From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

What’s in a Name?

Modeling may not only be the best way to teach; it may be the only way to teach.

Albert Schweitzer

It had been a long, brutal day on the sales floor for young Brent. He’d had his share of “ups”—what retail salespeople say when it’s their turn with the next customer—and more than his share of downs. And now he was in danger of being shut out for the day.

He hadn’t been shut out in a long time. Even in his early days with the company, he could always sell something to someone. That’s why he became assistant manager so quickly. He was a good salesman. A natural. And he had a knack for turning new customers into repeat customers.

But on this day, there were no customers. At least none who wanted to buy. Plenty of customers wanted to look, and he spent a lot of time with each one. But he could never close the deal. This, of course, exposed him to some good-natured ridicule from his associates, who took not-so-secret delight in seeing the sales prodigy get his comeuppance.

Brent had more at stake here than just professional pride and reputation, however. Brent was a new father. He and his wife, Kay, had decided that she would be a full-time mom, which meant he would financially support the family. When he did well on the sales floor, finances weren’t a problem. But when he struggled to make sales, the whole family struggled.

And on this day, he was struggling.

Toward the end of the day, a man came in to buy a suit. This was potentially a good sale, the kind that can turn a bad day into a good one—just like that. Brent worked hard to make the sale. The man tried on several suits. Brent carefully explained the materials, the craftsmanship, and why these suits, although expensive, were such a good buy.

The man hesitated. Brent knew all too well the look he saw in his eyes—the look of a customer about to walk out the door empty-handed—and he was tempted to use some of the tricks he had learned to pressure people into making a purchase. But he had long since decided that high pressure salesmanship wasn’t the way he wanted to do business. So when it became clear that the man was going to leave to do a little comparison shopping, Brent handed him his business card and invited him to return after he’d had a chance to look around.

The man looked at Brent’s card, then took a long look at Brent.

“So you’re Brent’s boy,” the man said, referring to the the card that identified him as Brent Jr.

“Do you know my dad?” Brent asked.

“Sure do,” the man said. They chatted for a moment, establishing the link between father and son. Then the man said, “Your dad’s a good man. If you’re anything like him . . . well, tell me again about that suit.”

Brent made the sale. But that wasn’t why he called his father that night to recount the story. “I just wanted to thank you,” he said, “for giving me a name I can be proud of.”

Tears were in Brent Sr.’s eyes as he hung up the phone, and gratitude in his heart that for all of the dumb things he had done in his life—and we all do them, don’t we?—he hadn’t done anything dumb enough to dishonor the name he shared with his son.

Joseph Walker

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