The World’s Strongest Man
by Keith Castleman
My dad was a lot like most dads: he was the strongest person
I’ve ever known. When I say strong, I don’t necessarily mean physically
(he is a big man, though) as much as emotionally. For some reason I got
the unique privilege of working on our farm with him every weekend when
I was a kid while my older siblings usually got the privilege of sleeping
in. My brother somehow convinced my dad that he was allergic to hay. I
still think my brother was fake-sneezing all those times just to get out
of work, but he got away with it, so good for him.
One particular Saturday, my dad decided that we needed to burn some big
piles of brush. What this means is that my dad would drive around all
over those 1,000 acres on a tractor doing nothing while I stood by the
burning pile of branches and made sure the fire kept burning. We were
doing this in the SUMMER … in ARKANSAS. The town I grew up in was named
Clarksville, but in August you might as well call it Sweatville and, if
you look for it on a map, you can find it about 10 miles north of Hell.
That being said, my father figured this particular August day would be
a great day to start a fire.
We got out there around 8 a.m. and started the fire and, at around 9 a.m.
my dad went somewhere on the tractor and left me to attend to the fire.
Naturally I got thirsty around 9:01 and went to the truck to get a drink
of water. Well, one drink turned into two and then three and then, around
10 a.m., I wondered what would happen if I just dumped out all the water.
Around 10:30, I heard the tractor coming back and I looked over my shoulder
to watch my dad head for the truck to grab our water jug.
“Hey, Keith, come over here for a minute,” he yelled at me from about
50 yards away. At this moment I stayed as close to the fire as I could
to make sure I looked like I was about to have a heat stroke.
When I finally made it over to him I said, “Boy, Dad, sure is hot out
“Son, why did you drink all the water?” he questioned.
“That was ALL the water?” I tried to sound equal parts surprised and exhausted
and desperate for more water.
“Come on, let’s get that fire under control and head back to the house,”
He didn’t know it, but I was way ahead of him. I had spent the last half
hour getting the fire ready to put out so we could leave quickly, which
we did. When we got back to the house, we woke up my brother and sister
and, the next thing you know, my old man was asleep in his chair. The
whole day slipped away and we never had to go back out into the inferno
for the rest of the weekend.
The next Saturday I once again found myself getting my work clothes on
and going to burn fallen trees. The day started exactly the same way.
Fire started, dad drove off on the tractor and I dump out all the water.
This time, though, he came back a little bit quicker and went straight
for the truck. “Hey son, looks like you’re out of water,” he yelled as
he held up the empty jug. “Good thing I brought my own water this week!”
In that instant he reached behind the seat and pulled out another jug
that he took with him on his tractor as he drove off. That day was as
close as I’ve ever come to a heat stroke. We worked on that farm all afternoon
in ridiculous heat and by noon I was drinking stagnant water from a pond.
Yes, he was the strongest man I’ve ever met. He was the leader of our
family in every aspect. He was very decisive and there was no thought
of questioning him … ever … for any reason … even if he was wrong. Yet
while there were occasions when I would be furious with his decisions,
I found a great deal of comfort in knowing that he was always doing what
he thought was best for me. I knew that he loved me and that he only wanted
great things for me. I suppose he pulled that water gag to teach me to
not take an easy way out, or to have a great work ethic, or maybe even
to never burn brush in August in Arkansas. Whichever it was, I’m sure
in his mind he thought he was teaching me some sort of life lesson.
I see businesses today all over the country that are still managing to
thrive and be profitable even in today’s economy. The one thing that they
all have in common is a really strong leader. These times require the
best leadership and, in almost every case, the businesses with the strongest
leaders are the most successful. In many of these cases, the leaders push
their employees very hard; they demand performance and are not the least
bit afraid of anything that might come their way. The weaker employees
complain and resist and disappear while the people who want to be successful
respond and push themselves harder and harder and get better and better.
The fact is that good people respond to strong leadership as long as they
know you have their best interest at heart—even if you do take their water
away every now and then.
Keith Castleman is manager of 84 Lumber in Blue Springs, Mo. Mr.
Castleman’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect
those of this magazine.
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