News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 16, 2013

B.J. RILEY: Fathers are an inspiring figure

BJ Riley
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a salesman. In grade school, I was so excited about selling candy bars or candles or whatever the chosen product. I was thrilled knowing that I would get to walk around my neighborhood and knock on doors and sell whatever I had been given as a fundraiser. An early photo of me at the age of 5 or 6 shows me clad in a suit and a bow tie — the picture of a young salesman ready to make my next sale! Whenever people asked me why my life’s ambition was to be a salesman, I said it was because that was the profession of my father, Arthur Riley.

As we sit and think of our fathers today, I want to tell you a bit about my dad, who will be 81 this year and still goes to work each day. Dad has been a salesman for my entire life. For as long as I can remember, he was selling something. For a time when I was younger, he was a traveling salesman; he would leave the house each Monday morning and return each Friday night. On the days in between, he would visit coal mine offices and mine shops, selling mine supplies all over southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia.

He dressed the same each day in a dress shirt, with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearm (which by the way is how he dresses every day still), slacks and boots. Along the way, he met thousands of people and made hundreds of friends. I thought it was great that he made a living just going from business to business, visiting and talking and telling jokes and then finding out what his customers needed. One summer, he even took me along to show me what he did each week. From my viewpoint, he was the greatest salesman in the world, and I wanted to be just like him.

Dad dealt with some circumstances during my childhood that I hope I will never have to face. My mother passed away when I was 14 and my sister was 12. All of a sudden, he was a single parent. He approached that challenge just as he did all challenges and assured both of us that we would all be OK. He did not know how to cook or clean or do laundry (he still doesn’t), but he made sure that we ate each day, that our clothes were washed and that our house was clean.

One of my memories from childhood was Dad’s habit of using little phrases in conversations. After a while, I got used to them, and some I’ve even adopted. We call them “Artisms” at my house. For example, when he would want to get something done around the house, he would use “we,” as in “How about we paint the room today?” Well, my sister and I knew that “we” meant the two of us. Interestingly, if he were talking to just one of us, it became a singular use. As I got older, I would try to turn the tables on him by suggesting something like, “Why don’t we go look at that stereo system?” The proper Artism reply to that: “Do you have a mouse in your pocket?” The message was pretty clear.

Another favorite phrase was uttered whenever we got into the car to go someplace. Dad  would say, “We’re off like a herd of turtles!” I use that one today, whenever my family gets into the car to go on a trip. I say “We’re off!” and they reply “Like a herd of turtles!” I also learned that the phrase “we’ll see” actually meant “absolutely not!” So, when I would ask, “Dad, can I go to the movies tonight?” and I got the “we’ll see” response, I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere.

My dad and I didn’t always get along, but he always supported me. In the past, there were times that I didn’t take his advice. If the situation proved out that he was right, he would never gloat or tell me “I told you so,” but would help me work through the predicament. I still call him to ask for his advice. At the end of each telephone call, he concludes with “Remember the magic words” and I always reply “Sell, sell, sell!”

Dad taught me to do my best whatever the situation. Even today, when I turn to him for guidance, he’ll give me his take on the situation, then leave me with these words of encouragement: “Just give it your best shot.” That phrase carries meaning — it’s a mantra he lives by each day.

On this Father’s Day, I salute my dad. I respect him for his approach to life and admire his great attitude about the circumstances that he faced as a father. He tackled them head-on — and gave it his best shot.

Now, as a dad myself, I still want to be just like my own father. I want to make sure my kids are hardworking, respectful and understand values. I want them to understand that life is about the journey, not the destination. It’s what he tried to teach me and still emphasizes in our relationship today.

So, happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for all you’ve done and still do as a father. Remember the magic words…



B.J. Riley is the publisher of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-231-4297 or bjriley@tribstar.com.