Father’s Day didn’t become an official national holiday until 1972, but fathers have, of course, been influencing their children for generations. This year, NationSwell surveyed some of the country’s most innovative trailblazers from a range of fields — including government, technology and nonprofits — to learn how fathers have inspired their lives and vision for renewing America. By turns powerful, touching and hilarious, they share both the professional wisdom and personal takeaways that continue to motivate them to this day.
“‘You should buy a computer.’ That was 1987. Purchasing the computer was my ticket to getting hired at SXSW in 1989; they didn’t have one and I did. So that advice was what launched my career with this organization. Of course, at the time I thought my dad’s input was crazy — and it took me about six months before I took what he said to heart. Dads are often a bit ahead of the curve that way.” — Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive Festival, the annual technology and innovation gathering in Austin, Texas
“‘Focus your career on what you think is one of the greatest problems you see in the world.’” — Ethan Brown, CEO and founder of Beyond Meat, a company focused on improving health and lowering the impact of climate change by reducing 25 percent of global meat consumption by 2020
“‘Be a voice and not an echo. Never compromise your principals.’” — Janice Buckley, founder and president of Heartbeat — Serving Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit that provides emergency assistance and therapy to veterans and their families
“My dad was a WWII veteran. He came back from the war and was able to benefit from the GI rights… One of his sayings was ‘hope for the best and work for it.’ He, like a lot of folks during that time… was a hard worker and felt you couldn’t take anything for granted. He would tell me and two brothers, ‘changed labor is as good as rest,’ which meant once you finish one job, you’re rewarded with another job.” — Pat Quinn, governor of Illinois
“I remember my father always reminding me that there is someone better than you, so be yourself and do your best. This taught me early on to be humble and not get too carried away with becoming like someone else.” — Brian Preston, founder of Lamon Luther, a home furnishings company that teaches carpentry skills to homeless men and women with the goal of preserving traditional American craftsmanship
“It was part of my parents’ purchase of an Apple IIe computer. He [my dad] said, ‘Play all the games you want,’ knowing that playing the games on the computer he purchased meant rearranging the operating system so that it, and the game I wanted to play, would fit in the narrow confines of the 64KB of RAM the computer contained. It often took me days or weeks to figure out how to ‘play’ a game. That led to a successful career in technology.” — Dirk Wiggins, founder of Code for Progress, a year-long program that helps people solve issues of social inequality by teaching them to code
“‘There is no substitute for hard work.’ My dad was the first person in my family to go to college, paying tuition while sleeping on his grandmother’s couch. He was determined to become a doctor and recognized that hard work and perseverance were the only ways to get there.” — Dave Gilboa, co-founder of Warby Parker, an innovative eyeglass company that embraces a buy-one, donate-one philanthropic philosophy
“‘You can’t go wrong by doing right.’ I’ve found this particularly meaningful in elected office because I make decisions based on what is right, even if it isn’t always politically expedient or popular.” — Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Mo., named as an innovative mayor in 2012 by Newsweek/Daily Beast for his work in boosting economic development in his city, which has been dubbed a “Silicon Prairie”
“My dad taught me to be part of the solution to improve the lives of those around me. If you can change one person’s life, it’s like changing the world.” — Daniel Lurie, CEO and founder of Tipping Point Community, an organization in San Francisco that works to reduce poverty by awarding grants to the most effective nonprofits
“I am not sure that my father gave me explicit advice. His advice was through action. He was a teacher during the day, then he would come home and run his own business. He was a sub-distributor of Coca-Cola and a beer brand in our little town in Mexico. Whenever any of his clients needed product he would immediately get it to them. He became my model on how to respect people, provide immediate reaction and be proactive in understanding their needs.” — José de Jesús Legaspi, president of the Legaspi Company, a real estate firm in California that has converted 10 declining properties into cultural centers catering to underserved Hispanic families throughout the state
“My dad had two daughters and he told each of us to marry millionaires — and give him half.” — Maggie Lockridge, president and founder of Rebuilding America’s Warriors, a nonprofit that provides free reconstructive surgery to wounded service members and veterans.