• June 2016

Three Lessons I Learned About Business — and Life — From My Dad

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Publisher, Be Inkandescent magazine

Photo (right) of my daughter, Anna Paige Gibbs, at 3 days old with my Dad.

Image (below) “by VCUarts senior Anna Paige Gibbs, now 20

June 16, 2013, Father’s Day: My father died today. I got the call at 2:05 pm, just as I was about to board a train from DC to Philadelphia to see him.

I am still trying to figure out what that man meant to me, and how his imprint continues to guide my life. And if you’ve had a tumultuous relationship with a parent, you likely can relate. The emotions collide. The lessons aren’t clear.

So here’s what I’ve decided.

I choose not to think of him as he was at the end of his life — when he was battling dementia that doctors told us stemmed from his self-induced drug addiction. The end came slowly, breathtakingly painfully — the price he paid for a tough and troubled, wild, and wonderfully raucous life.

Instead, I choose to remember him as the vibrant, charismatic entrepreneur he had been — for that man could light up a room. Charming, generous, and astute, he called a spade a spade (or rather, a putz a putz).

A genius when it came to working with numbers, my father was a professional bookie. A very successful one. A masterful card player, he could beat the house by playing blackjack in Atlantic City. He won a mountain of money, which (thank you very much, Dad) paid for my Ivy League education. Ditto for my brother and sister’s private schooling.

Those sizable winnings also bankrolled countless women, piles of pills, designer clothes, midlife-crisis sports cars, and expensive trips that fed his other passion: golf. He loved Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, almost as much as he adored Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Scrappy men who excelled at living life by their own rules were his heroes.

Despite his desire for the dark side, my father modeled for me what was required to be a success in business — the willingness to work your tush off, lead with your heart, have the guts to do what you think is right, and never never give up.

In fact, when I graduated from college, he gave me a tiny gold pendant of a moon and diamond star. “Always shoot for the moon and the stars” is engraved on the back. I carry it with me as a daily reminder of what I need to do to accomplish my goals for my Inkandescent PR firm and publishing company.

Having distilled the best of his teachings into my philosophy of business and life, I infuse his positive ideas into every campaign I launch for a PR client, every issue of my magazine that I publish, every podcast and video that I post, and every book I write.

Sure, I could hang on to what ails me about our relationship, for those daddy issues run deep.

So while my father’s dark choices became too much of an internal struggle for me to stay in touch with him for the last years of his life. I thought about him every day. I simply did what most business leaders do — I compartmentalized my feelings so I could keep moving forward.

So when I got the call on Father’s Day that he was gone, all that he meant to me — and all he taught me — flooded my heart. As I waited for the train in that crowded railway station, I fell to my knees and wept.

On the three-year anniversary of his death, I choose to celebrate his life. I invite you to join me.

Following are three of the lessons that my father taught me. I think he’d be pleased that I’m sharing them with the world.

Three Lessons I Learned About Business — and Life — From My Dad

1. “You are seven times three, kid. You are on your own. Good luck. Have balls. Don’t be a doormat. Don’t take sh*t.”

When my Dad pushed me out of the nest at 21, I knew I needed to bounce, even as I felt myself falling to the ground without a cushion. I didn’t want his money — I’d learned how to earn that for myself. What I wanted was his time, his emotional support — and mostly, his love.

But he felt his work was done. He had other fish to fry, and I was cooked enough.

I knew then, and it became increasingly clear as I grew older, that in business, and in life, there are endings to everything.

So I put that Ivy League degree to work, and kept moving forward.

That lesson made me stronger. It made me know that the only person who could truly take care of me was me, and I learned never to give up on myself. My father knew I could handle the world, and he was right.

His distance also fed my determination to cultivate my own cushion and build the life I wanted — one where there was a little less letting go, and one that was full of ethics, integrity, and authenticity. Believe it or not, despite the illegal shadow that my father walked in, he built his business on his version of those values, too.

2. “Men only think with their pants. Don’t get upset about it. Use it to your advantage.”

My Dad told me this the night I graduated from high school. He had taken me to the General Lafayette Inn and bought me my first glass of Chardonnay to celebrate the milestone. Over Duck a l’Orange, he shared that juicy morsel of insight.

I will never forget how that breathtaking statement made me feel: empowered.

Although I was only 17, the journalist that I was born to be had observed how men use their might — and often it was clear to me there were underlying motives.

My father simply clarified what I knew intuitively: Use everything you’ve got (your instincts, intellect, education, and power as a woman) to position yourself for success. Just be savvy about it.

3. “Money is round. It rolls away, and it rolls back. You can’t take it with you. While you are here, have as much fun as you can.”

If you own a small business you know this is the truth about money, right? In fact, if you have been an entrepreneur for any significant period of time, you likely have failed. More than once. And then you rebuilt your business — and it got better. And so did you.

Making money for the sake of making money was a waste of time for my father. He made money to spend it on the things he loved (Italian shoes, designer sweat suits, great food — and drugs), and he also invested it (in his children, his colleagues, and his own dreams). “That’s what it’s for,” he’d say. “Have a freakin’ ball.”

While my father may have taken this belief to a hedonistic extreme, I encourage you to take a look at your relationship with money. Are you hoarding it, coveting it, or spending it like there’s a hole in your pocket?

Step back and realize money is round — it will come and go and come back again, especially if you are smart about earning and spending it.

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