Thiel: A father’s inspiration to find a greater purpose to our lives

I was told once that adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

I know this man. He’s remarkable and amazing in many ways and in other ways, very ordinary.

Nevertheless, he’s the humblest hero I’ve ever known.

His greatness is never bragged about, it is only observed.  I’ve known him for a while now, so I feel I have a good understanding of him.

When one cares for another in some capacity long enough, you have the privilege of seeing them at their best and their worst of times. This is very revealing.

I was told once that adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

This man had his adversity for sure, but, it was never chosen by him, rather it was always thrust upon him.

He would never grumble or complain.

He would simply solve the problem with the happiness of knowing he had the ability to do so. There was a job to do. Do it and move to the next.

He was raised in hardship and difficulty. He was the oldest of three boys growing up in the depression.

His father died suddenly when he, the oldest boy, was only five years old.  As a result, he would not know his father, or for that matter, school until later in life because he was now, at five, the man of the house.

He had to get a job to help the family. No one would hire him because he was too young. So he collected bottles at 4 in the morning and in the afternoon, he would collect dead animal bones to sell to ammunition factories that needed the minerals for the war effort.

All the while, he would be taking his two younger brothers along because his mom was busy doing other peoples laundry and tending to the boarding house she ran in an attempt to make ends meet. He would get a simple job at, say, a gas station, finish school, be hired by a corporation as a young man at the ‘entriest’ of entry levels and climb to that of a successful businessman with a wife he adored and four children of his own. This man is my father and he is turning 85 years old this month.

In all of my years with him, I never saw him mad, he never had one argument with his wife, and never did he say a curse word or a bad word about anyone.

He was never an overly affectionate man, but there was never any doubt that he loved you deeply.

Now that I am a father of four, I see that all things he did, he did for his family. He did so expecting no praise, just purpose.

For a man who never really had a father, he turned out to be a spectacular one. He is clearly a ‘watch me’ kind of man.

The only time I saw him ever defeated was when my mother died.

He hasn’t been the same ever since.

At her funeral, after I delivered the eulogy, I sat beside him and he said to me, “What do I do now?”

Then it dawned on me. This man lives his life with one singular purpose, to serve others.

He meant his question most literally. This is my message—no matter who we are or our circumstance, we have to serve someone.

This gives our lives purpose and clear intention. My dad never saw it as a chore; he saw it as a blessing, one that gave him purpose and joy.

One last thing—my dad once said to me to “Give freely and never expect any thank you or recognition. Give for the sense of just giving.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

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