Would Dad Be Proud of You?


 My sister Mary emailed this photo to me and our 5 brothers and sisters. Her note said, “Dad would have been proud.”  And she was so right. Our old man served on the city council in Inkster, Michigan (about 1/20 the size of Tampa, where Mary serves).  Looking back and seeing how, during his years of council service he had 5, 6, then 7 of us kids, I’m not sure whether to be more impressed with his public service, or with Mom for enabling that work, by extending her already-long parenting shifts well into the night.  But I digress.  Dad (who died 16 years ago) would have been proud. Powerful line, no?  “Dad would have been proud.”  Or maybe you’ve heard it or still get to hear it from Mom or Dad, “I’m proud of you, my son.” “I’m proud of you, my precious daughter.”  

Would your dad – or is your dad – similarly proud? I suspect there lurks in most all of us vast quantities of energy swirling about our hopes for dad’s and mom’s approval.  Are you tapping that hoped-for pride?  First, a caveat.  Sometimes there’s a knifing edge to our parents’ hopes for us. It’s not all good energy.  Jung once said the “unlived life of the parent” was one of the most powerful forces in every person’s life.  Our dad was the oldest son of immigrant parents; he was responsible, a war vet, and soon “golden handcuffed” by Ford; he was tethered to the needs of his seven kids, and Ford paid him too much to risk leaving and following his avocation.  He passed on some of that feeling of falling short, and made every effort to drive us to success.  I suspect I’m not the only one of his kids who’s still in some ways trying to make up for what Dad wasn’t able to do.  Strikes me as a wonderful evolutionary myth to inculcate in the next generation the desire to continue “the work.”  And yet it threatens a contorting misfit, for none of us is our mom or dad.  We ought to live the life we’re uniquely suited to live — our own.

If “dad’s” or “mom’s” hand of fate might be at times a little soiled or a little too manipulative, yet this desire for a parent’s pride can also bring out our best.  If we seek their best. What would that be for you?  If you still seek your parents’ pride – whether they are in their 40’s or forty years gone — just what would you most want to be or do to win their pride?  What was in their hearts, minds and actions, when they “led with their best self?”  For instance, our dad just loved, loved, loved people. If you were a niece, a kid’s friend or a casual stranger and met him at a wedding or a mixer, you’d find him made of equally out-sized parts curiosity and care. He would seem to want you — and if he could, will you — to reach your absolute best. I look at my sister Mary in the convertible above, my brothers and my other sisters, and think, “Dad would be proud,” and I think:  “I want to listen Dad did and like they do — with such care and curiosity.”

As you seek to lead with your best self, I invite you to consider your mom and/or your dad’s best self. What did they embody, and what did they hope for for you, that you want to — and probably are — manifesting in the world?  How can you do it more or more consistently? And how can you enjoy the satisfaction of that work — even if they’re not here or otherwise unable to tell you of their pride.  Of course, in turn, don’t we all hope to model the way for those who follow us, seeking to

Lead with our best self!


  • Thanks for this morning’s email. When I became president of this company, I felt a great sense of fulfillment. It was a great learning experience and quite a challange. I didn’t realize until this morning that I have fulfilled my Father’s dream of being the president of a company. I hope he is proud because I want to please him, even at the age of 75.

  • Thanks Dan, for this one. My paternal grandparents lived in Inkster, so you mentioning of it conjured up many memories. Like you, my father was a big three employed guy, with a large (Catholic) family of children. Life is indeed interesting!

  • Thanks Dan for sharing my photo in the 2013 candy-red Mustang convertible loaner from Bill Curry Ford. I know Dad would have been proud of me in a Ford and serving on City Council. What you can’t see in this shot is that I was lining up for the Martin Luther King Day parade on the day of President Obama’s second inauguration. where we walked Martin Luther King Boulevard.

    I am so grateful to Dad for raising us to believe in equality. Our youth in the 1960’s in Inkster was during the civil rights era – the assassinations of MLK and the Kennedy’s and the riots that ripped apart Detroit. Dad stood up to racism in local government, in his workplace and our neighborhood.

    That’s what I am most proud of Dad for and what I imagine he would be most proud of in all of his children. And he would have loved throwing beads to the crowd with me and his grandson in the MLK parade!

    • Mary,
      Thanks for riffing on the thoughts your original email stimulated in me.
      Your post is,as they said back in the day, “right on.”
      I am so grateful for Dad holding court at the kitchen table at dinner 5-6 nights a week. We learned so much there. I worry at how much family lore and family values are lost when families — like my own, too often — do not sit at table together and talk about “how was your day?” and about the great issues of the day that our father consistently brought to our crowded kitchen table.

  • Ironically, my father did pursue and achieve his dreams of starting his own business and becoming wealthy. To do it, he decided to leave my mother, brother, and myself so that we wouldn’t slow him down.

    He did keep in touch and loved us — just secondarily to himself. However, he eventually realized he had gotten his priorities backwards once he was too far down the path to reverse the fallout.

    My mom remarried a loving man a fews years later, and we did fine — more along the path that your dad chose. We were a family at peace and it was interesting to watch that vs. the life of turmoil my dad had created for himself.

    Needless to say, I chose a life with correct priorities and the peace that goes along with it.

    • Wow, Harris. Thanks for sharing that story. How fortunate for you and your family that you are living your dad’s largely “unlived life.”

  • Dan,
    Your Dad’s care started young. I have the long letter he wrote while at High School to my Dad in 1941 serving in the Canadian Amy in England giving the details of my Dad,s mother’s death {your Dad’s maternel grandmother) in a hit & run at Gratiot and 8 mile Rd.
    I also remember the jacket he brought me from Japan after serving in the Korean war and his surprise when he visted us in England in 1981 and found I still had the service cap and medics collar badges he’d given me in Detroit all those years ago! His delight was a joy to see when I gave them back to him.
    You make a great point. A son or daugther should fulfill their own dreams not those suited to their parents lives.
    Always remember history resides in families and not just in books (that’s the archaeologist and historian in me speaking!)
    Regards to all the family, yours and the wider mulhern clan.
    Love and keep leading with your best self,

    • Phil,

      Would you scan and email a copy of that letter from our dad? I would love to read what he had to say about the death of our great grandmother.
      Hope you are well!

  • Sheila,
    Ask Dan for my e-mail address and then send me yours and I’ll do my best to filfill your request..

  • Dan, I think you have tapped into a tremendous internal motivator for so many of us. To make our parents proud. My father passed away some years ago and there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think of him and hope that he is looking down on my life and family with pride.

    Like you , I was lucky, in that my father’s influence on me was always positive. He loved me and I loved him and of that there was no doubt, ever. The greatest lesson he ever taught me and my 4 brothers was how to love and respect our wives. That a happy home was life’s greatest accomplishments.

    When people would ask, “How are you doing?” he would answer, “If it got any better… it wouldn’t be fair!” And you knew he meant it! It is how I respond to that same question today.

    Thank you for your thoughts in this wonderful blog, and for bringing back some great memories of my dad.

    Today, I will lead with my better self!


    • Ches,

      Your dad would undoubtedly be proud of you – and not just cuz you repeat his great line of gratitude. What a career you have: helping people to recognize the contributions that others make to not only their work but to their lives. Readers may be interested in your work at http://www.chesterelton.com.

      Thanks so much for weighing in. It means a lot to me.


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