June 19, 2021

Last month I sent you a blog post entitled, “Now 96 years of lifetime value”.

It celebrated my Mom’s birthday…but it also chronicled my Mom’s dedication to direct marketing principles (although she had no idea she was such an expert). ☺

While there was some intended sarcasm and humor in that post (I hope you laughed at something in it), there were also lessons.

This week, for Father’s Day, I want to share a couple of lessons from my Dad…also not a direct marketer by trade…but these lessons fit beautifully into the fabric of what direct marketing means to me.

I was so inspired by these two lessons from my Dad that I made the topic of conversation during this week’s Titans Xcelerator live call, when we went into breakout rooms, asking the question, “What are the one or two key lessons you learned from your father?”

Of course I understood that this topic could be good for some (who have or had spectacular relationships with their Dads) and not so good for others (who might have had challenging relationships).

Because of that, I added an escape hatch: “I know you all have one father but if you want to share a lesson from a close mentor, teacher or father figure that works too.”

However, that escape hatch wasn’t needed.

A result of this exercise was that most of the Titans Xcelerators found lessons in both the good stuff about their Dads and the not-so-good stuff too.

Many shared profound life lessons from their Dads on what to do; but just as many had equally profound lessons on what not to do, often as a result of some less-than-perfect role modeling.

Another observation: The older the person sharing their Dad lessons, the older their father is/was (funny how that works)…and those with older fathers (or fathers who have passed), many from the depression and post-World War II eras, had an experience of them that was typical for that generation:

That is, they experienced a “show don’t tell” model of parenting rather than the “tell only” model (also known as, “do as I say but not as I do”).

And that’s the way it was for me…my Dad was a man of few words regarding dishing out lessons but I picked up on so many by just observing how he lived his life.

Here are two direct marketing (and life) lessons I learned from my father based on his example by showing and not telling–and maybe not even realizing how impactful these lessons were (which are currently on reruns every day in my life, lasting now through a second lifetime).

1. Learning By Teaching

I grew up in a family of teachers…my dad, grandfather, sister and many aunts and uncles all chose teaching as their profession (and my Dad eventually became an elementary school Principal to boot).

I guess that is why teaching is in my blood despite not making it my ultimate career choice.

But maybe I did choose it after all.

By watching my Dad “teach” his entire life, I realized that what he was doing was being a lifelong learner (although I don’t think he was as self-aware of this as I was aware of observing him in this capacity).

He didn’t need to tell me what he was doing…he simply showed it.

I recall that after I had only been in direct marketing for a couple of years, something drew me to the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.

I sat on panels and spoke regularly to college students about careers in direct marketing (even only 5 years removed from college)…and eventually I became a Board Member of that organization which I am still involved with today, almost 40 years later.

It’s fascinating that all of the “teachers” I encounter—family and non-family–are all students of the highest order as well.

Teaching from a place of arrogance or “knowing it all” might land you a job (or even a career)…but I dare say it won’t be as fulfilling as toggling between teacher and student in every aspect of your life.

I may play “teacher” when I am in front of college students or those new to direct marketing or groups of younger entrepreneurs…but I also look for every opportunity to participate in groups or masterminds where I am closer to the dumbest person in the room than the smartest.

Those college students, newbie marketers and business people teach me so much.

I hope you agree that staying open to the possibility that something we don’t know might be coming on the heels of us delivering our brilliance…which makes life so much more fulfilling and always full of surprises.

I have even joined mastermind groups only to be a student…so I can bring back the expertise of other experts in areas of my life where I consider myself a novice.

And I take my new knowledge to my own mastermind groups, something that would be impossible if I didn’t allow myself to be “100% student” in those other groups.

I am sure you have all had the experience of being in front of an audience where you were presumably teaching something where you are the expert; yet what you learn about yourself and others through that experience goes way beyond simply giving a lecture.

I see this phenomenon during all of the mastermind meetings I attend and facilitate.

This was accentuated at the Titans Master Class I hosted in 2018 in Cleveland.

We orchestrated 15 “hot seats” with the ultimate teacher of direct marketing, Dan Kennedy, commenting and giving advice on all of them.

It was apparent that the 80 people in the room who were not on the hot seat at any given time (and therefore acting as teachers/counselors to those who were) were all learning and teaching at the same time.

And I believe that even someone as experienced as Dan Kennedy picked up an idea or two from folks who had one-tenth of his experience and knowledge.

It was apparent how all of the issues that were discussed on those hot seats applied to everyone in some way; and seeing how open everyone was to learning and teaching at the same time was pretty awesome.

Thanks Dad for making me appreciate this phenomenon.

2. Reflex Generosity

The other lesson I learned from my Dad is that being generous is much better (and more satisfying) when it is a “show don’t tell” activity, and also when it is more spontaneous than planned.

I must admit that I rarely go the “anonymous” route when I give a charitable donation…but I don’t think it’s because I want to brag about how much I’ve given or shared.

Although thinking more about how my dad dealt with his reflex–and unconditional–generosity made me think about my behavior a bit more…and I have donated more anonymously as the years have gone on…although I always want the person most affected by my donation to know where it came from (to show my love and support, not to show off to others).

It’s a tricky one. You need to follow your heart.

My Dad taught me this throughout his lifetime…and even after he died.

The story below will illustrate this further, and it is as spooky as much as it is instructive about being generous as a reflex response and not always as a planned response.

February 5th, 2009…my nephew Zachary’s 21st birthday…and I was attending a fundraising dinner to benefit ALS…which included a silent auction with hundreds of items of sports memorabilia.

I wanted to buy a bunch of items to support the cause…anonymously ☺…and I was also looking for something to give to my sports fan nephew on this monumental day (when he was legally drinking at college that night while I was “shopping”).

My Dad, who died in 2005, is also Zachary’s grandfather.

And Zach was his first (and unspoken favorite) grandchild.

One of the reasons was that Zach idolized him (as I did); and another more subtle reason was that Zach rooted voraciously for my Dad’s alma mater in football (Penn State) as much as anyone who was not my Dad (and as I did growing up).

Those of you who are not aficionados of college football might not know the story of the rise and fall of Penn State…from national powerhouse for decades, only to fall from grace, deservedly and in a huge way, due to an internal sex abuse scandal involving an assistant coach.

You can read the sordid details here if you like.

Simply put, I am sort of glad my Dad was not alive to witness the events leading up to the scandal (although I know he was turning in his grave throughout the ordeal).

The coach at Penn State during the good times and the bad times was Joe Paterno.

He was a God in my household growing up…so when the scandal surfaced in 2011, it affected me a lot…and not in a good way.

Even though the culprit of these outrageous crimes (who is serving 30 to 60 years in prison) was one of his assistant coaches, and Joe’s crime was one of omission (i.e. not paying enough attention and acting on to what was going on) rather than commission, it still cost him his job…and his legacy…all of it justified.

In 2009, the night of the fundraiser and Zach’s 21st birthday, however, Joe Paterno was still a hero in my family.

Sorry for that diversion but I needed to make sure you know I was not condoning Joe’s actions…only putting a timeline to the events. What we knew about him in 2009 changed drastically in 2011.

Anyway, one of the items at the silent auction was a full size Penn State football helmet signed by Joe Paterno.

After some fierce bidding (and a $565 donation), I won the helmet…and bought the ultimate birthday present for Zachary.

The story doesn’t end there although it could have and still was a neat coincidence…that the helmet was available on Zach’s birthday…but it goes beyond coincidence into the bizarre.

When I went to pick up the helmet, the gentleman who handed it to me was wearing a Burberry tie, from the iconic and recognizable clothing and accessory brand.

You’ve probably heard of Burberry and would recognize their products (known for their famous beige plaid design)…and since spell check made me capitalize Burberry, it must be an iconic brand. 🙂

Here’s the basic, most common design pattern used on many of their products:

However, the tie that the presenter of the helmet was wearing had a distinct Burberry variation, accentuated with pink—I guess even iconic and traditional brands can vary from the standard:

Why is this significant?

I bought the same pink Burberry tie for my Dad to wear at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, in early 2005, just months before he died…and I then wore that tie to his funeral…and literally threw it into the grave as we were shoveling dirt to cover the coffin.

By the way, this is a Jewish tradition, for funeral participants to assist in shoveling dirt as a way to honor the dead…and I only threw the pink tie into the grave because I was shoveling aggressively on a 90 degree August day…and the tie was soaking wet with sweat so it seemed as good a place as any to deposit it.

So what did this guy–in the pink Burberry tie, handing me the signed Joe Paterno helmet, for my nephew on his 21st birthday–signify to me?

My take is that it was my Dad, visiting me through the man in the pink tie, sending a message, about reflex generosity…and also approving of the kick ass gift for Zachary.

That’s the story and I’m sticking to it.

And I think my Dad was also asking me to remember all of the other lessons he taught me, most of which were hidden in plain sight (because that was his way).

One additional, final observation, and why I shared this story:

Whether or not you are religious, spiritual, agnostic, superstitious–or anything else– keep in mind that those who are no longer with us expended a lot of energy while they were above ground…and that energy needs to go somewhere…specifically in the form of lessons they left us…and more subtly, lessons they still want to share with us (and remind us of) despite no longer being here in the flesh.

And those lessons from those who have left us are there for the taking anytime if you are attentive…and if you are open to letting them in…and believe in a little bit of magic.

Also…there are still a lot of people in your life who are still alive that deserve the same kind of attention (albeit with a little less magic involved).

Happy Father’s Day to all of our fathers, alive and dead, who are always communicating with us in one way or another…teaching us…by showing and telling.



About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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