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$#*! My Dad Says: Life Lessons From Another Type of American Father

09/28/2010 09:22 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today would have been my father's birthday if he were still alive, and unlike Ed, the father on the new CBS television show, $#*! My Dad Says, or Archie Bunker in All in the Family, my father -- probably like many of your fathers -- taught life lessons by good example.

He died in 2002, but the lessons I learned are so clearly with me it is as if I had spoken to him yesterday. Here are some of the more memorable things he shared. (I invite you to use the comments section to add your own favorite life lesson):

America is a great country...you do all you can to make it better.

This belief is the driving force behind my website, www.americacomesalive.com, which is dedicated to reminding people of the good in this country and pointing out that a single pair of hands can make a difference.

Taxes are worth paying; they fund services communities need.
My father used to say he didn't mind paying taxes because it gave him "clean streets and a fire department." My father was a fiscal conservative, but he realized that the comforts we gain through police protection, a highway system, and town governments only come because we pay for them.

In last week's column in the New York Times, Paul Krugman attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes the quote: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."

Be humble.
My father was awarded a silver star for heroism during World War II (for "knocking out two tanks and capturing their crews," the letter says.) He refused to speak about his war experiences but when the local newspaper was honoring decorated veterans he agreed to talk a bit about it. I'm paraphrasing, but the essence of his comment was: "There was so much confusion in the attack... There was no single hero...we all just did the best we could." Chances are good that anyone who has been in war would agree with him.

Give back to your community.
My father was badly injured in World War II but after a year's hospitalization, he was able to use the G.I. bill to finish college. After graduation, he knew he needed to work, not follow his dream to further his education so he could teach at the college level.

He went to work in the real estate and insurance business my grandfather (his father-in-law) started in the early 1930s. As the business grew, my father hired people from all walks of life and encouraged them to finish their education. He then made certain that the employees had some financial aid from the company as well as time off to attend classes.

He also encouraged community service from everyone -- secretaries on up. Anyone who had community responsibilities -- even a demanding one like the school board -- was given weekday time as needed to devote to it.

My father believed in "giving back," but he also knew that having the employees out in the community was indirectly good business.

Tithe.
By the time he was school-age, my father had very definite opinions, and one of them was about church. He would arrive at church with his mother, but instead of continuing on to the Sunday school classroom for his age group while his mother attended services, he went right out the back door of the church and rarely entered a place of worship after that.

Despite this, he raised my brother and me with doctrines supported by many religions, including the importance of tithing. From childhood on, we were taught that at least 5 percent of our allowance (later our income) should go to charity.

Help those who encounter misfortune.
A teenager in our community was returning from a beer party the mountains toward the end of his senior year and was in a terrible car accident. After a long hospitalization, Jack was finally released in a wheelchair with the news that he would spend the rest of his days as a quadriplegic. My father found a program that trained handicapped workers for the insurance business, and he helped Jack get into the program. After graduation, Jack worked for my father's company until he died in his late 30s.

Jack lived with his parents most of his life, but how happy they must have been to be able to drive him to a job each day.

There is no better way to gain an education than to listen.

My grown children all tease that I enter most rooms with a "talk to me sign." What they don't know is that I inherited it. Whenever we left a community function, my father was the last one out the door because yet another person would stop him to tell him something... He felt everyone was important, and he gave them whatever time they needed.

And nothing makes me happier than to be the recipient of someone's story.

But with all this, my father was no saint. There were plenty of dinners that were interrupted while he took business calls, and his exacting standards for children toddler-age and up made him a less than warm-and-fuzzy grandfather.

However, the morals and values he taught to his children and shared with his staff members live very strongly in myself and have passed to the next generation of the family. I think even he would be satisfied.

Share a Life Lesson You Have Learned
Please share the most memorable lessons you have learned from someone in your life. I can think of no better way to remember my father, Bret Kelly, on what would have been his 88th birthday.