22 November 2009


My father and his shirtless team sergeant visit the Koreans. Vietnam 1966

A few years ago my father and I sat on my patio after dinner and discussed my job, which was and still is in sales. "I could never sell anything." he told me. He said it in a disparaging way... like sucking the words through his teeth. I knew he had visions of me in a white short sleeve button down with a navy clip on tie calling strangers on the phone and asking them for money. I mean, I have those images of me -- I don't know why he shouldn't.

But I was defensive and replied, "I couldn't sell a golf ball in a pro shop." He shot me an odd look. "Dad, all I really do is solve problems and build relationships." I added, "And I really enjoy the relationship part. Meeting someone, solving their problems and getting to know them. That's what it's about. Selling is nothing compared to the friendships I've built over years. That's why I do it."

My father nodded. "I did the same thing in the army. In Vietnam we built relationships with the people. We taught them to grow strawberries which they then sold to the army. We taught them to make clay roof tiles which later adorned officer's clubs and we helped them farm fish by providing A.I.D. Bulgar wheat as fish feed because no sane person would ever eat it."

Consequently, when the NVA put a regiment on a mountain over looking my father's small Special Force's camp, those same locals told my father what was going on with the NVA. I imagine a lot of lives were saved.

A few years later, my mother told me of a parents -teacher meeting at my first grade class at Ft Bliss. She said that while other children's work sat on their desks for their parents to inspect - - my desk was bare. "He doesn't do the work." the teacher said. "Don't get me wrong. He's just too busy talking to everyone. He loves it here. He's very social and trust me...there are kids who do their work and they don't want to be here."

Oddly enough, I fell into a line of work that's suitable for that six year old. Relationships are everything to me. It's comforting to know they were important for my father as well.


Erica said...

That's what I loved about being a reporter, the relationships.
Great post.

ELS said...

Relationships take on an skewed importance when you know they'll always be temporary.

I too have made a career out of talking to people.

I sometimes suspect a six year old could do it better.

I admire and adore this blog and I love the fact your father reads it and comments and is proud. That's lovely.


tishjett@yahoo.com said...

If one sees on Els blog that she "admires and adores" this blog, then it has more than you're every day blah-on.

You may be a relation-building, but you are also a writer.

It is almost impossible to make someone feel an experience through words and you do just that, beautifully.

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

I didn't socialize AND I didn't do the work. It's a miracle I was never held back. But, like you, I always found that it was better to explain and solve than sell. And when no commission is on the line you are much more at ease because people see that you are not trying to snow them.

So if you're ever on Survivor (after all, who wouldn't want to be?) you should explain what you're stance is and then split to the other side of the island to let all the jerks fight it out. Because they're all trying - badly - to just sell each other. You'd be the winner, but, come to think of it, no one will remember you were ever there...

But I digress. Nice shot of your dad. Beware a lean fighting man. He's much more dangerous than a pumped up one. His story about his relationship with the local Vietnamese reminds me of the movie "Teahouse of the August Moon."


Tin-tin's phred/dad said...

Relationships are what it's all about!

The Koreans in photo with me and Team Sergeant, MSG Don Briscoe (splendid soldier and good friend) at my SF camp in VN were with the Korean "Tiger Division" who protected part of the highway between the coast and the 1st Cav base at An Khe. (Very tough soldiers; very competent.)
I was to their north (at the end of nowhere). We related well. They had minimal water and I had plenty (so they came up for hot showers, good booze and food). We stopped at their place for jars of Korean kimchi, "sticky rice" (marvelous large grains the size of rice krispies and ginseng adult beverage (with root still in the bottle).
In all, I spent well over 4 years working with Koreans in the U.S., VN, and Korea. Relations always cordial and successful (old Army slogan -- Cooperate and Graduate).

I used the same dodge when working with the "hated" media. I never lied to them. I told it like it really was and even showed them the covered maps and let them talk to the troops without monitoring the conversations. If a media type noted this frankness and inquired, I'd remind them that I'd arranged for their helicopter to pick them up very late in the day. And that by the time they reached Saigon it would all be history. The good ones appreciated this. The losers, as usual, just looked vacant.
Relationships really work!

tintin said...

Erica- I was thinking how everything boils down to how we relate. Whether you dig a ditch or you're the President.

ELS- I can only assume all of these erudite and sophisticated ladies are here due to you. Thank you. I bought Damien Rice's, O because of you. It's been my favorite this Thanksgiving. Cheer's, darlin.

Tish- I wish I thought I could write. See? There's a horrible sentence. But thank you anyway. I love your blog and the women you feature.

DB- You amaze me but why are watching Survivor? I have't seen Teahouse but will. Haney mentioned in his book that it was always the little guys who liked wire who could kick butt on the SF qualification course. My father observed that most people shoot high as well.

Dad, You amaze me the most but that's as it should be. I still have a love of Korean food and you're dead on about their rice. Still, I can't seem to find Makali in NYC.

Belle de Ville said...

This is a great post. Socialization, and sales skills are paramount to getting ahead in life, in the Miltary and out.
My brother is the CO of an important base in Europe and believe me, his socialization skills are paramount to building good relationships with the country he is in.
I have a nephew at Virginia Military majoring in Arabic and another nephew in his first year at Westpoint, and I have no doubt that their social skills are going to take them far...in the Military and out.
As your father says, relationships really work.

RulingPart said...

That's lovely. I really admire the way you write.

My own dad was a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam. He talks about it all the time. I got out of the guard before 9/11 and have felt guilty for it ever since, because a lot of guys in my old unit went.

Not to be forward, but it would be very interesting to know how you build these relationships. How do you do business with somebody you don't like? How do you work with somebody you don't like? I've read that you have left jobs because you couldn't stand people there, but certainly that's not your first move, is it? You must have some sort of strategy for dealing with the unloveable.

Perhaps a post?