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Father's Day 2008

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Last Father’s Day, USA Today published an article  equating CEOs to father-figures for their Employees.  Though I had never made the connection before, I remember tearing up in the car on the way to work that day thinking about it.   

 

My own father is in his tenth year with Alzheimer’s.  After living out-of-state for 14 years, I moved into my parent’s house about six months ago to help care for him and share his last lucid moments.  Unfortunately, there haven’t been many, and it turns out that my presence here is as much for the support of my mother as it is for the care of my father.  While his good nature still shines through, the truth is, he is a shell of the man he once was. 

 

My father was a great father.  The kind of father that always made us kids feel like everything in this world was for us; that we could go, see, do, and accomplish anything we wanted; like we were the best and brightest at everything we attempted.  Even though we knew we weren’t, he seemed to believe it, and more importantly, he made us feel that way.  He was, hands down, the most generous and unselfish person I have ever met in my life.   

 

My father and I used to love to discuss politics and political theory, but, despite being an election year, we don’t talk about those things anymore.  In fact, when the neurologist asks him to name the last three presidents (a common “test” question of Alzheimer’s patients), the only name he can come up with is Hillary Clinton – which is actually quite comical, considering that he is a life-long Republican.

 

As recently as two years ago, my father would still ask me how work was going.  And when I told him how much I loved my job, he would always say, “Do you realize how lucky you are?  Very few people can say that they love their job!”  My father was a small business owner, and I know he would admire the Southwest business model.  I would so like to talk to him about it…about how different we are…about what we’re doing to stay profitable in these challenging times…etc.   But we don’t discuss those things either.  We mostly just talk about the weather and his awesome dog, Zeus.  The fact that I’ve spent the last eight months working on this blog doesn’t help.  Most of my friends don’t even know what a blog is, let alone someone with Alzheimer’s.

 

But when Bob Jordon, EVP of Strategy and Planning complimented our efforts on the blog, and when Bob Montgomery, VP of Properties thanked me for speaking to a group that he works closely with about our blog, I can’t deny that there was some sort of fatherly warm fuzzy there.  Subconsciously, I guess I do look at these men as father figures. 

 

Not long after Gary Kelly was named CEO, I had the honor of sitting next to him at a dinner.  I don’t remember where we were or what the event was for, but I remember him saying how much he valued “attention to detail.”  I took those words to heart, and I’ve since been told that I tend to go a little overboard on the detail at times. 

 

In October of 2005, I was walking down a street in Chicago when I got the call informing me that we would be launching service to Denver and that I would have the privilege of leading our inaugural efforts.  Denver was to be one of the fastest launches in our history, so there was no time to waste.  I worked around the clock for the next three months – 14-hour days making sure that every last detail was accounted for.  Turns out, the one thing I forgot was to have a bottle of water at the podium for Gary.  Between the public speaking and the mile high altitude, I’m sure he was parched; but he didn’t mention it.  When it was all over, he put his arm around me and said “good job, today.” I took one of those deep breaths you take when you’re fighting back tears, said thank you, and scurried back to the festivities so he wouldn’t see me cry. 

 

Naturally, I want Gary to see me as a valuable Employee of this Company, but he has two daughters that are close to my age, and I suspect that he may, at times, see me as a child.

 

And, although Gary is at least 20 years younger than my father, I can’t deny that I do view him as a father-figure, and his simple praise that day was, no doubt, a nice substitute for the praise I will no longer receive from my own father.

 

I miss my father’s praise, and I miss him.  But the truth is, although we can’t talk about politics any more, and, although he doesn’t know what I do, I know he would be proud of me, because he’s part of me - my mother always says “I am my father’s daughter.”  And, more importantly, because he told me so when he had the chance. 

 

So, Happy Father’s Day Jim Berg; Happy Father’s Day Gary Kelly; and, Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers and father-figures out there. 

 

13 Comments
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Paula, Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I know this was difficult for you, but it is a beautiful tribute to your dad, and it reminds me of how much I miss my own father because I have the exact same questions/thoughts that I will never be able to share--at least in this life. Although your dad may not be lucid, I am confident that your love transcends that communications barrier. Brian
Employee
Employee
Hey Paula, Here's to your detail and your great story telling! I wish Zeus could know he has a shout out on the world wide web. Whit
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Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your story with us. It was so honest. Many people who are dealing with the effects of Alzheimer's will be touched by your post. Thank you again.
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thanks for sharing Paula. Indeed blessed to enjoy your work at Southwest.
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Paula, Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us. It hits especially close for me because my family has likewise been devastated by Alzheimer's. It's an awful disease--just terrible. I know how hard this Father's Day will be for you, but please know that I'm thinking of you and praying for your family. You're definitely a blessing to your family and everyone here at Southwest. LUV, Shannon
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Paula, This was absolutely beautiful. I lost my dad 15 years ago, and I had a male boss when I lived in New York that probably still doesn't know how much of a father figure he bacame to me, so I know exactly how you feel. And Gary is like our dad--always looking out for all 34,000+ of us "kids"--I sometimes can't believe how lucky we are to work somewhere now that we feel this way about our CEO!
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This has been a tough one for me. I've stopped and started this comment several times because of the things your post stirred in me that I was not aware I still had. My "real" father, for many years, was not able to be a part of my life, but I've been blessed with a step-father who has been the greatest of role models. My step-father was there for me when my "real" father passed away recently. "Father" and Fathers Day was always a bit confusing for me growing up because my view of a father didn't match those of my friends and classmates. (Who do I give the tie made of macaroni and paste?) Southwest has been part of my family for 14 years. With my "real" family being so far away, the People of Southwest have filled so many of the gaps that are created over many many miles. You've been sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, Moms, and yes; while I'm old enough that this would not feel like a compliment to them; a few Father figures as well! We are so very lucky to work for a company that treats its Employees like family members. I'm happy to know that you take comfort in that during this difficult time. I know I always have.
Employee
Employee
paula and beth, thank you both for sharing your personal stories about your fathers. i never knew my biological father, but i've been lucky to have many father figures throughout my life. father's day brings a lot of mixed emotions for me as well, but i'm excited to celebrate tomorrow with a very special dad - my husband - his first father's day!! he has it pretty easy because i'm still preggers, and he scored with a few father's day gifts, haha! much love to you both, kim and baby bump
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My father;s day would be much better if SWA could build a website that actual is easy to navigate with tools that don't require repetitive data entry, links that work, and so much more. It is amazing to me how horrid the SWA main site is.....can't enter airport code, can't enter multiple trip messaging at once, click on an itnerary item and you can't go back to the other....have to start all over......and on, and on, and on. There are times I get so frustrated, I actually stop during the booking process and go to another airlines, I pay a bit more, not always, but its worth the 15 to 30 minutes I save doing it. Herb, please go see your online team, tell them its the 2000's, get a solid UI for the site, update your travel tools, fix the navigation breaks, and do all us father's a real service!
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My father passed away 3 years ago today from leukemia. We were visiting the Hospice house, and could tell his time was near. Outside to get a breath of fresh air, I saw the dark storm clouds out towards the west, and I knew the good Lord was coming to take him home. We all gathered around in his room, and as the stormed passed overhead, so did my father. Father's Day, for me, is not a sad time though; it is a celebration of life. We get to honor our fathers today for the past, present, and future. Do not take for granted the time you have with loved ones. Bradley
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Paula, Thank you so much for sharing such a loving tribute to your father. It strikes a deep chord in all of us. And, I'm so moved and humbled you would mention me in the same story. I have enjoyed it all this weekend. I spent the day with my father, yesterday, and dinner with my married daughters and son-in-law Friday and Saturday night. I lost my mother suddenly 24 years ago. I know how precious our parents are. Every father knows the joy of being a father. The older I get, the more I cherish it. Your story just made the meaning of today so clear. Your father is blessed to have you as his daughter, indeed. Until your posting, I had forgotten about last year's USA Today piece on CEOs. But, I must admit, there is a "dad-like" joy that comes along with the CEO gig, simply because of relationships with People just like you. I remember that day in Denver. You did a really great job. I was and am so proud of you, but I now understand your reaction! Thank you for one of the best Father's Day gifts a dad could ever hope to receive. Give your dad a big hug from all of us, and see you soon. Happy Father's Day to all! Luv, Gary
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PB, What a beautiful tribute to Mr. Berg and to fathers everywhere. I unequivocally honor your devotion to both your folks. Love, cherish, and spend time with them now--because when they are gone, the memories of them will have to sustain. The Bergs are lucky to have you in their family--just as all Southwest Employees are lucky to have you in OUR family.
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Great post, Paula!