A Father's Gift

A Father's Gift

We are living in a time in which civility and mutual respect appear to be discarded relics from the past.  This morning I read through a speech my father gave to a group of lawyers, newly admitted to the bar, in Judge McKibben’s courtroom in Nevada on November 18th, 2004 and it reminded me of how lucky I was to learn about ethics, civility and collegiality from such a kind and wise man.

My father, Richard Horton, was one of the most noble gentlemen that I think I shall ever know.  He passed away on February 7th, 2008, but his legacy lives on in the many lives he touched.  As one of the finest lawyers in Nevada for over fifty years, he was a credit to his profession.  As a business owner in Lake Tahoe, he taught me about humility and grace.  He owned the place, but few people ever knew that.  Five days a week he was a partner in the largest law firm in the state.  Saturday and Sunday he’d pick up trash, pull weeds, change light bulbs and perform any number of seemingly menial tasks around the marina in a dingy, rust-colored button down shirt, paint and grease stained brown pants, and tattered brown work boots with wonderfully curled up toes.  I remember watching my mother cringe and look away, her head shaking at his unkempt appearance when he’d walk out the door Saturday morning, eager to get to work.  Mom has always been the epitome of style.  People would try to hire Dad away after watching how diligently he performed his tasks but all he would say is, “They treat me well around here.”  He’d pump gas and graciously accept tips, putting them in the jar Mom setup for him on the kitchen counter, the proceeds of which were used to help fund the company Christmas party and employee gifts: pretty inspirational stuff for an awkward, skinny little girl, following her father around like puppy.

 Lessons from my Dad:

Ethics is about doing the morally right thing.  By being ethical in both word and deed you will earn trust and respect, but only if you are also civil.  Civility is doing what is morally right with courtesy and respect.  Civility is being congenial, cordial and pleasant in your dealings with others.  Civility ought to be your way of life, so much so that even in the face of uncivil conduct by others, you are unable to be anything but civil.  Indeed, civil conduct is contagious.  Others will catch it from you as they realize their unacceptable conduct is not being returned in kind and is gaining them nothing.  Civility is essential for a smooth functioning society and to our enjoyment of interacting with each other.  There is no need for rudeness, discourtesy and cheap shots.

You must be honorable and it will be the work of a lifetime to gain the reputation that you are honorable, that your word can be trusted, that what you say you will do, you do; that what you represent to be true is true; that you claim no more than is warranted by what you know.  A reputation is a fragile creature.  It can be destroyed in a moment by some foolish conduct.  Your reputation is not something you can establish and then forget about.  It must be burnished every day by correct and civil conduct, and like fine wine, becomes more precious with the passage of time.

You must have integrity and that integrity must be manifested in all you do and all you say.

 Do not let anger and impatience creep into your voice unless anger is truly called for, a very rare event.  You can put emphasis in your voice without putting anger or impatience in it.

Use temperate words and phrases, not heated ones.

When you lose to another, walk over to your opponent and congratulate them on their win.  Neither your opponent nor those who observe your actions will soon forget it and it will be to your credit.

Do not attribute improper motives or purposes to your opponent unless you have the evidence to truly show such.  Empty claims of an opponent’s misconduct reflect on you, not your opponent.

Civility and courtesy are not to be equaled with weakness.  Civility is part of being a good steward of your community.  Stewards are forceful and unyielding when in the right, zealous in their advocacy, yet civil.  Others must be treated with dignity and respect, but we can only do that if our conduct is civil and respectful.  Otherwise we cheapen that which we should cherish.

I’ve always been a very passionate person, forever eager to take up the sword to fight against that which I believe to be wrong.  I was blessed to have a father with such wisdom and humility to temper the warrior in me.  Thank you Dad.  I miss you.