How I got Dad’s smile.

Little things with big impact.

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Dad was brought up in a generation, country and family where you greeted everyone you saw or met. He took this legacy, and added to it a megawatt smile, which has become a trademark to all who know him. He lives this principle to this day, no matter where he is and how he is feeling.

Photo: Imbue Publishing. South Africa, Dad in his twenties.

I was in my twenties and a newly appointed lecturer when I was invited to an event with colleagues from other colleges and universities. After deciding on just the right dress (and heels), I called up my parents and confessed that I was nervous – everyone there was wiser, older, smarter, and terribly accomplished.

Mum offered me an anecdote. Dad told me that all I had to do was smile and listen to whoever I was talking to. Then, when introducing myself, I should say something that was completely unrelated to work and avoid anything that smacked of what I had achieved.

Similarly, when I was appointed as a headteacher, Dad had this advice:

  • Smile at all your staff, and ask them how their day is going.
  • Make a special effort to talk to the people whose work is not always appreciated, for example, the cleaning crew.
  • Take an interest in your staff, particularly their children/grandchildren. When all is said and done, that’s the most precious thing to everyone.
  • Remember that the biggest alliances are forged, and the crucial deals are struck, well before the start of the golf game – informally, when trust and respect are built – not around a table or during the board meeting.

Later in life when I failed repeatedly, Dad’s advice was to stand up for myself. His exact words were: “You go get them my girl. We are behind you.”

He added that I should hold my head up high and I should, yep, smile.

Dad’s smile never faltered, no matter what life threw at him. About 30 years ago, he visited London for the first time. He wanted to play a round of golf and took the train to the club. When he returned we asked him how he found it. He said that he loved the game but was surprised at the people on the train. He had greeted the passengers who were seated on either side of him; one had shrunk away in horror, while the other frowned dismissively. Undaunted, when getting off the train he wished them a good day.

Dad’s smile formula is not only charming; it is backed up by science.  Research shows that smiling makes you look younger; thinner; induces pleasure in the brain more than chocolate can; makes you look more likable and competent; boosts mood and predicts fulfilment in marriage.

As for the anecdote that Mum offered me all those years ago? Here it is:

They were at a wedding when one of the guests came up to them and hugged them:

Guest: “Hello Bob and Molly! It’s so good to see you again. Has it been 10 years already?”

Mum: “How wonderful to see you too. How are you? How’s the family?”

Guest answered.

Mum turning to Dad: “You remember who this is, don’t you Bob?”

Dad: “I’m sorry, I can’t seem to remember. I must be getting old.”

Mum: “Oh Bob!”

Mum touching guest and leaning in: “Tell him who you are!”

As Mum later confessed, she didn’t know either! Ah, I always knew there was science behind their 57-year marriage.

As I’ve grown older and a bit wiser, I realise that I was mentored in the art of networking, branding, relationship building, negotiation, and resilience. Dad’s smile modeled this for me. I think I’ve learnt it now. Everywhere I go, people comment on my smile. Even strangers on the train…

Happy Father’s Day Dad, and all dads and father figures who are role models and mentors.

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