Lessons Learned From My Late Dad

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.

Take Risks

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.

Be Resourceful

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.

11 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From My Late Dad

  1. Thanks, Mike (and Julia) for sharing this piece. A great reminder to all of us to appreciate our parents and the amazing sacrifices they have made to make us who we are!

  2. I had only one (and very memorable) encounter with my late father-in-law. He was discharged from the hospital that day and we had to bring him back to the emergency room later on that night. His body was frail from the illness, and he could not speak because of the tracheostomy tube. Next day, as soon as he saw me walk into the room he began writing to me. He wanted to make sure that Mike was taking care of me and that I was comfortable. All I can think of is how can anyone, who just went through what he experienced in the last 24 hours, be concerned about the comfort of a girl whom he’d just met. This is the man I remember and miss. I wish I had more time to get to know him.

  3. Amazing piece, Mike! Thank you so much for writing this and honoring Daddy! So much I see in me is from what I learned from Daddy as well. Everything from my stubbornness to my toes (literally!!).

    I wanted to add a few tid bits of my own that truly made Daddy the best dad!

    – Every time we came home from college, daddy would go and buy lobster and abalone. And made sure that you and I ate first before he got to enjoy!
    – When we were home visiting, he’d get up in the early morning and cook breakfast for us and wait for us to get up – hours before we did so. My alarm was his intense rapid stirring of his coffee.
    – When he experienced something in life, whether business related or a life lesson, he’d always so to mama, “Oh, I have to tell Mike and Julia so they can learn…” – that was what mommy used to tell me.
    – Our 2 hour lectures in the living room that we dreaded. We would listen to 1/3 of what he was saying, nod, and watch tv. He knew but as long as he told us about life and how to be in life, that’s all that counts.
    – His stubborn ways. On his last days, he wouldn’t let me help him sit up at his bed. He’d want to do it on his own and when I did help him, he’d look at me, smile, and pat my face as a thank you since he couldn’t speak anymore.
    – I was the last one with him when he passed. I dreaded sleeping next to him but did so to give mom a break. And of course, that was when he took his last breath of air. But he made sure that he opened his eyes to take one more look before he closed them again and drifted off to sleep.

    Miss him so much but glad to see that you and I can pass on his amazing qualities…and his name!

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