Monday, June 17, 2013

"Always be a gentleman."

A day late for Father's Day, some fatherly advice, passed along by former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent:

"My father was definitely old school. He rarely swore, drank only an occasional beer in the high summer heat, and generally lived the solid decent life of what he called "a gentleman." From him I learned the values of decency, honor and pride.

During his lifetime I occasionally felt he was totally behind the times with his regular injunctions that I do my best and honor the family name. Yet now I realize the value of his legacy, which is summed up in the following set of commandments:

Always be a gentleman. To my father, a gentleman is someone who never offends another person needlessly. He lived that code. He stood when a woman entered the room. He tipped his hat when he wished to pay respect. He even kept his mouth shut even when his calls were challenged while he officiated football and baseball games. His sturdiest reply to insults was "Go peddle your papers."

• Always keep your shoes shined. QED.

Save your money. It will be your best friend. Here my father reflected the Great Depression and his experience of graduating from Yale with every athletic honor—only to discover the sole job available was digging post holes for the local electric utility.

Any week in which you do not put some money aside for a rainy day is a wasted week. This was a corollary to his injunction to save—which he did with religious zeal. He also invested in stocks with some success. But he insisted on receiving dividends and would shun any stock that did not pay him dividends.

A car is the most expensive thing you can own. He told me to try and avoid buying one, reminding me that it falls in value by a huge percent the minute you drive it off the lot.

My father followed his own counsel, and the family did not own a car until I was about 12. He rode the bus and walked just about everywhere. We always lived near a bus line.

• A pension is important. If possible, find a good job with a bank, insurance company or utility where layoffs are rare. A good job is one that is secure and not always the one with the highest pay.

If your boss or employer is not making money on you, you will eventually lose your job. Your work has to permit him to profit on what you produce. If you and the employer just break even you are not being properly productive. Get to work early and stay late if necessary.

It is more important to be able to write and speak well than it is to be able to succeed in athletics. My father was a superb football and baseball player at Yale, but he was certain the language skills he did not possess were the most important ones in any business or professional career.

There is no such thing as an honest politician. He viewed politicians with the same cynical eye he cast on doctors, lawyers and priests. He accepted the argument there must be some good and decent ones but he was suspicious until solid facts prevailed.

My father valued hard work over brilliance and saw most professions as predatory. As my physician sister left the house every morning his regular admonition was, "Don't charge some poor people today."

• Don't get old. It's no fun. When he could no longer take his customary long walks, referee football games or umpire softball and baseball games, he suffered.

My father had been blessed with a powerful and compliant body and the natural erosion was painful. The day he died at 78, he had been up a ladder painting the outside of his home. When he felt the heat and need to rest, he climbed down and went inside. My sister found him dead in his favorite chair.

• The finest legacies are often not material things. The lessons my father instilled in me are precious because they are so firmly grounded in experience. For that reason and for so many more, he remains with me daily."

 George Sanders, gentleman

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