On Fathers

On Fathers
June 10, 2019 Summit Coffee
In Blog

I wake up sometime between 4:30 and 4:50 every morning, mostly because that’s what my dad did. I usually go running, or some other form of exercise, and then bring coffee home for my family — mostly because that’s what my dad did. Then I go to work, either in Davidson or Cornelius or Asheville, and always make it a point to be home to eat dinner with my wife and kids. That’s what my dad did.

In so many ways I’ve chosen a different career path than my dad, who we might as well give a name to now since this story is going to be about him. It’s Tom. And Tom spent his career leading human resources for big companies, a meticulous strategist who always knew what the right decision was and always made it. Some days, my dad’s superpower to remain constant and thoughtful regardless of what was happening in the storm around him, seems the opposite of mine — which may, in short, be to create the storm.

But while our day jobs might have looked different, the lesson I took away most from growing up in his household was how to integrate work into life — and not the other way around. We’re pretty blind as teenagers, and certainly as kids, to what our parents do and where they go to work, when they leave and when they come home. It’s in hindsight when we start to evaluate memories, when we recall who was there and how that felt. And regardless of how it happened, how he made it work, my dad was always there. Because that’s what my dad did.

(This is an important interruption — my mom is very much the answer to a lot of the unanswerable questions. How did he make things happen, how did it all seem so fluid and balanced and thoughtful? My mom. While this is a blog about Father’s Day, it would be ignorant not to acknowledge that moms/spouses/partners/friends make things possible.)

I spent my childhood moving from soccer field to soccer field, I am pretty sure (I probably went to school as well), either playing in a game or cheering on my brothers. By the time I was six, and no doubt a “star” on my team of kindergartners, my oldest brother, Dan, was on his way to becoming an All American, the Connecticut player of the year and winner of more awards than any one person should ever be allowed to win. More often than not, when it came time for my games against other six-year-old superstars from nearby towns such as Simsbury and Farmington, it also was time for my brother to try out for the national team, or play against sixteen-year-old actual superstars from nearby states and countries.

And you know how it played out? In my memory as clear as crystal, my dad would drive me in his Acura while we blasted “We Built This City”  and other great hits from Starship on his cassette player. I don’t remember missing a game, or my dad missing a game. I remember him taking home videos, providing play-by-play commentary on his own tapes, of that historical six-year-old season. For my dad, it didn’t matter if his son was six or sixteen, playing Jimmy-picks-his-nose from Simsbury or Jimmy-should-be-on-ESPN from Maryland. Because that’s what my dad did.

I made the decision when I was fifteen, after my dad had taken a job in Cleveland, to move back to Connecticut and into the dorms as a boarding school student. After four days of my sophomore year, and heading into our first preseason high school soccer scrimmage, I felt awful and alone and homesick. At the same time, I had two older brothers playing collegiate soccer games in Texas and North Carolina. Sure enough, on that Saturday morning, my dad hopped a plane from Cleveland to Hartford to watch me sit on a bench for two hours. Because that’s what my dad did.

Since he retired in 2011, he’s chosen to share his newfound free time among many pursuits. Most of that involves spending life with my mom, but to our great fortune he’s also allowed me to rope him into the Summit leadership circle. It’s probably not a coincidence that as Tom got more involved with Summit, it started looking (and operating) a whole lot more professional. A whole lot better.

In January 2015 in the basement of my dad’s house, Tim and I were mapping out the year ahead for Summit and, for the third January in a row, listed roasting coffee as a goal. My dad, who listens more than he advises, interjected and put his foot down. “What’s holding you back? You guys need to set a plan in place to roast coffee, or we need to stop talking about it.” By that April, we had signed a lease on a roasting facility and on May 31 of that year, we roasted our first batch of coffee.

My dad has a knack for being in the right place. Whether it’s at the dinner table, or on the soccer field, or on a plane to Connecticut, or in a business meeting. And I don’t mean this as a “right place/right time” idea — it’s more about making the right choices. About work and about life, about self and about family. About GE and Key Bank and Summit Coffee. Somehow, all of my siblings feel the same way — that dad was at every game, every practice, helping us with every big homework assignment or helping us prepare for a big interview.

Last June, I had the work privilege of a lifetime to visit the Rutas del Inca cooperative in Peru. Unfortunately, it meant being gone for Father’s Day. I’ve been a dad since 2013, and this would be the first time I missed the opportunity to celebrate that with my own kids. It’s hard to celebrate being a father when you’re choosing to be away from your kids. For every breakfast and dinner I’m at home, being out of the country on Father’s Day still stung.

Guess who else bought himself a coach seat on Delta, from Charlotte to Lima, to visit coffee farms and spend Father’s Day a few thousand miles away?

My dad and I celebrated by waking up in a cinder block “room” in the Peruvian jungle, and toasting it hours later over beer in a Lima bar. Since becoming a father, I’d almost forgotten to celebrate my dad on this day. Yet he never lost sight of where he was supposed to be. In this case, it was eating fried fish for breakfast in South America.

I’ve learned lots of things from Tom — running marathons, cooking Swedish pancakes, managing a growing company — but nothing compares to how to be a dad. How to be present, and active, and how to give your life to those you love the most. How to always choose the soccer field, the dinner table, the airplane. And none of it was to be thanked, or appreciated. It was just because that’s what my dad did.

Cheers to my dad. Cheers to all dads. Happy Father’s Day.

Comments (5)

  1. Don Duarte 4 months ago

    Absolute Stud

  2. Karen Abel 4 months ago

    That was the sweetest from the heart tribute I have ever heard. As I read it, being a mother of two now grown soccer playing boys, I found tears running down my cheeks. A father couldn’t ask for much more from a son. God bless

  3. Carol Helfrich 4 months ago

    Great Tribute of an amazing man, brother and father. Happy Father’s Day, brother. ILY Carol

  4. Randee 4 months ago

    You are blessed to be a blessing! Cheer to you & Tom both in your fatherhood/son roles. I too was blessed by such a dad of integrity, presence & support♥️

  5. kathy kenny 4 months ago

    What a fitting tribute to Tom! You Helfrich kids are blessed with amazing parents!!!

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