Upstairs on the first landing of our house sits a chest. You can see it as you climb the stairs to our room. On top of it is my Father’s hat. Not the good one he wore if he had to go somewhere special. No, this is the one he wore when he had to go to the parts department to pick up an extra part for a truck he was working on.
Dad’s hobby was finding old Ford trucks, stripping them down, rebuilding the motor, pounding out the dings and dents, and then selling them. My mother said he usually spent more than he made but it gave him such pleasure seeing the old classics brought back to life. You could catch him any time of day, whistling and working on a truck and smoking a cigarette that he didn’t think anyone knew about. When I see one of those old classics on the road, I smile and think of him.
When he died, I asked my Mother if I could have his old hat. “I’ll see if I can get it cleaned,” she said. “It’s not in very good condition.”
I didn’t want it cleaned. I wanted it with the fingerprints that I could still see on the brim where he grabbed to put it on. I wanted it with the sweat stains on the inside brim, holding on to some of his DNA that helps me to hear his voice when I need to talk to him. I wanted to look at it and still see and imagine my Dad. It is a touchstone to remind me of the importance of integrity, honesty and his wickedly bad sense of humor that helps to light up the days that need to be lit up, and guide me to do the right thing even when no one is watching.
It’s not surprising I speak on trust. Dad believed in it. “If you can’t trust a person’s handshake there’s no sense in doing business with them. You can get a piece of paper but, if someone wants to be dishonest, they’ll find a way around it.” It’s not that he didn’t believe in contracts but, before he signed, he wanted to look a person in the eye, shake their hand and, by that simple act, know the measure of the person he was doing business with. He learned this crucial lesson like many of us do – the hard way.
What is your touchstone? What reminds you to ‘Do the right thing, even when no one is watching’?