Eleven months ago at 90 years of age, my father’s voice fell silent. My brother and I watched him take his last breath as he departed the world for another place to join my mother. The enormity of the loss is still with us as we unveiled his headstone this weekend in Sydney, Australia. Many from his generation exemplified the greatest examples of overcoming tremendous adversity during their living years and I know that their legacy lives on in me.
Growing up in the safety and security of Australia, it was often difficult for me to comprehend the situations that my parents endured; although I have no doubt that their experiences had an indelible impact on my identity and perspective on life.
As I remember my father, I think of the stories he told regarding his upbringing and the tumultuous years he spent as a prisoner of war on two occasions. First, in a forced labour camp in Hungary, only to be liberated by his future captors who placed him in a Russian prisoner of war camp until after the Second World War. He went home to discover that many members of his family had been murdered in the concentration camps.
Like many who faced the reality of a world changed forever, my father’s survival skills prevailed. He emigrated to Australia in 1952, arriving with a small amount of cash and big dreams. He seized the opportunity to forge a new beginning and saved his earnings to return to Europe. While attending a trade show in Vienna he saw an automated knitting machine and recognized an opportunity.
With his hard work ethic, endearing personality and strong sales skills, my father was able to secure the necessary financial backing and ultimately sell the machines to the largest department stores in Australia and New Zealand. Dad was the first to introduce knitting machines to the southern hemisphere and became wildly successful with his new business venture.
Despite the horrors of war and loss everlastingly etched in his memory, he was nonetheless a risk-taker extraordinaire and entrepreneur before the words became popularized. Above all, his eternal optimism triumphed over his darkest times.
Even though he experienced numerous ups and downs in business, including the collapse of the knitting machine venture (as Dad put it, the Australian public’s fascination with the introduction of television took over from their first love affair with his knitting machines,) he would always persevere.
When faced with the biggest test of his personal life…the role of caregiver for my mother at the age 80, he rose to the occasion despite a breaking heart, witnessing her demise to the cruelty of dementia.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from my father was this: In order to rise above our challenges of any description, we need to focus on developing a resiliency mindset. It is a business and life strategy that many individuals and organizations must adopt in order to deal with adversity as well as uncertainty.
My father also taught me about the willingness to dig deep and gain strength from past experiences. We can overcome seemingly impossible challenges in the present by drawing upon our own inner resources.
The most striking words from his eulogy came from one of my father’s business associates. When describing his generation, he reminded the mourners: “the mighty have fallen.”
There will never be another generation that resembles my parents’. We have much to learn and appreciate from their timeless legacy.