I did it my way
Earlier this month, Lynda-Ross wrote a blog referencing my dad’s passing and the quote, “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.” This is undoubtedly true about Papi. Unbeknown to her, this quote rumbled through my head as I looked at his casket during his funeral service.
I have always thought the lyrics to Paul Anka’s “My Way” parallel my life. Yet, that day, it dawned on me that there was “My Way” and “Papi’s Way”, and without intuitively applying the examples that my dad experienced, I would not be the person I am today.
You see, my dad lived his life on his own terms, not always successfully, although not for lack of trying. He left school in the 8th grade to help provide for his family. He started as a pageboy for the Colombian post office, then became a postal clerk, warehouse manager for the munitions warehouse of the Colombian army, and then warehouse manager for a substation of the Colombian electricity company. Each of these jobs required sponsorships from members of government, and Papi applied his personal approach to each of the jobs.
In 1964, my parents decided that for them to be able to adequately provide for my three siblings and me, the family should immigrate to the United States. Papi sold all of his possessions and purchased a gas station in the borough of Queens in New York City.
Within five years, the gas station was out of business, and he proceeded to work as a teletype operator and as a bookkeeping clerk for various companies in NY, often working two jobs. This went on until he was forced to retire at age 65.
Needless to say, Papi was old-fashioned: “There is a right way of doing things”, “My sons will not work, they should concentrate in school, and I will provide.” Of course, this would get done like in the old country. But you surely saw that coming.
I started public school in Queens in the 8th grade, and even though my English was quite basic, I was able to pull grades of 70 and 75 during the first two grading periods. I also found that I had a lot of time on my hands as my commute to school was less than 15 minutes, so following the advice of some schoolmates, I started delivering newspapers.
While delivering newspapers, I came across opportunities to make money, such as stocking shelves in a candy store, putting together the Sunday papers, delivering clothes for two dry cleaners, walking a dog, and working as a “station master” for the newspaper distribution site. I was clearing $75 per week (roughly $675 per week in today’s dollars – or $35,000 per year).
As my dad’s gas station business began failing and he started working 14-16 hour shifts to stay afloat, I volunteered to take a shift to help supplement the family budget. But, as you may guess, my offer was refused because “My sons will not work, they should concentrate in school as I will provide,” even though I was already working and continued working until I graduated from high school in 1969.
Upon graduation, I landed a job with IBM as a keypunch trainee with a promise of opportunities for growth in the developing technology world. I had to take a pay cut to take this job, but it allowed me to go to college during the day, work second shift, and dedicate free time during my shift for homework. This, in my mind, was brilliant, but not in my dad’s eyes as “This is not the way we do things.”
Needless to say, our lives between 1967 and 1971 were one continuous argument. The way things should be done vs. the way they could be done (soured by the total knowledge provided by my teenage years). In reality, it wasn’t until 1987 when we discovered that we were different and that being different was o.k.
Papi was helping me translate an early version of the Perceptual Style Assessment and the “Celebrate You” action guides from English to Spanish. When we completed the translations, I asked him to take the Perceptual Style Assessment for Quality Assurance purposes.
His results indicated that his Perceptual Style was Methods (mine is Activity). As we reviewed the translated Celebrate You action guides for those two styles, we found ourselves looking at each other as if to say, “huh?”. When we finished, he told Lynda-Ross, “Ricardo is different from how my other kids and I are”. And he said no more.
While I would like to tell you that understanding our Perceptual Styles changed our lives, in reality, it would be an exaggeration. It taught my dad and me that we were different, and being different was not bad. We were not trying to be stubborn or close-minded; we just saw things differently. Because we did not see things the same way, neither of our views was incorrect, just different. That knowledge, and the wisdom that comes from growing older, helped us have more discussions and fewer arguments.
What I can tell you is that for the last 35 years we vacationed together every year and spent the holidays together. We enjoyed being together. When work kept me on the road, I made sure to spend a weekend every other month visiting my parents.
In the last five years, as Dementia took its toll on my dad, I applied the skills that I learned using Perceptual Style to my communication approach with him to minimize the chance of him pushing me away. It seemed to work.
I’m grateful that “My Way” and "Papi’s Way” were able to intersect over the years. My life is better for it.
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About Ricardo Vega
Ricardo Vega is the Director of Operations at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd. and a certified Perceptual Style Guide. He has over 40 years of experience in technology, product and project delivery, disaster recovery, and team coaching. He specializes in helping entrepreneurs and teams with Product Planning & Delivery, Team Building, and Change Administration. For more information, please visit https://www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.
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