“The Greatest Lesson Never Spoken” is published in the best-selling Chicken Soup series. Read Dave’s contribution here or buy Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad now at Bookshop.org!

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” ~Tom Peters

Sometimes, the greatest lessons taught by our fathers are those that they never so much as mention.

Growing up, I understood my father only as a man known for his business accomplishments: a leader of convention, an attorney and small business owner whose law firm had earned a respected reputation; and who had worked alongside important state officials, unions, and municipalities for decades.

Traits We Inherit

In my youth, I understood my father, the attorney, to be an indistinguishable part of who my father was as a dad at home. I connected his distinguished, structured style of teaching my siblings and me as no different from the way in which he would formulate an argument in court.

He would often teach us lessons like, “You cannot judge your actions on the basis of what others do or don’t do,” and “The ways the world works cannot be separated into black and white.” I concluded that these parenting lessons were nothing more than results of his years of experience with the complexities of practicing law. In many ways, they were.

But, all the while, my father was teaching me a great lesson that I would not come to realize for decades. Remarkably, this lesson was never so much as spoken. I’ve only come to understand it now, after having realized that I inherited this quality from him as much as I have any physical characteristic or personality trait. The unspoken lesson that my father taught me was by his quiet example as a constant, selfless giver.

A product of my dad’s immigrant family’s impoverished history and the family’s general “lack” of everything throughout most of his young life, my father became a quiet giver, one who sought to provide beyond his means and at his inconvenience to both family, friends, and strangers alike. In his career, giving took the form of upstanding moral integrity and public service as an attorney. Much of his giving, I’ve realized, has been often without reason and without purpose. But thankfully, it has also been without limitation.

Giving Beyond One’s Means, and at One’s Inconvenience

As if to counterbalance the utter deficit of material and emotional comfort that he had growing up, my father has strived to provide a surplus of both forms of comforts to his family and friends: to always open his home to others without question; to grant the foremost opportunities for his children through the best schooling and college education that he could afford; to provide an unquestionable amount of moral support and encouragement; to provide the means to alleviate any possible financial burden that might fall upon us; and truly, to allow us the means to follow our hearts and pursue our most sincere passions in life.

After years of witnessing his quiet but persistent giving, something dawned upon me: my own will to give beyond my means and at my inconvenience was a trait I inherited from my father, like any other. My father’s quiet example was a subtle side to him that I had felt and witnessed all of my life. But because this side to him was never advertised, discussed, or iterated, I emulated his example without so much as ever realizing it. And so it became as much a part of me as any other inherited quality.

My father, I now realize, has not been just a leader of convention as an attorney. He is also — and, perhaps, more importantly — a quiet leader who teaches by loving example. Whether he knew it or not, his quiet leadership was an integral component of his fatherhood and influenced his children perhaps more notably than any spoken lesson that I can recall.

Teaching by Quiet Example

The dualistic nature of his fatherhood is an integral component of teaching by example: on the one hand, to lead by traditional fatherly example, and on the other, by being a living example of an individual who his children naturally want to emulate.

Sons inherit much from their fathers. Physical characteristics, like body type and eye color, are easy to recognize. Personality traits, like one’s sense of humor, can be measured in laughter. But a quiet life lesson like the one taught by my father to be a constant giver and to give beyond one’s means and at one’s inconvenience — a lesson that was never spoken, and taught only by quiet example — can only be measured by the extent that others feel it, and oftentimes, never realize it.

“The Greatest Lesson Never Spoken” is published in the best-selling Chicken Soup series. Read Dave’s contribution here or buy Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad now at Bookshop.org!

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