Last November, I received a letter from the wife (“Carla”) of one of my longtime business coaches and mentors. In the letter, Carla said her husband (“Dan”) was going to be celebrating his 60th birthday in December. She said that, as a gift, she wanted to give him letters from his friends and colleagues. She asked if I would be willing to write a letter to her husband that told him how I had benefited from my relationship with him.
Carla’s letter forced me to think through the handful of men who have had the most influence on my life. I came up with seven men, four of whom influenced me prior to my 18th birthday. The remaining three came along later in life.
Of course, Dan made the list. In my letter, I outlined the admirable traits that each of the first six men on my list possessed. I asked Dan to make sure to read about the other men before reading what I had to say about him, because what I had to say about the other men provided a foundation for what I had to say about him. Here’s what I wrote about the men who had the greatest impact on my life:
1. Carl Williams: My dad and the father of 17 children (nine boys and eight girls). I was his fifth child. Dad’s 85 years old now and is still in good health. The most significant quality that my dad passed on to me was his love for and his loyalty to my mother, Kathryn Williams.
After more than 62 years of marriage, my dad is still in love with and fiercely loyal to my mom. To this day, he still insists that his children show her the love and respect she deserves, and comes to her defense anytime he believes she is not being treated appropriately by any of her children.
2. Tom Williams: My grandfather, who lived in the house next to my parents’ house. His grandchildren called him “Jidu,” the Lebanese name for grandfather. Jidu spent his adolescent and teenage years in Lebanon and was required to actually fight in a war while he was a teenager.
During the first several years of my life, I spent more time with Jidu than with anyone else. When I was in grade school, every day after school when the bus dropped me off, instead of going home, I walked straight into Jidu’s house. Jidu owned his own laundromat, and I was the person he always called when he needed assistance at the laundromat or when he needed help with projects around his house.
Jidu was a tough-minded warrior who didn’t allow anyone to push him around. He was fiercely independent and couldn’t care less about what people thought or said about him.
3. Michael Morris: My music teacher in high school. He was also the music director in the school plays that I participated in. Mr. Morris was a perfectionist who constantly challenged me to meet his (high) expectations rather than my own self-imposed, limited expectations. He was a great storyteller who loved to tease, laugh, and have fun. He was the first teacher I ever had who gave me permission to be myself. Every one of my previous teachers tried to mold me into the type of person they wanted me to be. Mr. Morris gave me the confidence to be myself without the need to apologize for who I was.
4. Bob Daugherty: One of my wrestling coaches in high school. Bob was a taskmaster who constantly bullied us and forced us to stick to the fundamentals of wrestling. Every practice started with a grueling workout, and repeated drills on the fundamentals of wrestling. There were multiple times during our workouts when we were in severe pain from the exercises that he was forcing us to perform. While we were complaining and groaning about the pain, he would walk around barking, “It’s only pain. It’ll go away in five minutes. Quit acting like a bunch of sissies.”
5. Fr. Clair Bourdereaux: I met Father Clair in 1984, two years after I graduated from law school. At that time, Georgette and I had been married for four years and already had three children. I had opened up my own law practice in January 1983, two months after I received my license to practice law. As you can imagine, Georgette had her hands full with our three young children and I was never home to help out because I was attempting to build my law practice. I was aware of Father Clair because one of my family members had told me how he had helped the family member get through some marriage difficulties. I called Father Clair and scheduled an appointment for me and Georgette to meet with him.
Father Clair had a unique ability to ask the right questions and to quickly cut through the emotions and get to the real issues that needed to be addressed. He knew the difference between men and women and the difference in the desires and needs of men and women. He never sugarcoated his advice or attempted to pander to me or Georgette. He always said it like it was, but in a way that we could both appreciate and understand.
6. Fr. John Hardon: Father Hardon was a Jesuit priest, theologian, and author of more than 40 books on the Catholic faith. I met Father Hardon in 1989 at a religious retreat. At that time he was 73 years old. After that, Father Hardon became a mentor of mine. Father Hardon taught college-level classes for several years and was an expert on every religion. Anytime I had an issue that I was struggling with from a personal or moral standpoint, I called Father Hardon and he guided me through the issue.
I attended a silent men’s retreat that was given by Father Hardon in Chicago every year from 1989 to 1999. The retreat consisted of three days of prayer, contemplation, and conferences that were given by Father Hardon. Every year during at least one of the conferences, Father Hardon talked about the importance of writing. One year he handed out an article that he had published on the importance of writing. He routinely admonished all of the men at the retreat that we had an obligation to write about our faith and to influence others through the written word.
After writing about the six men, I told Dan that he possessed the best traits of all of them. Like my dad, he was a loyal and loving husband to his wife. Like my grandfather, he was a warrior who was fiercely independent and told it like it was, regardless of the consequences. Like my music teacher, he had repeatedly given me permission to be myself. Like my wrestling coach, he had instilled in me the importance of the fundamentals and the harsh reality that, yes, we do need to endure some pain to get ahead and beat out our competitors. Like Father Clair, he was a master of human psychology who asked all the right questions in order to cut through to the important issues and then said what needed to be said in order to influence the person or persons he was dealing with. Like Father Hardon, he was an author who constantly talked and wrote about the importance of influencing others through the written word.
I then described the one admirable trait Dan had that the other six men I described did not have.
My letter to Dan was the only letter I’ve ever written to another man expressing my appreciation for what he had done for me. After I sent the letter to Carla to give to Dan on his birthday, I felt guilty that I had never written a similar letter to my dad, my grandfather, or the other four men on my list. I had never thought of writing such a letter, and I would have never written the letter to Dan if Carla had not asked for it and then given me a deadline.
I’m grateful that I was asked to write the letter because it forced me to reflect on some of the great men God put in my life to help mold me into the person I am today. Maybe one of these days I’ll take the time to write about all the great women He put in my life.