In my last post, Finding the RPM Gauge for Your Life, I made reference to having received some less than ideal news about someone I love dearly. It was my Dad. He was diagnosed with cancer. The news rocked our world and in many respects, continues to do so. By design, I took a bit of time away from the Papa Alpha blog in order to focus more time and energy on my father, my mother, my wife and children — and the businesses I run for my family. I worked hard to ensure I still created time to ride my mountain bike, get my workouts in and continue to practice law. The summer of 2016 was much different than I had expected it to be – an important life lesson for me, in of itself – that would be cerebrally obvious to understand, but was experientially tough to comprehend.
My father is a phenomenal machine of a human being and one of the most impressive individuals on God’s “green earth.” I would have made the identical statement before the diagnosis, but the true grit, determination, raw strength, energy and mental toughness he has shown me, my mother, brother, sister and our collective families, during the past six months has taken our respect and admiration of him to a level previously unseen and unfathomed. After six weeks of pre-operative radiation, a brief recovery period and then a major, 14-hour surgery, my father is recovering well. His energy, daily enthusiasm, and relentless drive are truly remarkable. I actually don’t know how he holds such a pace.
In due course, I’ll be compiling my thoughts and writing an article about my father along the lines of the “10 Best Things My Dad Said After Getting Cancer.” There is a strong likelihood that number one on that list will be, and I quote, “I’m great. I don’t have cancer.” Which is exactly what my father said within moments of us having walked out of the oncologist’s office, having just received the news that he does, indeed, have cancer. To say that my father is the world’s greatest optimist, who refuses to acknowledge, whatsoever, any form of negative information, is an understatement. His optimism, enthusiasm and strength, during this time, has been awe-inspiring. I don’t know if I could be more honoured to be an apple, that has fallen (hopefully) not too far from that tree.
I look forward to sharing more of the many lesson that I have learned from him.
In the meantime, I am posting the article below, originally published in Canadian Immigrant. I hope you enjoy!
Lessons Learned From My Immigrant Dad
It was December 14, 1964. A young Egyptian had just travelled by boat across the Atlantic and was nearing Canada’s shores. One of nine children born to loving parents of little means, Eid Attia had left all he had in Alexandria and boarded this boat with only $300 to his name but vision in his soul and strength in his mind. One thought resonated above all else: “Make it.” That is to say, “Build a better life in Canada for my family for this generation and the next.”
In the 50 years since that momentous day, my father has achieved great success with both family and career. Today, energetic and determined as ever, he celebrates nearly 50 years of marriage with my mother; runs several very successful business ventures; and perhaps most importantly, enjoys the love, respect and admiration of his three children, each one happily married, each a parent, and each enjoying success in their own respective career (doctor, lawyer and counselor).
The success my father enjoys today did not occur in a flash. Rather, it is the net result of bold and brave moves, wise decision-making and the absolute resolve to meet every challenge head on. The lessons he has taught me and my siblings are now being passed on to his seven grandchildren; the wisdom of the first generation passed on to the third. Provided below, are just some of those key lessons that can help inspire any immigrant family.
Turn your liabilities into assets
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Those words resonate in my mind as my father has said them to me countless times. No matter what situation arises in life, he always finds the positive aspect in it.
He has had this trait for years. The cold, December day he arrived in Canada provides a great example. As his boat approached shore he was greeted by what so many other newcomers to Canada have seen: mounds of snow and ice awaiting their arrival.
“What have I done?” you assume the Mediterranean man would ask. But, rather, his instant thought was one of opportunity: “Look at all that snow and ice. I wonder if I can somehow get it on a boat, and shipped back to Egypt. I could sell it to all the beach vendors to keep their Coca-Colas cold!” Where others see discouragement and disaster, my father sees boundless opportunity.
Pay yourself first and invest for the future
Financially, my father’s blueprint has been tremendously successful, yet very simple. From the day he arrived, he set aside the first 25 cents of every dollar he earned for future investment. He deprived himself of many things in order to save enough money to buy his first business — a restaurant. And, he took the proceeds of that business and repeated the same pattern over and over again. He’s done the same thing again, in his current businesses, stone quarries.
His business model is very simple: success in business is based on profit, not revenue. Accordingly, he always kept costs extremely low and lived a very modest life.
As children, growing up, we lived a very modest life and continue to today. It was the day that I was accepted to law school, and my brother to medical school, that I learned from my parents that they had in fact, been saving enough money for each of their children, in order to attend graduate school. The sacrifices my parents made for so many years were now being paid forward to their children.
Never give up and always believe in yourself
Countless times throughout his journey, others have doubted my father. With English as his second language and no local connections or experience, the battles were always uphill, and he was looked down upon for being different. I have vivid memories of the looks directed toward “the man with the accent” speaking up in a business meeting. What those naysayers failed to understand is my father’s confidence, resolve and drive could not be shaken. He knew what it took for him to arrive here and what it would take to succeed. He channelled any negative criticism into positive energy directed toward his goals.
Fight for your family
Have a reason to do what you do. My father and mother raised us to understand that family is the most important thing in life. And they practiced what they preached. My father left Egypt for one simple reason: to create a better life for his children. He never lost sight of that goal. At every crossroads, he reminded himself of what brought him to Canada, and that propelled him forward.
Make your new country, your home country
From the day he arrived, my father has believed that Canada is his home country. He has wanted to contribute to it, thrive in it and appreciate it. As a child, he told me, “I did not leave Egypt for Egypt. I left Egypt for Canada.”
We were raised with a strong appreciation for our Egyptian heritage. We learned to speak Arabic. We travelled to Egypt each year. I am very proud of that heritage. But it was made abundantly clear to us from our parents: Canada is our home country. To Canada goes our loyalty, passion and drive. It was never lost on me or my siblings how grateful we must be to live in Canada, how great our country is, and how important it is to honour Canada in all we do.
Our story is not unique. Thousands of Canadians have immigrated here from across the globe with the same dreams and visions of my father and mother. The formula for success is laid out before us, and staying the course is tough. As we celebrate my father’s 50-year journey, I know and trust that the lessons of his life, can help shape the success of yours and mine.