February 4, 2013
Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.
If your Latin is a little impaired, that’s “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” It was originally attributed to Bernard of Chartres in the 12th Century, but it was quoted by Isaac Newton in a letter, and has been often used in metaphor to describe one who develops future intellectual pursuits by understanding and building on the research and works created by notable thinkers of the past.
In the great Cathedral at Chartres, there is a stained glass window on the south wall – just under the Rose Window – that depicts the four major prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel) as oversized, with the authors of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in normal size, standing on their shoulders. Though smaller in stature, the Gospel writers could see further that their forebears, because they had the benefit of perspective and saw the Messiah.
We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. The first giant who allowed me to stand on his shoulders was Jack Kinney, the man who became my surrogate father when I married his daughter, 42 years ago.
My family of origin was somewhere on the dysfunctional spectrum; I left home at 17th without much clarity about how to participate in a home, or in society. My cement hadn’t set yet; I was still malleable. I showed up at Jack’s door to pick Cheri up for our first date in 1968… and it was game on.
Lesson #1: You have to win me before you can win my daughter. The word “passive” did not attach to Jack’s fathering. He was protective of his family, and my intentions had to be vetted before I was allowed to take his precious offspring beyond his span of control. I watched; I submitted… and, I learned how to replicate that role with the daughters God gave me to nurture.
Lesson #2: Your reputation is fully within your control. Months before the wedding, Jack invited me to come into his company and learn the ropes. There were over 200 employees in the 25-year old firm when I arrived… at the bottom of the heap. Over the next six years, I came up through the ranks to become the Executive Vice President and General Manager. My degree was earned through learning from him: I had a minor in Mechanical Contracting, but my major was Reputation Building. He was a legend in the building industry in Southern California; his word was his bond, but his integrity was his foundation. He didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve, but his life was a testimony.
Lesson #3: Get to know people… and then give them as with as much trust as they can handle. Jack didn’t trust everyone equally; he waited to see what you were made of, and then he gave you as much as you had earned. The stories around the family table – from the past – recounted the scoundrels who had violated the confidence Jack had in them; he recognized that he had given them more rope than they could handle, and they had hung themselves. If he had only waited to see their character, first. I watched, listened… and learned.
Lesson #4: Your career will end; what happens next is up to you. The company sold in 1981, and Jack stayed – under contract – for another year. He walked out of his office at the end of 1982… and he had nothing else on his horizon. He was a giant in his industry; a legend among the builders whose were the post-WWII entrepreneurs who shaped Southern California. Back then, there was no HalfTime; no Master’s Program to cultivate a sense of calling that stretched beyond the marketplace. Jack went home and focused his next 31 years on his family.
Last Monday, Jack left for heaven. He was 93; he had been married for 72 years. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.” (Psalm 112:1-3) Jack was a giant; he was the blessed man.
Look down there, under your feet: whose shoulders are those, upon which you stand?