He took a job doing the simplest tasks at a screen printing company in New Haven, quickly rising to becoming the owner’s right-hand person. My parents bought a house in Hamden, and I was adopted in 1956.
His story was one I only became aware of little by little over time. He never talked about his life growing up. The lessons I learned about hard work, faith, service, friendship, and respect for others were taught by example.
Before I was old enough to go to school, he often took me into work with him on Saturdays. I watched him sweep the floor before he began, and soon I had that job.
He was hired to sweep floors, and even after he became president of the company or worked closely for months in a painstaking collaboration with the renowned artist Josef Albers on a series of prints of his signature work on the square, it was important to him not to lose sight of the dignity of all work.
Faith was just part of life. Some of the best memories I had from childhood were the pleasure of having extra time together weekday mornings during Lent, when we went to services together, or the adventure of walking together down a long hill with snow up to my chest during a heavy storm to be greeted by a surprised pastor on Sunday morning. He would not miss Sunday worship.
And where there might have been self-pity, there was joy in his life: Poker groups, golfing buddies, friends to have a drink with after work, and a group of couples that would get together on weekends and take vacations together.
And still, there was something more.
I did not really pick up on it at first, but as the years went by I noticed my father would not speak a bad word about others. At the dinner table, he talked about customers who defrauded him by asking for large amounts of work in advance and skipping out on payments. But there was never talk of revenge or fighting back. He just said he would no longer deal with them.
For almost my entire time growing up, a lot of it during the 1960s when racial tensions boiled over in cities like New Haven, he delivered food once a month to the poor in the city, telling me when I came along to stay in the car while he walked up to the top floor of apartment complexes to make sure families received their groceries.
He refused to join others in protesting a proposal for low-income housing at the end of our street. And yet he would not judge other people, but just seemed to keep adding more friends.
Long after his death, a group of prominent researchers began groundbreaking work on the “quiet virtue.”
The scientific definition of humility is coalescing around the concepts of having an accurate view of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, along with an ability to appreciate the contributions of others and to be open to new ideas.
Numerous studies have found that humility is associated with a high degree of self-worth, greater success at work, a happier love life, fewer mental health issues, a greater sense of gratitude, lower levels of prejudice, and several other positive outcomes that make the world a better place.
Narcissists may grab the spotlight, but in general we like the boss who listens to our ideas, the spouse or dating partner who does not think the world revolves around him or her, and the friend who is willing to listen and empathize with our concerns.
Even if neither of us could put a name to it when he was alive, the lesson my father taught me in our time together was how to be humble.