Akatombo Web Log
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Happy Birthday Dad!!
I would like to take a break (OK not totally, but at least to some degree) from the talk about web design, usability issues, and all the other things that put food on our tables for a moment to wish a happy birthday to my Dad. My parents were the single biggest factor in me becoming who I am today as I’m sure your parents were for most of you. If I may say so, I think my parents did a pretty decent job on me, instilling some core values that have enabled me to successfully deal with the challenges I have/am facing.
Dad taught me a number of important lessons that I have carried with me through the years, but I’d like to just go over one that is very clear in my mind.
I could have learned this just by watching Dad, rain or shine, sick or well, good mood or bad my Dad was constantly working to provide for us. He used to wake up every 2 hours to go out in the dark to wade through sopping, muddy alfalfa fields to move the water to and irrigate different sections of the field (or “change the water” as we called it). He’d be out in the blazing hot sun working under a hay baler that was dripping tar on him, trying to get it fixed so that he could go out baling at 2 in the morning when the dew was right for it. If you haven’t guessed I grew up on a farm, and my Dad worked ceaselessly at an increasingly difficult job to provide for us.
It wasn’t just watching that taught me these lessons though. From the age of 10 (I think?) I had fields that I was responsible for. I needed to make sure that each section of the field was properly irrigated and that no water was wasted. This involved (usually) going to check the fields every two hours, and when I was watching TV and missed a set Dad let me know in no uncertain terms that that wasn’t ok.
The lessons about responsibility that remain clearest in my mind though, are more about taking responsibility for one’s actions than the type of responsibility I discussed above. One evening I got all pumped up watching a Rocky movie and started dancing all over the house jabbing and ducking. Shadow boxing just wasn’t quite satisfying enough so I grabbed a pillow and started punching it. The problem with this was that the pillow had too much give—I needed something to rest it on that would hold it in place at the right level for me to punch. I spied the perfect spot in our entry way, in our front door there was a recessed window just the right size to wedge the pillow in and go to town on it. As anyone not jacked up on Rocky excitement can foresee, I punched the window out of our front door. Immediately a sense of horrible dread came over me. “I’m SOOOO dead,” I thought panic stricken trying to think of some way to explain away the broken window. Having broken quite a few windows in my day I knew that the consequences were not to be looked forward too. I did know one thing for certain though; things would be many times worse if I tried to hide what I had done. I marched right back to the family room where my Dad was sitting and confessed what I had done. “You did what now?” he asked, trying to understand how anyone could possible shove a pillow in against a window, punch it hard, and not expect it to shatter all over the place. “Well I guess you’d better go clean it up, and make sure that there aren’t any shards of glass laying around for someone to step on. You’ll need to pay for that window too,” he added evenly.
I was so relieved, suddenly the air smelled fresher, and birds started chirping again. I had gotten off without even being yelled at. Paying for the window wasn’t going to be fun, but I had expected that. Immediately owning up to my mistake, though I feared it would be the end of me, saved me a lot of pain in the end (no pun intended).
On the rare occasion that we find a mistake that we’ve inadvertently made after a site has already gone live I always find myself right back in the entry way of our old house looking at the shards of broken glass. We could just not mention the error, and maybe nobody would ever notice. We could prepare our best excuses for why it happened, and wait for the customer to point out the error. None of these would be the right thing to do, either for us or our clients. When we make a mistake, even if it isn’t noticed until 5 years later we’ll fix it free of charge. We stand behind our work and our customers appreciate that integrity and recommend us to others. I owe all of this to my Dad. My basic nature was, as I believe everyone’s is, to try to cover up the mistake I’ve made and avoid the consequences. Dad taught me a better way to deal with it, and just that one lesson has benefited me to no end.
Design For Your Dad
This isn’t the first time Dad has been mentioned on this site. We talked about him back in March in Design for your Dad, where I talked about how Dad is the user I imagine using a site that I build when I am planning it out. He is the perfect hypothetical user because he is one of the most challenging to design for. He usually knows what it is he wants to do, and doesn’t want to waste a lot of time in getting to it, he has an art background and will recognize a shoddily designed page, and he is a relative newcomer to computers and the Internet and thus does not benefit from all the assumptions that experienced Internet surfers make. If I feel that my site plan is something that my dad would find useful, attractive, and intuitive I can be relatively confident that it will work well for our client.
Dad you are still the standard that I measure myself against, and the test for the worthiness of the things that I do. Though I don’t express it nearly often enough, I appreciate the guidance and exemplary example you have always provided, and the healthy environment for growing, learning, and experimenting with the world that you provided us kids. I always feel that my words are inadequate when it comes to expressing feelings like these, but I hope they provided some measure of how I feel. I love you Dad, happy birthday!