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.