Success in the Home Can Compensate For Any Failure

 

shutterstock_116828941Failure was the ever-present backdrop of my childhood, but not my failures. My Dad excelled at failure.

He was born on January 1, 1923, and weighed in at 13 pounds. Everyone plans and dreams on New Year’s Day and—true to his birth date and his enormous size—Dad was a lifelong planner and dreamer with a can-do spirit. He was an excellent student, amiable, loving, and, in his youth, very handsome. Unfortunately, he was far better at planning and dreaming than executing his plans. He had a lot of mechanical ability. These days, he would have gone to college and perhaps become an engineer, but he was born on a farm in Idaho at a time when hardly anyone went to college. Young men became farmers like their fathers.

When he came of age, he and his three brothers purchased a farm dirt cheap out on the Idaho desert. And yes, it was dirt cheap because it was mostly dirt and sage brush. There were aquifers beneath it for water, though, and the soil was perfect for growing famous Idaho potatoes. The brothers built houses, dug wells, cleared away the sagebrush and planted their fields. Before long, they divvied up the land among them.

Dad farmed for nearly 20 years but never made a go of it. The problem was partly that times were hard for farmers, but truthfully, he just wasn’t cut out for that lifestyle. He bought used equipment from the junk yard (which he could fix, thanks to his mechanical ability) but that equipment always seemed to break down right at harvest or planting time. Our cars always came from the junkyard too, and every journey included a prayer that we’d reach our destination. We spent a fair amount of time on the side of the road, depending on the kindness of friends or strangers. Once he bought an old hearse to use as a family car. Seat belts were not required in those days; we all just piled into the back and off we went. That thing ran pretty well too, but since I was in my early teens by then, instead of the usual prayer to get where we were going, I prayed that sucker would disappear. Eventually it made its worthy way back to the junkyard.

Our family survived because Mom was trained as a school teacher. Dad and Grandma took care of us while Mom taught school, then she was home in the summer while he farmed. The farm didn’t manage to break even, however. Dad had to take out operating loans every spring against a successful harvest. When the harvest did not pay off—as it frequently didn’t—we were left in debt when the next spring rolled around. Besides crop failure and bad prices, we had other bad luck. He tried raising sheep. When my brother and I were only five and six years old, we herded them in some nearby pastures to save money on feed, but, in spite of that, the sheep business didn’t prove to be profitable. He tried raising pigs twice, but both times the devices he rigged up to keep the animals warm in the cold Idaho winters burned down the buildings and destroyed the poor animals. When I was 12 we sold the farm to cover the debts and Dad embarked on a series of careers.

He began training to be a welder, but one evening during a class fell through a manhole that someone had left uncovered and broke his shoulder blades. After that he could not weld without pain. We were just glad he survived.

Next, he went to college and was certified to teach elementary school. My mother convinced him to do this because she believed boys needed male teachers to serve as role models. That lasted a few years, but didn’t work out so well. Teachers need to be organized and Dad wasn’t organized. He had to take some writing classes in college, though, and wrote some fine poetry and essays.

He really wanted to be a businessman and had lots of dreams and plans. He designed a fishing pole holder that set off an alarm at the tug of a fish, manufactured a few prototypes, advertised in Field and Stream, and looked into getting a patent. He never quite took into account the fact that fishermen like to hold the pole and feel the tug themselves. That’s what makes it a sport.

Someone convinced him he could make big bucks on a business that installed and stocked small shelves in local gas stations. Unfortunately, that business required organization.

He bought a laundry with plans to install the latest machines, which he could not afford to do. He spent all his time repairing the old machines and made very little money.

He bought an old semi truck intending to fix it up and truck wood out of the mountains to sell as firewood. This was about the time that OPEC put the squeeze on the nation and everyone was installing wood-burning stoves. No load of wood ever emerged from the mountains on that truck.

He started a weed spraying business and advertised on the radio. The problem was that the county ran a weed-spraying operation that sprayed roadside weeds for free and hired out to farmers for a small fee. That one didn’t work out either.

Finally he bought some old houses that were broken up into apartments and became a slumlord. It didn’t make much money, but it was real estate that at least retained some value, and it kept him busy, which had become an important objective for his wife.

Through all of this our family survived because Dad’s ventures more or less broke even and Mom insisted early on that they have separate checking accounts. Her teaching money supported us, and—in the meantime—we had a lot of fun as a family. One of Dad’s junkyard purchases was an old boat. We spent many happy hours water skiing behind that boat. And we learned skills. The boys helped fix up the series of old cars and equipment. I learned to cook and sew. We depended on our large garden for food, and canned whatever we didn’t eat fresh. We loved to play games, especially Rook. Dad was a heck of a Rook player. The only problem was that you didn’t want to be his partner because true to his big-dreamer personality, he took every bid, whether he had a good hand or not. He was always optimistic that he’d pull this one off.

One of our Mormon leaders once said that no success can compensate for failure in the home. I’d turn that around to say that success in the home can compensate for any failure. Dad was a failure at pretty much every career he ever tried, but he was nevertheless a successful father. I often think that my Dad’s children became everything he wanted to be. One brother is a college professor, another is a very successful businessman who uses the mechanical skills Dad taught him every day. Two are engineers, and he got one historian and author. We all married good people and have raised fine families of children who themselves have become good parents. Dad was a serial failure, but he succeeded at the one thing that mattered most.

In spite of his failures, we’re all so grateful we had the father we did. And of course, our wise and steady mother.

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There are 46 comments.

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  1. Contributor

    Lovely and wonderful!

    • #1
    • January 27, 2015, at 7:41 AM PDT
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  2. Moderator

    Merina Smith: He really wanted to be was a businessman and had lots of dreams and plans. He designed…

    Reminds me a bit of my dad. Phenomenally successful in his heyday when he worked as an engineer for a big employer, he nonetheless longed to for adventures in self-employment that he wasn’t really cut out for. Fortunately, by the time he actually tried these, he at least had a pension from his old job.

    Finally he bought some old houses that were broken up into apartments and became a slumlord. It didn’t make much money, but it was real estate that at least retained some value, and it kept him busy, which had become an important objective for my Mom.

    “But it was real estate” didn’t work out quite so well for our family. Dad refused to liquidate his pet real-estate project before the crash, even though the alternative was having his own family apply for government aid to cover medical expenses! Then the crash happened, and, well…

    True, the property did retain some value… The funny thing is we still have family members who believe that real estate is a sure thing (“as long as you wait long enough”). Not the youngest generation, though.

    • #2
    • January 27, 2015, at 7:55 AM PDT
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  3. Member

    Marvelous, Merina!…Thank you!

    • #3
    • January 27, 2015, at 8:34 AM PDT
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  4. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Thanks, SoS and Nanda. I appreciate these opportunities to gain perspective on my life and family, even if the motivations comes from a sock puppet.

    Midge, I remember when my Dad died. You had recently lost your father, and sent me a very kind PM. Sounds like our Dads had quite a lot in common! I’m sorry to hear his real estate deal didn’t work out so well. My Mom still gets money every month from the people who bought the slumlord apartments from Dad.

    • #4
    • January 27, 2015, at 8:36 AM PDT
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  5. Member

    I admire your dad’s gusto. Even if that ability to persist after so many failures didn’t lead to any outstanding success, it speaks well of your dad that he kept at it.

    And I like the general lesson about success in the home. Good post.

    • #5
    • January 27, 2015, at 9:06 AM PDT
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  6. Inactive

    MS – thanks for sharing! It is inspirational to hear a story of how a family that stays together to ride out the ups and downs of life can overcome so many setbacks

    • #6
    • January 27, 2015, at 9:21 AM PDT
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  7. Moderator

    Pleated Pants Forever: It is inspirational to hear a story of how a family that stays together to ride out the ups and downs of life can overcome so many setbacks

    I wonder if it’s possible to write a tale of failure that a conservative audience would appreciate that isn’t inspirational.

    • #7
    • January 27, 2015, at 9:25 AM PDT
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  8. Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: I wonder if it’s possible to write a tale of failure that a conservative audience would appreciate that isn’t inspirational.

    Midge, ‘inspiration’ can sometimes take the form of thanksgiving that one isn’t alone in trial/defeat…Christ in Gethsemane, for instance, can be a touchstone. Talking about a successful *outcome* doesn’t (hopefully) deny the darkness of the road. Just wait for my “Love” post…

    • #8
    • January 27, 2015, at 9:36 AM PDT
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  9. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: I wonder if it’s possible to write a tale of failure that a conservative audience would appreciate that isn’t inspirational.

    Midge, ‘inspiration’ can sometimes take the form of thanksgiving that one isn’t alone in trial/defeat…Christ in Gethsemane, for instance, can be a touchstone. Talking about a successful *outcome* doesn’t (hopefully) deny the darkness of the road. Just wait for my “Love” post…

    Nanda, I can’t wait to read your love post. You make a good point that conservatives are all about redemption. Midge, you raise an interesting question about how conservatives and progs react differently to failure. I think progressives like failure because it gives them a chance to point out that conservative principles haven’t prevented failure and so government needs to step in. One point about failure, however, is that it needs to happen so that people can learn from it, and that sometimes it takes a long, and as Nanda says, dark road for the learning to happen. But I agree–conservatives love an inspiration failure story and we turn our failures into inspirational stories by the way we react to them. That’s a very, very good thing.

    • #9
    • January 27, 2015, at 9:55 AM PDT
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  10. Moderator

    Merina Smith: One point about failure, however, is that it needs to happen so that people can learn from it, and that sometimes it takes a long, and as Nanda says, dark road for the learning to happen.

    Failure does need to happen so that people can learn from it. Learning from it – or more precisely, learning the right lessons from it – isn’t guaranteed, though.

    My own life-experience suggests that it’s highly probable that there are simply some “unlucky learners” out there: people who find themselves in situations where it’s incredibly difficult to not learn destructive life-lessons from their own life-history. Government can’t fix this problem, of course. (Nor, necessarily, can family – or anything, really.) The much-vaunted “tragic vision” of conservatives is incomplete if it chooses to ignore it, though.

    It’s possible that “learning all the wrong lessons” is sometimes the most likely outcome.

    • #10
    • January 27, 2015, at 11:12 AM PDT
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  11. Member

    What a heart-warming story. What a wonderful guy.

    Thank you, Merina.

    He made the world a better place.

    • #11
    • January 27, 2015, at 11:22 AM PDT
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  12. Member

    Merina,

    I love truth and this had truth. Your dad married the right woman. He also had a marvelous daughter. That covers a multitude. Thanks. I am of the opinion that a poor is a good way. When later everything is a luxury you cannot help but be thankful. Thanks.

    • #12
    • January 27, 2015, at 11:41 AM PDT
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  13. Member

    Isn’t it great that you can laugh now? All the craziness is a great foundation. Very few can top your story not that anyone would want to.

    • #13
    • January 27, 2015, at 11:43 AM PDT
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  14. Member

    Excellent portrayal of a good man and a good father. His efforts at worldly success may not have succeeded, but he succeeded where it matters: wife and family. This is a classic example of a truth we often forget: you can succeed while failing.

    Also, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Merina’s mom. She’s just what you’d expect: witty, charming, and very bright.

    I think Merina’s story is a wonderful parable on the power of marriage. Two people, committed to each other and their family, who actually made a great success of life, all the while dealing with the vagaries of life in the real world.

    • #14
    • January 27, 2015, at 1:07 PM PDT
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  15. Member

    I see some resemblances between Merina’s dad and the dad in the Little House on the Prairie series–and I mean the books, not the television series.

    • #15
    • January 27, 2015, at 1:17 PM PDT
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  16. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Midge–You are right that luck has a lot to do with success or failure and whether or not some good can come out of it. One thing I got from my Dad, though is unfailing optimism. I don’t think he learned from all his failures. In fact, that he kept failing indicates he didn’t learn how to be more successful from them. I just look at the bigger picture, which is that in the bigger picture, our family was blessed. From what I know of you, you can say that too.

    TR–Amen to that! My parents’ commitment to marriage saw them through a lot of problems. We never doubted that they loved each other and would stay married. It gave our family a certain inviolable quality that helped us all have faith in marriage, and gave us the assumption that we would stay married ourselves, through thick and thin. Thanks for your kind words about my Mom. She is pretty amazing still–full of energy and curiosity at 84.

    Marci–it’s funny you should compare my Dad to Charles Ingalls, because I love those books and have often thought that myself!

    • #16
    • January 27, 2015, at 1:50 PM PDT
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  17. Member

    Merina Smith: Marci–it’s funny you should compare my Dad to Charles Ingalls, because I love those books and have often thought that myself!

    Yep.

    And you too remind me of Laura. How to laugh and make the best of things. :)

    • #17
    • January 27, 2015, at 1:59 PM PDT
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  18. Member

    Merina,

    I wonder if it could be said of your dad “It was never boring.” There were a lot of other emotions and feelings but boredom was not one of them.

    • #18
    • January 27, 2015, at 2:06 PM PDT
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  19. Contributor

    There was a recent article (I believe in the WSJ) about how the secret to success for visionary CEOs is that they have an influential lieutenant who can veto their worst schemes. The duo is balanced between vision and practicality. That sounds like your parents.

    • #19
    • January 27, 2015, at 2:07 PM PDT
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  20. Member

    Son of Spengler

    There was a recent article (I believe in the WSJ) about how the secret to success for visionary CEOs is that they have an influential lieutenant who can veto their worst schemes. The duo is balanced between vision and practicality. That sounds like your parents.

    I totally agree. The number two position is key. Or maybe I should say it is the combination. I often think the number two is smarter but doesn’t do vision well.

    • #20
    • January 27, 2015, at 2:11 PM PDT
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  21. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    10 cents:

    Son of Spengler

    There was a recent article (I believe in the WSJ) about how the secret to success for visionary CEOs is that they have an influential lieutenant who can veto their worst schemes. The duo is balanced between vision and practicality. That sounds like your parents.

    I totally agree. The number two position is key. Or maybe I should say it is the combination. I often think the number two is smarter but doesn’t do vision well.

    Interesting point. That does sound kind of like my parents, except that her veto didn’t usually stop him and her practicality couldn’t overcome the other obstacles to success! Still, I think she kept him grounded enough to minimize the losses. Dime, you are absolutely correct that life was never boring! In his eighties, my Dad called me one day to say that he was wanting to write an amendment to the Constitution that he would get enacted through grassroots lobbying. My husband is a Constitutional scholar, and he wanted to consult about it. It wasn’t going to be small either. He had lots of ideas about what was wrong with the country and they were all going in. It was an utterly crazy idea with no chance of becoming a reality, but nevertheless, it was kind of endearing that he thought he could thus save the country.

    • #21
    • January 27, 2015, at 3:03 PM PDT
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  22. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Aaron Miller:I admire your dad’s gusto. Even if that ability to persist after so many failures didn’t lead to any outstanding success, it speaks well of your dad that he kept at it.

    And I like the general lesson about success in the home. Good post.

    Aaron, I’ve come to see it your way too. Growing up, there was an inner groan every time a new scheme emerged, but now I look back on them all rather fondly. I’d much rather have a Dad that kept trying in spite of failure than one who gave up. And I think it was that kind of can-do gusto that built this country. After all, behind every successful man is a lot of previous failures. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

    • #22
    • January 27, 2015, at 3:06 PM PDT
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  23. Inactive

    Just read your lovely post. Don’t know if anyone else mentioned this in the earlier comments, but your father was a total success in his choice of wife.

    • #23
    • January 27, 2015, at 3:09 PM PDT
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  24. Member

    Merina,

    My father was a high energy person. He was a mixture of kindness and selfishness. A true character. He had pearls of wisdom in with the “wonderful plans”. You have made me miss him. Lovable, mischievous, and a pain in the neck at times but never ever boring.

    • #24
    • January 27, 2015, at 3:13 PM PDT
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  25. Member

    Merina Smith: we had a lot of fun as a family.

    Merina Smith: we’re all so grateful we had the father we did. And of course, our wise and steady mother.

    Fabulous story. I like your dad because he never quit, and he surely must have had a good attitude.

    No one starved, right? Everyone had clothes? Roof over the head, and a blanket for the cold. Add fun to that, what more could anyone want out of life?

    • #25
    • January 27, 2015, at 3:38 PM PDT
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  26. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    10 cents:Merina,

    My father was a high energy person. He was a mixture of kindness and selfishness. A true character. He had pearls of wisdom in with the “wonderful plans”. You have made me miss him. Lovable, mischievous, and a pain in the neck at times but never ever boring.

    I’d love to hear some stories about your Dad sometime Dime. Was your Mom a good compliment to him like mine was to my Dad?

    • #26
    • January 27, 2015, at 6:24 PM PDT
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  27. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Jules PA:

    Merina Smith: we had a lot of fun as a family.

    Merina Smith: we’re all so grateful we had the father we did. And of course, our wise and steady mother.

    Fabulous story. I like your dad because he never quit, and he surely must have had a good attitude.

    No one starved, right? Everyone had clothes? Roof over the head, and a blanket for the cold. Add fun to that, what more could anyone want out of life?

    Exactly. I admit that I didn’t always see it that way growing up, but I sure do now.

    • #27
    • January 27, 2015, at 6:24 PM PDT
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  28. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Snirtler:Just read your lovely post. Don’t know if anyone else mentioned this in the earlier comments, but your father was a total success in his choice of wife.

    Oh my goodness, you have no idea! Well, you do, which is why you made the comment. But truer words were never, ever written.

    • #28
    • January 27, 2015, at 6:25 PM PDT
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  29. Member

    Great article!! Am I seriously the only one who thinks the hearse sounds cool?

    • #29
    • January 27, 2015, at 6:51 PM PDT
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  30. Inactive
    Merina Smith Post author

    Zafar:Great article!! Am I seriously the only one who thinks the hearse sounds cool?

    My Mom has erased it from her memory. I’m not sure if it’s because it was so traumatic or if she really just forgot. On the upside, when we sat in the back, no one could see us because there were only windows at the front and the back.

    • #30
    • January 27, 2015, at 7:47 PM PDT
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