Three Things I Learned from My Dad

I recently returned from traveling to my brother’s wedding in Jordan.  The trip was amazing, and I am so excited for my brother and his wife.

Here is a picture of the sunset at the Dead Sea that I took on the trip.  The far shore is Israel, and the near shore is Jordan.  Amazing.

As I was traveling, I started thinking about my parents and specifically, my father.

My father is a dentist and has been in practice for 40 years.  He immigrated to the United States at age 15.  He started high school as a senior speaking a second language and graduated high school at age 16.  He worked three jobs while going to college and dental school to support himself and his family.  He has four children and has been married to my mom for almost 40 years as well.  He has been awesome to have as a father.

I have learned so much from my father over the years that I thought I would highlight three specific principles that I have seen him demonstrate (and that I hope to emulate).

1. You Are Never Too Old to Learn

My father taught me that you are never too old to learn.

My dad is always reading.  He is always improving himself.  It is quite amazing.  My dad mainly reads nonfiction and nearly every book he reads is about improving himself.

As a kid, I remember going on family trips and vacations with my parents.  My dad always brought a stack of cassettes (this was the 80s after all) that he would cycle through in the car.  Since my dad listened, we all listened.

I remember listening to Zig Ziglar, Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, Denis Waitley, and many others.  My favorite speaker to listen to was Og Mandino.  Og’s stories captured me as a kid.  I have fond memories of listening to great stories like The Choice and The Spellbinder’s Gift.

Even after I stopped taking long trips with my parents, I continued to listen to the same types of motivational and leadership-based audio programs. When we were dating, my wife teased me about listening to educational cassettes instead of the radio.  She actually bought me as a gift an audio book narrated by Charlton Heston, which I loved, of course.

For many years, my dad has had mentors that he spent time with and learned from on a yearly basis. He paid significant amounts of money to attend a center for professional development that helped dentists.  After years of attending that center, he then helped as a mentor to other dentists like himself.

My dad even started taking me to seminars (Peter Lowe Success seminars – anyone remember those?) when I was a teenager. I remember listening to an entire day’s worth of motivational, leadership, and business leaders who spoke in huge sports arenas.  My dad wanted me to learn, by his side, from some of the world’s most successful people. I remember listening to Colin Powell, Jim Hubbell (the actual astronaut from Apollo 13), Brian Tracy, and many others.  Today, I still use some of the principles I learned from those seminars.

One of the best educational experiences I had with my dad was attending a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. I loved listening to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger speak about the economy, finances, and life. Much of the information was above my head, but being in that environment taught me something important. I was surrounded by 15,000 people who were as excited by business, finances, and investing as fans at a huge sporting event. I learned it was okay (and not completely abnormal) to have passion about my future and about my own success, rather than being excited as a fan of my favorite sports teams.  I still remember Warren Buffett’s best advice to a 12-year kid. I will not share that here, as I am actually writing another blog post about it (sorry for the tease, but the advice is unexpected and insightful).  Plus, the steaks in Omaha are huge.  And amazing.

As I showed an interest in these types of events, my dad started letting me borrow some of the books that he had already read.  In high school, I carried around an old copy of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, which I loved reading.  I even wrote a college entrance essay about George Leonard’s book Mastery.  I remember that I wrote about the last words of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.  Jigoro Kano asked to buried in a white belt, signifying that he was a beginner, again in death.  Kano’s message was that we are all beginners and that we should always cultivate the mindset of a beginner.  We need to learn like a beginner.  I still believe in the importance of always have a “white belt” mindset, or the mind of a beginner, like Jigoro Kano.

My dad has never stopped learning.  Even today, he is reading a new book planning to learn something new.  He told me about a new book two days ago!  I appreciate being around a person that never stops learning.  In many ways, my dad motivates me to keep learning and growing.  I still listen to audiobooks and podcasts and I read daily.  (I have, fortunately, upgraded from cassettes.)

I am certain that my father’s influence caused these habits.

I will never be too old to learn.

Thanks, Dad.

2. Work a Full Day

My father taught me how to work a full day.

Even though my father taught me to constantly learn, he has always been a man of action and an incredibly hard worker.

My dad came to the United States at age 15.  He came with his father and oldest brother. The goal was for all three of them to work and save enough money for my grandmother and my dad’s other five brothers to eventually immigrate to the United States.  My dad actually started his senior year of high school at age 15.  His high school classes were taught in a language that was not his primary language.  Additionally, he worked three jobs in order to live and provide support to his entire family.

After one year of high school in the United States, my dad went to college.  He still worked multiple jobs while going to school.  In the next two years, my father’s entire family immigrated to the United States.  Right after the entire family moved to Michigan, war broke out where they used to live.  They left at the perfect time.

My father kept working, however. After college, my father attended dental school and eventually graduated and started working as a dentist. He kept working hard and still supported his family as the Mashni clan settled into a new life in the United States.

Growing up, I have memories of my dad working long hours to build his dental practice.  I remember him getting home late – sometimes after dinner or after I was asleep.  He set an example that I think about today as I have my own family and children.

Even more importantly, he still invested time in his mind and his desire to learn and grow.  As I described above, he invested in learning continuously.  He did all this even when he spent considerable time building a dental practice.  He both worked hard in his profession and on his own mind.  He was working diligently in the moment and also focused on creating the future in which he wanted to live.  I love looking back on this example.

Yet even though he worked long hours in his dental practice, he did make time for his kids.

Here is one story where I was like most kids.  I wanted to be successful, but I did not know exactly what it took in terms of work ethic. I enjoyed science classes and activities as a kid, and I participated in something called Science Olympiad in middle and high school.  Science Olympiad is a type of science-based competition with dozens of different events. Each student usually participated in two to three events, depending on the amount of time that a student wanted to commit.  One of my events was called Tower Building. The event involved building the lightest tower possible that could hold up to 20 pounds of weight on top of the tower.

My dad was instrumental in my participation in this event. As a middle school kid, it was difficult to practice this event without some adult participation.  My dad worked a full day, and then came home after 6 pm, and some nights we would work together to build towers. Other nights we went to various stores near our house to find the lightest, but strongest, building materials (usually some type of balsa wood) we could find.  We tried different types of super glue and adhesives.  My dad worked a full day, and then he helped me during the night. I would attend a full day of school, then practice my events after school (including working on new towers and testing older ones), and then my dad and I would work together after he arrived home from work.

Remember, my dad is not an engineer.  He is a dentist.  It is not like either of us started with amazing tower-building skills.  But we learned together.  More importantly, we worked together.  I did nearly all the building, but we talked about ideas and techniques together.  We studied different building methods and we kept trying to learn. Best of all, while I actually built the tower, my dad was right next to me, talking about the process and enjoying the time we spent together.

We placed second in our first regional tower-building event.  Our school team placed first in the region, and we qualified for the state competition.

I am not sure if I would have worked as hard if my dad did not show me what it is like to work a full day, and then keep going after everyone else has stopped working.  Together, we kept working for the state competition.  Our best tower up to that point finished in the top five at the state event.  (I actually don’t remember where we finished – it might have been first, fifth, or somewhere in between).  We had a great tower for that event, but we knew we could do better. Fortunately, our team finished first in the state, and so we qualified to attend the team national competition. By this time, I was learning that we needed to keep experimenting with new ideas and keep building new towers. We would have another chance at the national competition, where schools from all over the country would compete in the same events.  We would be facing the best teams, and best individuals, from each state.

I remember my dad’s energy helped to keep me focused.  One weekend, we stayed up late building a tower.  I think it was a Sunday night.  Something seemed special about that tower.  It was actually the lightest tower that we built based on some new ideas.  I remember my dad going to sleep around 10 pm while I stayed up to finish building.  I stayed up past midnight, with school looming the next morning.

I took the tower to school the next day so we could test it after classes finished.  The tower was so light that we were afraid it would not perform as well. It held 10 pounds, 12 pounds, 16 pounds… we did not want to take it too far since it was our lightest tower and if it held up then we would want to keep it and use it during the national competition.  It held 18 pounds!  We stopped. If it held 20 pounds, then it would reach the maximum and we would get the most points possible – and at that point, the only way someone would beat us would be to have a lighter tower that held the same weight.  There were no signs of stress at just over 18 pounds, so we stopped.  We had a great tower.  Now we had to transport it across the country without any damage!

For weeks, we tried to build a better tower, but we could not do it.  This is where I learned a great lesson, again, from my dad.  We kept building, to get better. Even though we had some sense of security from our recent success, my dad demanded that we keep going – keep improving.

Even when we arrived at the national site, we kept building towers. We actually brought all our materials, including balsa wood, adhesives, and a testing rig.  We stayed up late the night before the final event, building one last tower.  We tested it around midnight, with the event starting early the next morning. I remember we built a good tower that night, but it was not lighter than the one we built previously and that we brought with us.

Ultimately, we used the same tower that held 18 pounds (out of 20 pounds required).  We had actually carried it on the plane since we did not trust anyone else to even touch it.  Amazingly, that tower placed second in the entire country for the event. The only tower that beat us was much lighter but did not hold even close to the entire weight – in other words, it won by a mathematical formula and not because it held more weight than us.  Regardless, I remember the feeling of walking up to the podium to receive my medal.  It was incredible feeling and moment.  How many times do you get to be second in the nation in anything?  Simply amazing.

I learned so much from that experience. Someone could say that we wasted so much time after we built our best tower a month earlier since we stayed up late even the night before the competition. My dad’s example and promptings to keep working and keep getting better are the best lessons that I learned from the entire experience. Those lessons were better and more valuable than the engineering and building skills that I developed building towers.  My dad did not want me to stop working when we built something great.  He wanted me to keep working.

My dad taught me how to work a full day.

Thanks, dad.

Success at the National Competition, with medals dangling

3. If You Don’t Have a Question, Then You Were Not Paying Attention

As a kid, my dad used to encourage me to listen more.  Maybe I talked too much?  You will have to ask him.

I remember that my dad told me to listen before I spoke.  He encouraged me to keep my mouth shut before I started talking.  In fact, he told me that I needed to listen so well that I would feel the need to ask a question after I stopped listening. His idea (I am not sure where he heard this – possibly from a book or from one of his mentors) was that anyone who is listening and actually processing and thinking about what they are listening to will be able – and will almost feel the need – to ask a question about what they were listening to.

My dad’s lesson: if you don’t have a question, you were not paying attention.

I have heard my dad say this multiple times, but there are many times when I do not want to ask a question.  Many times, I am in a meeting, and I just want the meeting to be done.  Asking a question would make the meeting last longer.  And a longer meeting is never a goal of mine (I hate most meetings).  Sometimes, there is a pride factor in not asking a question.  It can be hard to admit that we do not know the answer to something that seems like we should know it.  Or it might be fear that causes us to avoid speaking up.  Other times, we do not want to let others know that we do not understand something.  My dad would say the same thing in all these situations.  Ask the question that you pops into your head.  If you don’t ask a question, then you were not paying attention.

Now, I try to listen intently when someone is talking or when I have the chance to listen to a speaker. I hate to interrupt, so I will usually carry a yellow legal pad or use my phone to capture some of the question or thoughts that I have as I listen. Some of my phone or written notes may contain cryptic notes about my thoughts and questions, all because I do not want to be rude and interrupt but I do want to be able to clarify what I am hearing.

If I am listening to a speaker at a large event, I will often capture my questions and then email the speaker with those questions.  It can create a great way to follow up with people. I have found that people love to answer questions about something that they are passionate about.

There can be a fear in asking a question. For some reason, many people don’t ask questions because it requires them to expose themselves to the people around them.  Other times, you have to admit that you do not know the answer when you ask a question.

My dad encouraged me to ask questions.  Now, I try to reflect on my thoughts after I listen to someone speak.  I try to capture my immediate questions so I can remember to follow up.  We are given intuition for a reason.  I attempt to learn to listen to it daily.

Asking questions does not mean that I do not understand something.  You can ask to clarify or to take an idea further than the speaker took it.  You can also ask about applying what you listened to or taking the information to the next logical step.  You can also ask about the next best step for the speaker.  There are limitless possibilities. There is always a question to be asked, especially one that is non-trivial, non-obvious, and insightful.

And now, it is my time to add to what my father taught me. Now, when I ask a question after listening, my goal is not to find an answer but to listen to a viewpoint and to later reflect on this viewpoint when compared to my own or others that I have also contemplated.

The gift of listening is not necessarily in the answer.  It may be in the question.

I am so thankful for a father that encouraged me to ask questions and also taught me that it is okay to speak up when I don’t understand something (and even when I do).

My dad taught me that if I do not ask a question, then I was not paying attention.

Thanks, dad.


Let me know if any these lessons resonated with you!  Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.


  • Kristi Bicy

    I enjoyed reading this. The last lesson you listed about asking questions resonated with me. It was something that Jerome and other leaders of the City Life internship encouraged and I feel like great communicators really emphasize asking questions. As a teacher, clarifying misconceptions is so important so hopefully I can help my students (wee little 8 year olds) put this to practice!

    Something else I got from this is the importance of MODELING. As a mom, there are principles I want my children to hold onto. But those things won’t happen if I sit on my phone thumbing through Facebook and social media all day! (No wonder my daughter is on the iPad all day). Thanks for sharing!

    • John Mashni

      Thanks so much, Kristi! Jerome is definitely the master of asking questions. Also, the modeling is difficult. I have four kids and I think about his all of the time. Keep in touch!

  • Great post John. Such simple lessons but when they are modeled it really helps you emulate. I have met your dad in the past and I was always impressed with his books he was reading , his deep ability to listen. Your writing is getting better and better awesome to see. Thought you would enjoy the quote from Akira Kurosawa below

    • John Mashni

      I love the Kurosawa quote! Thanks the comment, Alpesh. I appreciate your feedback.

  • Charlie Green

    My email to John a while ago…….John, Great timing on the dad blog, i need to take a time out and appreciate what my dad has done for me. He is at a time in life where it might be said he is a burden on me….and i need to keep that mindset at bay. If I value who I am, then I have him to thank.
    I forwarded your last email/blog link to Phil Zeller who owns the Michigan Dale Carnegie franchise. Phil lost his dad not long ago. His dad was also a dentist, and Is living out many lessons from his dad. Phil was once homeless and working multiple part time jobs to put himself through school – some lessons his dad “let” him learn.
    I find your Warren Buffet connection interesting too…. in his biography Snowball he mentions Dale Carnegie several times and his Dale Carnegie diploma is the only certificate on his office wall. Carnegie was merely a curious guy who documented what successful people were doing differently than others…he would have learned from your dad!
    Thanks for passing on your dads wisdom.

    • John Mashni

      My pleasure, Charlie! Thanks for commenting. I have met Phil briefly, and I was impressed in the short interaction.

  • Wow John, wow!

    This post was surreal and made me think about the lessons my father has bestowed upon me. I greatly appreciate the last lesson – in fact, I was taken aback by it! I was brought back to all the meetings I’ve sat through, presentations and training I have endured and realized that I had not been paying attention.

    With that said, the only question I have for you is this…Which of the 3 lessons has made the most impact on your life?

    • John Mashni

      Great question – I am not sure actually. Probably the hard work lesson. But they are all important. Thanks for reading!