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A Stranger Drove Off In Our Car And My Dad Didn’t Do A Thing (#5)

April 30, 2015

(Business Lessons From My Mom’s Seven Husbands)

It wasn’t a great car. It was a 1974 Subaru 4-door sedan, bright green, with 200,000 miles on it. It wasn’t even our family car. It was the “kid” car. And that’s why it was gone. We didn’t even know the name of the guy driving off in it. 

My brothers and I were sure we’d seen the last of our car. And it was all my dad’s fault. Over the past week, I’ve talked about my mother’s seven husbands. 

  1. What I learned About Business From One of My Seven Dads (#1)
  2. What My Brother’s Dad Taught Me About Business (#2)
  3. Business Lessons From My Mom’s Third Husband (#3)
  4. I Shoulda Been A Farmer. (And Other Lessons From Minnesota) (#4)
  5. Today
  6. I’m Sorry, The Magic Is Gone (#6)
  7. Why I’m Not Sure How Many Siblings I have (#7)

I left #5 for last. Lloyd V Bliss was more than my mother’s fifth husband. He was my dad. He wasn’t my biological father, but as the father of ten adopted kids myself, I don’t put much stock in “blood lines.” My mother married him when I was 11, and he died when I was 47. 

He taught me a lot of things, as all dad’s do for their sons. He taught me by the words he used, but his most valuable lessons were the ones that he taught me by example. And the most important less he taught me was with the car that day when I was 16. 

My parents were driving around their adopted hometown of Olympia, WA one rainy Sunday morning when they saw a young family standing at a bus stop. 

The busses didn’t run on Sunday in Olympia. 

My dad pulled up to the bus stop and asked the father if he needed a ride. The young man explained that he was a soldier that had recently been transferred to Fort Lewis and the family was trying to take the bus to “Rent-a-Wreck,” to rent a car until the Army could deliver his. 

Get in, we’ll give you a lift.

The family of three piled into the back of my dad’s car and dripped water all over the upholstery. It turned out that Rent-a-Wreck was also closed on Sundays. So, of course my parents brought them back to our house. In addition to the car, the family was also waiting for the Army to ship all their household goods. They had no dishes, blankets, or really much more than a couple suitcases full of clothes. 

Mom started pulling out cups and plates, and blankets and pillows. They loaded all of this up into our 1974 Subaru. . .the kid car. My dad then handed the keys to the astonished serviceman.

You’re going to need a car until your stuff gets here. Take this one.

My brothers and I watched this drama play out with growing dread. Sure, Dad could hand over the keys. That wasn’t his car. It was ours. 

The stunned young father loaded his family up and backed out of my parents’ driveway. He got about ten feet up the street when he stopped the car and came running back to our house. 

Wait. You don’t have a copy of my service ID, or address or anything.

Just bring it back when you are done.

And just like that, our car drove away. My younger brother asked my dad,

Why did you just give away our car?

They needed it more than we did.

And that’s just what he was like. 

My dad, like many dads had a series of rules or sayings. One of them was, 

“Never loan anything you cannot afford to give away. And when you’ve loaned it, assume that you’ve given it away. That way if you never get paid back you aren’t disappointed and if you do get paid back, you are pleasantly surprised.”

Put another way, “Don’t keep score.”

President Harry Truman described it this way: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” 

Too often we try to keep score. You know, to keep it fair. But, it doesn’t keep it fair. It keeps it even, and that’s not the same thing at all. During a meeting to discover the root cause of a system outage I spoke up and said, “My team missed this. We’ve put processes in place to make sure we catch it next time.” 

Afterward another manager asked me,

Why did you do that?

Do what?

Admit that your team screwed up.

Mostly because it was true. 

Nobody admits mistakes.

Well, I do. 

My dad believes you should trust people to do the right thing. He showed it that day when he handed the keys to our car to a total stranger. 

An amazing thing happens when you trust people. They typically live up to the trust. Two weeks later the car showed up in our driveway. It had never looked better. It was polished inside and out. 

It’s a lesson I will never forget.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, All Rights Reserved

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