February 25, 1983
A few days after I bought my little print shop in 1983, I realized I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had a degree in business, but I quickly discovered my diploma was pretty much worthless in this new endeavor. On the second day we were open, a big snow blizzard hit our city, Fargo, North Dakota, and basically shut everything down.
I didn’t have any extra cash and needed to be open because I needed the daily sales to make my first payroll in a few days. Somehow, I managed to get to work, thinking I could complete a few of the unfinished jobs in progress so I could invoice them for cash, but I quickly realized I didn’t know how to operate a single piece of equipment.
The joy and excitement of owning a new business was fading fast. It felt hopeless. I did the only thing I could think of: I called my Dad, who was a retired auto-worker living in Florida. I said “Dad, I’m lost. I don’t know what to do or which way to turn.” Without even pausing, he said not to worry, he’d be here in 48 hours. My Dad got in his car and drove 1500 miles — almost non-stop — until he got to Fargo.
When he arrived, the first thing he did was give me a hug and put his arm around my shoulder (he’d never done that before). I’ll never forget him looking me in the eyes and saying, “It’s gonna be okay, Mike. We’ll get thru this together, one problem at a time.”
The next morning when I got to work at 5:00 am, my Dad was already there. He’d organized and cleaned things up and had breakfast waiting for me. I felt my anxieties begin to melt away. Soon, things did get better. Everyone loved my Dad — especially customers. He became my front counter person, my production manager, my delivery driver, and my inspiration. Sometimes, it seemed like he did all the work, and I got all the credit. But he wanted it that way. He became my secret weapon, and he ended up staying for 23 years.
During those 23 years, we worked together, we laughed together, and we learned the printing business together. In the end, my little business became a big success and won many printing industry awards. But I never forgot that my success was built on the shoulders of a loving Dad who didn’t want to see his son fail. He was always there for me, no matter what happened. I got my degree from the university, but it was my auto-worker Dad who taught me how to run a business.
He finally did retire at age 77. He died unexpectedly 16 days later, at our family’s little lake home that he was visiting on his way back to Florida.
In many ways, I’m not surprised. He probably planned it that way. After all, his job was finally complete.