Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 30, 2010

My Dad and Mr. Miyagi

Looking back on my childhood, I am grateful for my Dad and the lessons he taught me about the practical aspects of life and work. My Dad was an independent insurance agent, sold real estate, and also started a small business. In the summer of my seventh-grade year, my Dad wanted me to learn how much work it took to make a dollar. Of course, a dollar was worth a lot more in those days. So, Dad ordered a door-to-door sales kit for me. He coached me on how to greet and talk to people about my product and then sent me on my way.

Dressed in my Sunday best, I started knocking on doors — pitching the benefits of owning a personalized welcome mat! Every day I ventured a little farther from home, pounding the hot South Texas pavement in my penny-loafers. After a few weeks I sat down with Dad and told him that I had spoken to lots of folks but had only sold one welcome mat. I sure didn’t feel like a successful salesman, but Dad thought otherwise. Just as Mr. Miyagi explained the wax-on/wax-off exercise to the karate kid, my Dad helped me to understand the purpose of knocking on doors and the value of engaging people in conversation.

Over the next years, Dad continued to teach me practical lessons about responsibility. He encouraged me to mow lawns to earn the money to go to summer camps. With the exception of one Boy Scout camp, I earned the money to pay for every camp I attended. And, because I understood how hard I had worked to get to camp, I was careful about how I used the few discretionary snack-food bucks I had in my pocket.

Dad made it clear more than once that if I wanted something, then I should work to get it and not expect others to give it to me. Any attitudes of entitlement were not tolerated in our home. And, on those occasions when someone did something nice for me or gave me a gift, I learned the importance of writing thank you notes and acknowledging the kindness of others. I had an adventurous and enjoyable childhood and am living proof that hard work won’t kill a kid.

A few years ago I read an article written by Charles J. Sykes, the author of the book “Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write or Add.” The article first appeared as an op-ed piece in the September 19, 1996 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune. When I read it, I smiled as I thought back to a lot of the things my Dad had taught me when I was a kid. Sykes’ list is relevant for any generation. I offer it here for your consideration.

1. Life is not fair. Get used to it.

2. The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

3. You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school.

4. If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

5. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping … they called it “opportunity”.

6. If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.

7. Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try organizing the closet in your own room.

8. Your school may have done away with “winners” and “losers,” but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

9. Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get Summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.

10. Television is NOT real life. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

11. Be nice to “nerds.” Chances are you’ll end up working for one.


  1. Omar,

    Flipping Mickey D’ burgers for a first job is not quite comparable to door-to-door sales in south Texas, but I do remember the thrill of the first paycheck and opening a bank account. I also remember writing a check to pay in full, for my first college vehicle. It was nice to drive off the lot with only gas and insurance for the remaining expenditure.


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