way, during the last inning of the game, Will managed to get a solid hit that was good enough for a stand-up double. One of his teammates got on base with a single and while he was doing that, Will stole third. Another teammate hit a nice fly ball that went deep into center field but unfortunately was picked off by a tall lanky kid on the opposing team. The kid knew what he was doing and immediately threw the ball to the second baseman who managed to tag out the runner coming from first. While the opposing team was busy dealing with the runner at second, Will, who had been leading off third, ran back, tagged the bag and made a beeline for home. All of a sudden there were lots of cries of “he’s going, he’s going, throw it home!” Will dug hard as the second baseman wound up and fired the ball towards home plate. “Slide” the coach yelled, “slide!!” Will did slide, in fact it was pure textbook. That catcher did a fine job and he almost got him but just as the ball was about to hit his glove, Will slid neatly under the catchers arm and got his toe on home plate. “SAFE” the umpire said as he waved his arms over the plate. Again there was lots of screaming and back slapping and “way-to-go” being yelled. The coach just smiled and shook his head. It was a fun moment for sure.

SliderAfter the game, one of the other fathers came up to me with a big smile on his face and said, “Wow, Will sure does like to take risks.”  “Yes he does” I replied; then added, “He always has and I hope he always will.” “Rush towards the ball,” I thought. “Rush towards life.”

On we go…