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My Father’s Rooftop Advice

roofBy Doug SterbenzPresent to Win Leaders

Ever since I can remember, I was working side by side with my dad.

While he was on duty at the fire station, we refinished old furniture and repaired broken stuff. While he was working a part-time job—painting or roofing—I was there working with him.

My Dad is a wiry, tough, scrappy, man with leather-like skin from working in the sun. We had a relationship built on work, not words.

Some dads teach their kids through talking. My dad taught me through work. When I stayed out too late doing things I shouldn’t, he had no words, just work. We would start a little earlier and work a little harder. I got the message.


That Summer

During the summer before my senior year of high school, a huge hail storm hit our city. Nearly everybody’s roof needed to be replaced, and many houses needed to be repainted.

My dad was busy roofing, and I was busy painting everyday.

Most days, I would get up extra early and go to the place where my dad was roofing. I would carry the shingles up onto the roof for a couple of hours and then go to my painting job. Then I’d go back to carry more shingles for him in the evening.

Why did I carry shingles for him? Because my dad’s knees were bad, and he had a hard time carrying those heavy shingles up the ladder.

It seemed the older I got the more I wanted to do for him. Not because he asked; just because I wanted to.

That Day

Sometimes I was still carrying shingles when my dad would arrive from the fire station to start his day roofing. We would have short talks, usually up on the roof.

One morning we were having a little talk up on the roof. We both watched as the homeowner—a business man in a suit—load his golf clubs into the trunk of his car before he left for work. I wanted my dad to say something, but he didn’t say a word. He just picked up his roofing hatchet and started pounding nails for the day.

Then later that afternoon, I was back to carry shingles, and my dad was still roofing.  We watched that same businessman pull his car into the driveway. Now, he was dressed in a golf shirt and shorts. He removed the golf clubs from his trunk and put them back in his garage.

I looked at my dad again, hoping to see some reaction.  I’ll never forget what happened next.

That Advice

My dad stopped pounding nails, turned and looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t know anything about what that guy does, how he does it or the first thing about his world, but he sure seems to have it easier than us.”

He looked around at the roof and continued, “This is good work and you know how to do it. But you really ought to go try to do what he does.”  Looking back at me he said, “I think his world has something to do with going to college.”

Those words hit me harder than a roofing hatchet pounds nails. Before that day I never thought seriously about going to college. I don’t think I knew any college graduates, and nobody in my family had ever graduated from college.

A Seed

High up on that businessman’s roof, my dad planted a seed. He covered that seed with a little more hard work that summer. It sprouted and took root, slowly growing into an engineering degree and a pretty nice career.

My dad doesn’t remember having that talk.  I’ll never forget it.


You never know when and where you will deeply influence someone.

My dad barely has a high school education, but this is not about the value of education. This is about the power of influence no matter who you are. A father’s influence. A leader’s influence.


You might be reading this today because you are a parent or a leader searching for your own influence. Search no further. You are always influencing. It is just a matter of how!

Thanks Dad

My dad didn’t tell me how to influence, he showed me.

Thanks Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Your Leadership Matters!




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