Was the Doctor a Good Parent?

Studies show parents lead by example, teaching children more by their actions than their words. A holiday visit with his sister leads columnist Greg Kelly to examine his physician-father's example.

“Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.”

—Dr. Carl Jung

I just spent a glorious Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Texas with my sister. Sheila (Kelly) Sharemet is the real deal. She fills my heart with hope.

Strong and structured, determined and dedicated, funny and fair, Sheila is a splendid example of a productive person. Throw in cancer survivor (she’s closing in on five years from a deadly diagnosis) and I’m talking about one of my personal heroes.

Sheila has worked in the health field for more than 30 years (mostly as the supervisor of a top corporate health and fitness center) and I’ve come to learn that her commitment to the care of the human condition—mind, body and soul—is every bit as sound as that of our father.

This past weekend and previously we had several frank talks about our physician-father. “Was he a good parent?” is probably the most enticing sibling query between us. We both realize he was a very busy physician and that his patients and practice took precedence. But we have opposing opinions about his abilities as a father, even if we agree that he was an exceptional healer.

I think the differences have more to do with geography during our formative years. Sheila elected to go to a college 250 miles away; mine was less than five miles from home. I simply got more time with him.

Both of us agree that dad taught through example. We don’t recall any high platitudes about achievement or erudite lessons on life. He just did—and seldom if ever talked about it. We both hungered from more.

If only we’d had Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha is out with a new book, How to Start Your Very First Business, which says, “practicing good habits over a lifetime can have huge beneficial consequences, not just for business, but for a person's happiness and even how their families develop.”

In his book are these five gems about life. Sheila would agree that we never got anything close to this from our father, but I think the good doctor would have approved of all of them.

• “The more you learn, the more you earn!”

• “Failure isn't falling down, it's staying down.”

• “You can't make a good deal with a bad person.”

• “There are an unlimited number of good things to be done in the world.”

• “Don’t save what is left after spending, spend what is left after saving.”