Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When your father is the milkman

The 11/21/11 issue of Time magazine did its "10 Questions" feature with Sting.

In it, Sting reveals that the first time his father ever complimented him was when he was on his deathbed. How could this happen? How could a father never compliment his son, especially one as "successful" as Sting?

I think part of the answer may have been revealed in the rest of Sting's answer. He says:

"My dad and I had the same hands. I hadn't really noticed that until he was on his deathbed, and I mentioned it. And he said, 'You used your hands better than I did.' My dad was a milkman. And I realized that was probably the first compliment he'd ever paid me, and that was kind of devastating."

Maybe I am wrong, but what I read into this is that these were two people who had mutual contempt for each other's professions, and it likely damaged their relationship.

Sting's dad was a working class guy - a milkman. Is it possible that he was jealous of his son's success doing something as "frivolous" as pop music while he worked hard every day for a modest wage? Why else would he never compliment his famous son?

And is it also possible that Sting had contempt for his "working stiff" dad who didn't use his hands right? And could this contempt have shown?

If my speculation is correct, they were both wrong. Sting should have respected his father for working to support his family. And think of all the families who had milk every day because of what Sting's dad did. And Sting's dad should have respected his son for using his remarkable talent to entertain the world. Every person has value, and each person is given gifts to be used to help others. While Sting and his dad had very different gifts, both of their contributions should have been valued, especially by each other.

Instead, we end up with a "devastated" son whose father paid him only one compliment. The lesson: find the value in the unique gifts your children have, as inconsequential as they may seem on the surface, and compliment them often. You never know when your time will come.


  1. I can relate to this. My father was a janitor for most of my childhood and then a warehouse worker. I was not embarrassed but was not proud of my father. He was an introvert and very reserved. Compliments from him were not available just it was shared for Sting.

    Somehow through observations and reflection, I began to see the good things in my father such as his consistent work ethic, his commitment to me and my siblings and his sacrifice to allow me to have a profession.

    I am the son of a janitor and I am proud of my father. My father left this earth eight years ago next week. I miss his peaceful nature.

  2. This has touched me, though not perhaps in the same way. My father didn't offer many compliments either, but I don't think there was resentment either - at least not on his part.

    He was an awkward father, not having a role model himself (his father was killed in World War I when he was just a few days old). He never went beyond high school, but worked his way up to a warehouse manager role. It was never something we were ashamed of, but he was always afraid of losing his job to someone with more education. He wasn't outgoing and mostly kept to himself, only doing activities like playing golf when he needed to for his job.

    I had an ability to do well in school without trying too hard, so there were expectations put on me to "succeed," though success was never really defined. I went to university but kept switching careers, taking on overly-ambitious positions that didn't always work out. I guess I was reacting against my dad's choice of being a slave to the company. He never criticised me for it though.

    My dad died suddenly 16 years ago, when my wife was pregnant for the first time. Driving to the church for the funeral, I remember noticing how the fields of the parochial school next to the church was full of parked cars, and I wondered what big event was going on there. It never occurred to me until we got inside the packed church that the cars belonged to all the people who were there to pay tribute to my father.

    At that moment I realized how much I hadn't realized about what a great man he was. The tears wouldn't stop, just as they aren't stopping now as I remember this. I often wonder if there will be as many people at my funeral as there were at his. I try to recall this question when I wonder if I'm making a difference in this world.


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