No-Nonsense Tom Cat
How my father’s parenting style became my business style
Let me tell you about my Dad, Tommy.
In Mebane, NC, Dad ran a jockey lot with a few of his buddies. It was out of town, so we would go up on the weekends and stay in the camper on site. I loved it for the adventure and the getting out of town part, but also for the corn dogs. It was the big time for me, and I’d walk the tables searching for I didn’t know what — until of course I found it. I begged Dad for money to buy my prize discovery, but he wasn’t the type to just hand over money. I had to earn it. So I picked up trash and he paid me $5.
As soon as I had the cash I needed, the brand new Vanilla Ice cassette tape was in my possession. Dad, of course, wanted to know what the fuss was about, so in went the tape into the player. What you may not know or remember about “Ice Ice Baby” and many of the other tracks on this album is that they have expletives … lots of them. After hearing what he considered to be enough, Dad hit the eject button, and Vanilla Ice went out the window without another word.
That is Dad to a tee: no nonsense, but also no doubt as to just where you stand.
I want to be like Tommy, or Tom Cat as he is known. Perhaps the nickname stuck when his cousin count hit 57, but I like to think it is more of the wandering that draws the comparison. But maybe wandering isn’t quite the right word since he always seems to know where he is going.
Dad is a hustler, in only the good ways. He was an electrician by trade but a whiz at repairing machinery. My childhood memories are filled with visiting job sites, talking about dirt, problem-solving and getting to know people. People are his thing — his industry. He never punched a 9–5, and that made him hard to understand to those who did.
Dad was perpetually dirty; working with your hands and in the construction world meant the dirt just lived with you — the kind of dirt that gets up under your nails and stains your socks no matter how much you bleach them. His evening cleansing routine was like watching a doctor scrub in for surgery. He always said, “City boys wash their hands after they pee. Country boys wash their hands before they pee.”
It took me a minute to appreciate his moxie once the dirt became a little less charming.
Dad had a 1980-something Pontiac that matched his ethos like it was an extension of his very body. The entire paint job was cracked like an egg shell. It smelled like tractor grease and was loaded with trash, keys, tools, contracts, and blueprints. You had to make space to find somewhere to sit. Well, that old beater’s front seat lost its support some time long ago and Dad’s solution was to prop it up with a baseball bat, problem solved. My middle school self made him park far away to avoid the embarrassment of being seen with it.
Twenty years later, that car looks a bit familiar with its odds and ends and makeshift solutions to cosmetic problems…
The thing is, my mama raised me 99%, but that 1% that came from my dad is me 100%.
I am a hustler, or in today’s terms we get to be called entrepreneurs. I do what I do because it’s all I know. I emulate Dad because he gave me parameters but also gave me grace when I failed. He defined success far more about the people he surrounded himself with than a title or six-figure salary.
And he made sure I was around those people so they could shape me, too.
Early morning breakfast at The Meeting Place in Anderson before the work day started was my education. I learned early on that no one really cares about your failures except you and it’s up to you to change the trajectory. It was breakfast, but also the best kind of lessons I could ever hope for.
When I settle down at the end of each day and look back at the tracks I covered, the things I did … it is a kaleidoscope of odds and ends that tell the story of a little girl whose daddy raised her to be an entrepreneur without either of us ever really knowing it was happening. He folded me into his life and taught me everything he knew through the people he loved.
Dirt and all.