Today is the seven-year anniversary of the passing away of my Dad, Yew Khen Chan. He battled naso-pharyngeal (nose/throat) cancer for nearly six years, going into remission twice, before succumbing to the disease on December 9, 2005. Through his actions, my father taught me so many lessons about hard work and perseverance, and my life has been positively impacted as a result. Here is what I’ve learned from this great man.
My Dad immigrated to the US from Malaysia with my mother in 1976. While in Malaysia, he had a lot of success as a salesman for huge companies, but he and my mother decided to move to the US so my then-one-year-old sister and I (unborn at the time) could have a better education and brighter future. He and my mother sacrificed a comfortable life and took on a lot of risk in an unknown world so their children can have a better life.
I definitely got my risk tolerance from my Dad and he’s a huge reason why I’m an entrepreneur today.
My parents didn’t have college educations, which obviously makes finding jobs in a foreign land even more difficult than it already is. But that never stopped my Dad from achieving success. He used his work ethic and people skills to own and operate four restaurants over his career, and actually served lunch to Russell Simmons many times! After his restaurant career was over, he was able to apply his management and sales skills to other businesses in the self storage and software industries. He wasn’t the most classically educated man, but he used his street smarts and ability to learn to be successful.
Correct Failure and Reward Success
Because my Dad wanted my sister and me to always do the right thing, he was quick to punish us when we didn’t. But he would always follow up by thoroughly explaining why we were wrong and how we could improve. I remember the time when I left a waffle cooking in our broken toaster; the toaster didn’t pop up and this set our kitchen cabinet on fire. My Dad was absolutely livid for days but then when things calmed down, he sat me down and told me everything that I did wrong (some of which wasn’t totally obvious at the time). Then he grounded me for a long time. I got the point.
But when we exceeded expectations and did really well, he was quick to reward. Many times, my Dad would make me a deal – if I got straight A’s, he would buy me the shiny new toy I wanted. I didn’t always get that toy, but God knows I tried hard every time.
I apply how my Dad treated me as a son to how I treat the people who I manage – correct issues as soon as they arise and reward excellent work.
Live to Eat, Don’t Eat to Live
My Dad loved to eat, and this apple didn’t fall far from the tree, as anyone who knows me knows I love food. He always told me that you should be alive to eat and enjoy your food, and not eat just to stay alive. But his philosophy didn’t apply just to food. Basically, his mindset was that if you wanted something, work hard and reward yourself, because you only live once. My Dad wasn’t a superficial man, but he liked and wanted nice things. So he worked really hard and treated himself to delicious food, a Rolex, a big beautiful house, and his prize possession, a Lexus LS400.
My Dad’s battle with cancer is where I learned the most about the perseverance of my parents. He was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and as you would expect, this absolutely rocked my family’s world.
Before my Dad went through chemotherapy and radiation, my Mom researched everything she could do keep my Dad as healthy as possible throughout the process. She bought a ton of vitamins and supplements and adamantly fed them to him, regardless of how much he complained about how many massive pills he had to take. End result – my Dad made it through the treatment without losing another hair on his head (he was already balding, though) and his cancer went into remission.
Four years later, the cancer inevitably returned. This time, the situation would be much more trying. My Dad had to go through chemo, radiation, and surgery. He lost a bunch of hair and a lot of weight and was frequently irritable and stubborn. A lot of arguments occurred; the family dynamic really changed. Regardless, the cancer went into remission for the second time, which is basically unheard of.
Unfortunately, the cancer again returned in 2005. At this point, my Dad was six years older than when he first contracted the disease and his body had taken a lot of punishment. Treatment really left a mark on him and the cancer just wasn’t going away. The writing was on the wall; he was moved out of the hospital back home and we employed hospice care to make him as comfortable as possible during his remaining time. I was set to visit my family one weekend, when my sister told me early in the week that Dad didn’t have much time left. So I rushed home the next day to see him and he wound up passing away that night; basically, he stayed alive until I got home so he could see me one last time.
Every time I think that I can’t achieve something, I remember how my Dad persevered to beat cancer twice, and held on to life to say goodbye to me in person.
It’s clear that my Dad has been with me and my family in spirit even if he’s not with us physically. His lessons impact my life every day and I hope that he’s reading this from above. We all miss and love you, Dad.