Commitment, Love and Unvarnished Honesty – Lessons From Dad

Ben Estes 
Executive Vice President, Mentor Discover Inspire

My father’s name was Benjamin Lewis Estes. He was born on June 24, 1920 and died on November 17, 1999.  He was 9 years old when the Great Depression began. When he was 10, he found himself living in an orphanage. 

Although both of his parents were still living and both of them loved him (according to his version of events), both of them were battling their own demons and couldn’t manage to take care of him. From the orphanage he spent the next several years at St. Catherine’s Military School in Anaheim, California. 

By the time he was fifteen, he lied about his age and was working at a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Hawthorne, Nevada as a truck mechanic. In 1937 (when he was 17) he contacted his mother and asked her to give him permission to join the Navy. When Pearl Harbor was attacked four years later, my dad heard about it while at sea off the coast of New York. 

Suddenly the Navy grew exponentially, and my dad found himself leading lots of men, most of whom were many years older than he. For the next 16 years he traveled the world, saw combat, witnessed the worst and best that humanity has to offer. In 1948 while stationed in Panama, he met a nurse who was working at Gorgas Hospital (the American hospital in the Canal Zone), fell in love and married her in 1949. 

For the next 50 years until his death, they remained married, traveled the world together, raised three children and built a life together. My father battled depression and alcoholism. He achieved sobriety in 1964 and stayed sober for the rest of his life. 

He taught me the more I help others, the more I’ll love and appreciate my own life.

Although my father never grew up in a family and didn’t know how families work (i.e. sibling rivalry, rebellious teenagers, back-talk, etc.), he rolled up his sleeves and got busy trying to figure it out. I grew up watching my father learn how to be a sober family man. One of the things that I appreciated most about my father was he was transparent about his learning process. He shared his struggles and his breakthroughs with us.  What he lacked in practical experience he made up for with raw commitment, love, and unvarnished honesty. He was willing to fail and was unafraid of being wrong. 

He taught me many of the greatest lessons in my life in spite of the fact that his lessons always pissed me off and hurt my feelings at first. In July 1992 I attended the Sterling Men’s Weekend. I invited my dad to my Point Team Open House. He completed his SMW in November 1992 and we spent the next three years on a men’s team together.

I treasure the time we spent on a team together. 

We were able to work through all of the typical “father/son stuff.”

Looking back, I realize that he joined the team mostly because he loved me and wanted to spend time with me.

My father taught me many things that made me the man I am today. He taught me to let go of other people’s opinions and judgements of me. He taught me that I need to be a good man but it’s not for other people to tell me what that is. He taught me to be willing and able to give and receive the truth. He taught me to say what I mean and mean what I say. He taught me that some people will hate me, some people will love me, and some people won’t care one way or the other … and that’s the way it should be. He taught me the more I help others, the more I’ll love and appreciate my own life. And he taught me to lighten up by being a committed smart-ass.

It’s been almost 19 years since he died, and he’s still with me today and every day. I know exactly what he would say in any situation, and he still helps me through the passages of my life.

I love you Dad. Thank you for everything you gave and still give to me.

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