Coach Mike Kelly and Believing in Yourself

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Leadership
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Today is an important day to me.  This would have been my dad’s 79th birthday and my parent’s 54th wedding anniversary and as an aside, the family beagle when I was in high school was also born on this date, so pretty significant stuff.

I miss my father terribly.  He passed away in January of 1999 and I don’t think I’ve been the same since.  He was my compass.  He guided me, corrected me, encouraged me, and most importantly instilled in me the belief in me.

My brother and I still laugh with great admiration on how a day didn’t pass that our father wouldn’t say, “Believe in yourself”!  He taught us a self-reliance that has given us courage, determination, confidence, and an inquizatitiveness to challenge the status quo.  He was as tough-minded an individual as I have ever known and had no idea of the definition of the word “quit”.

My dad returned to Waterbury, CT from the Korean Conflict with a Purple Heart.  Without a college degree he bounced around odd jobs meeting my mother at Household Finance as a repo-man.  Fail on your loan, my dad was coming to claim your now former television, car, whatever you financed.  Not a job for the faint at heart. 

He lied on his application to gain entrance for employment with UniRoyal Rubber Company producing Keds sneakers in Naugatuck, CT stating that he had attended the University of Connecticut.  After receiving the job offer he confessed to his transgression but they kept him due to his aptitude test score.  He also during this time, began coaching football at his alma mater, Wilby High School.

He coached at Wilby from 1956 through 1966.  I went to as many practices as I could attend.  The sound of the metal tipped nylon cleats on the pavement as my hero’s walked across the street to reach the practice field in Fulton Park will always be an echo in my head every time I go to practice as a coach decades later.  Saturday morning game days at Municipal Stadium with the aroma of fresh coffee, stale cigars, and atomic balm will linger in my sense of smell for the rest of my life.  I could not get enough of it.  A ride on the seven man sled next to my dad barking out encouragement with a whistle dangling from his neck and seven teenagers sweating with extraordinary effort as the dust from a dry, burnt from the sun converted baseball outfield, lingered in the air to settle on my face was simply a joy that I will never know again.

1967 brought a time of change to our family.  My father accepted a position with Flexible Tubing Corporation that was a significant raise and we moved from central Connecticut to the coast in a small town outside of New Haven called North Branford.  Dad was on the fast track and was “self educating”.  He was rabid about reading with a novel completed in a single evening not uncommon.  He read everything he could on rubber and plastics and manufacturing processes.  The climb on the ladder of success had begun.

Over the next nine years I attended seven schools in four more states.  We moved from Connecticut to California, to South Carolina, back to Connecticut, to Iowa, and I finished high school in Indiana.  We stuck together as a family relying on each other and believing in ourselves.  When you enter a new school that many times you better have self-confidence because it is frightening as well as exciting.  Each region had differing cultural and societal values particularly in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  If you didn’t believe in your own core and couldn’t stand up for yourself, the acclimation process proves difficult.

The last job my dad held was President and Chief Executive Officer of DuraCon Industries.  They since have been bought out by Oshkosh Corporation Company but you’ll still recognize Jerr-Dan tow trucks and Duraliner bed-liners for pick-up trucks.  He was a guest lecturer at the Warton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and many of his processes have effected manufacturing as we know it.  He had Ph.D’s working “for and with” him as he would say, not knowing that dad was “just a kid from Wilby High School”.

I would have disappointed him with how I reacted to the media in 2009.  He use to tell me, “they have more ink than you have anger” and I should have heeded that warning.  I now live with that every single day and it is something only I can work through. To think that I would disappoint my father disintegrates my core but I am confident I will make amends.  I have to.  I have to prove to myself and to his memory that I am who and what I know I am.  He molded me and I believe with every ounce of my being that I will get it all back. 

Some will call it narcissistic but they don’t understand the strength that comes from within a true belief of oneself.  My dad would say that if he became a milkman, he’d end up owning the dairy….

Happy Anniversary Mom and Happy Birthday Dad…


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