Things My Father Taught Me: Brad Wastler

Most of the stories I know of my grandfather and my great-grandfather are largely exaggerated. They’re tales handed down from my father and his siblings. I was told my great-grandfather was the only man in Alton, Illinois who drove a convertible with reclining front seats, and his friend Robert Wadlow, the tallest man to have ever lived, would occasionally borrow my grandfather’s car to cruise for chicks.

I am a snoop, always finding Christmas presents well in advance of the holiday. One year, while sneaking around in my dad’s closet, I uncovered a prayer book that had once belonged to my grandfather. I know this, because, in the front of the book, in the most precise penmanship, on the line beneath “Property of” was written “Harlan Charles Wastler.”

When I was caught by my father, and let it be known I was always caught while snooping (at least that’s what I’ll tell the authorities), he told me — I swear to this day — that my grandfather had such nice penmanship that he was often asked to handwrite the entire Bible. Until as recently as a couple years ago, I still believed this to be fact. I figured he would just do it for fun after work while listening to the Cardinals game on the radio, and I imagined a large shelf above his head with beautiful leather-bound journals filled with blank pages, awaiting his quill.

My grandfather died when my dad was seventeen. It left my father, who was all set to leave for college, to stay behind and help to take care of his younger brothers, twins Mark and Matt. My mother too lost her mother at a very young age and was relied upon to care for younger siblings. I think it’s part of what’s shaped my appreciation for what my parents did and what all parents do.

My brother Ben and I are lucky to have the parents we do. They had something of a trial period prior to raising us, and we got their best effort. In New York, while studying acting, I had an instructor who encouraged us to go back and research our family histories. “You’ll have a better idea of where you’re going if you know where you come from.” It was at this time I began recording my family’s history, and since then, I’ve had a fascination with origin stories of all kinds.

And so it is, as today is Father’s Day, and my dad is celebrating his last before becoming a grandfather, I am able to learn a bit more about the man who shaped the one I’ve idolized for my thirty-two years in his care. Thank you, dad, for taking time to share some things your father taught you.

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Things My Father Taught Me: Ben Wastler

A couple years ago, on the phone with an ex-girlfriend, I made mention of the word, “hero.”

“You use that word a lot.”
“Yeah. Have you ever thought about making a list of all your ‘heroes?’ Maybe you could do a blog post on it.”

I sat down after that conversation, and I jotted down the name of the first person to come to mind. And then I was completely stuck, fascinated by the name I wrote down. Not of some fancy designer, not of a leader in business, not of a musician, an artist, an athlete, and surprisingly, not of our father, it was the name of my brother. Ben’s a hero.

Here is how that post began:

Ben, younger than me, moves with a force unlike anyone I know. From the time we were born, Ben was good at most things. Sociable, happy, athletic, smart to a point, and willing to work hard when the smarts quit out.

Unlike me, he always had many friends. He’s still close with a large group of them from high school and college. And he works to keep in touch with them, even though they’ve spread out all over the place.

When I think back to our time as kids, Ben was always more willing to share than his big brother. He was also more willing to destroy my toys when he didn’t get his way (I recall a certain G.I. Joe birthday where legs literally flew). He was also quick to provide a genuine “Thank you,” thus making mine appear a formality, more than a true showing of gratitude. But how can I fault him? He is just nicer than me.

Today, I’ll continue expounding on why my brother is a hero, but first, it’s important to understand why his contribution comes five years into this series. In about two weeks, for the first time, Ben is going to be a father. That also means for the first time, my dad is going to be a grandfather. This year seemed like an appropriate one to include something from the two most important men in my life, and my father’s post will follow Ben’s later today.

Ben. Ben is driven. Ben is sweet. Ben is curious. Ben is pious. Ben is a student of — and for a time, he was a teacher with — the Jesuits. Ben is well-versed in English Premiership. Ben can wander off unannounced at times. Ben has a terrific, distinctive laugh. Ben is a son. Ben is a brother. Ben is a husband. Ben will be a great father.

Before you read what he wrote, I feel it’s my duty as his older brother to share a story that pertains to the one you’re about to read. In the summer of 2002, Ben was set to leave for college, and my parents were preparing for an empty nest. We were approached by the local NBC affiliate to play the centerpiece on the subject. In the segment, the question was posed to each of us, separately, “Who will take it worse, mom or dad?” My mother responded that they would both struggle, but ultimately it would be harder on my father. I said, “My dad.” My father’s response took the cake: “I’m going to be a mess,” and Ben — Ben who’s never wrong, said, “Definitely my mom.”

An important fact to remember while enjoying his story.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Jeff Thrope

Someone once told me there’s no one better suited to do what he does than Jeff. Mr. Thrope is a kind of guru in the world of outdoor clothing. He doesn’t get super technical when talking about it, and that’s what makes his work so wonderfully good and approachable. But to hear him tell it, he wasn’t coaxed into a life in the wild in the way I was. My father often admits he might have been a park ranger in another life. I don’t know that Jeff’s dad would say the same.

The few times we’ve hung out Jeff’s been easy as pie to get along with, suuuuper chill, and just doin’ his thing. Sounds like a chip off the old block to me.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Michael Kiser

I’d just apologized for something. Again. I have a bad habit of using the word “sorry” when what I really mean to say is, “I let you down” or “that wasn’t my best” or “give me another shot. I can do it better.”

As Kiser’s pointing this out, I’m thinking about this guy, this man, this friend of mine, with a life, with passions similar to my own. We both enjoy elements of the game of baseball. We are both incredibly well-versed in our opinions of good design. Within each of us lives a poet and orator, begging to be let out every once in a while. And we are both students of history.

Then, I recall some off-handed remark he made about his mom, and another tale he once told me of his father, and I’m piecing it together. This is a guy who’s heard the words “I’m sorry” a time or two in his life. In his history there’s gotta be a well-worn path around those words. I wish I could snatch them back and hold them. But there they are. And he knows what I mean, probably better than I know what I mean.

If you’ve ever spoken with him, you know Michael Kiser is brilliant. He offers perspective on a myriad of subjects, and when he does, it feels polished, spot on, even factual. Where I’m uncouth, he’s Mr. Smooth. There’s that orator for you. An idea man if ever there was one, with his blog Good Beer Hunting and moreover with the design and innovation work he’s done for companies that make everything from beer to cell phones, Michael Kiser is unmatched in this world.

Imagine that. Now, imagine this. As friend, and as what I know him to be as a husband, he is even better.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Matt Springer

Kindness. Mr. Matt Springer has it in spades. A deep baritone. Soft-spoken. Well-spoken. Even-keeled.

Matt Springer is a good friend. Matt is one-fourth Made Right Here. He’s the one moving the meter on the little TV Pilot we put together with Joe Gannon and Rick Page. He’s father to two beautiful children and husband to an even more beautiful wife, Greta. They’re entirely responsible for turning Nashville into my home-away-from-home. As Joe would say, Matt’s my “homeboy.” He’s fast to make everybody feel comfortable and at home, which is great when things are good, even better when they aren’t, like when tensions arise in meetings.

It was so hot in the cramped corner of Architectural Antiques in Minneapolis, Minnesota that Bruce had removed his shoes. This was where Matt’s dad, Bruce Springer, hovered over an electric griddle flipping pancakes for unsuspecting passersby.

“Hot in here, isn’t Bruce?” I would ask him in roughly thirty minute intervals.

“Woo!” He’d reply every time.

He’d smile and laugh and flip a pancake.

A couple years ago, Joe and I teamed up with Matt’s parents, Bruce and Judy, for the debut of Buckshot Sonny’s at the menswear market known as Northern Grade. In their hometown of Cashton, Wisconsin, they run a pancake company called, appropriately The Great American Pancake Company. Someone, probably Joe, suggested they join us at the market, and I’m so glad they did. They killed it and made the debut of our little shop incredibly special. And it’s thanks to them that today we sell an exclusively made buckwheat pancake mix on the site.

Of this year’s crop of submissions, Bruce may be the only of my friends’ fathers I have met. I enjoy the opportunities I get on the phone with Mr. Springer. He’s an impassioned speaker, his son’s biggest supporter, and he has a businessman’s brain: quick with facts and figures on his beloved pancake products.

I’m so thankful for people like the Springers. And I’m happy Matt took time to share the story of his father, Bruce.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Andrew Romano

I first became aware of his writing in 2008, when he was blogging from the campaign trail on something called Stumper for Newsweek. Then, I learned he runs this incredibly involved and well-honed design and music tumblr, Covenger + Kester. Though we’ve only run into one another a handful of times, and each encounter has been incredibly brief, Andrew Romano has always taken time to “catch up.” Though he’s made his living as a professional journalist, and I’m just a hack blogger, he treats me as his equal. Perhaps, it’s behavior he picked from his father.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Sean Callahan

Sean and I work together. I sit in a division of the office lovingly referred to as “Callahan’s Corner.” I can’t tell you just how happy it makes me to come into work every morning knowing I’m a member of Callahan’s Corner. Sean does that to people. I no sooner started, and Sean made me feel like family.

We are both from Saint Louis. Sean went to my rival high school, the same high school as my younger brother. If you’re unfamiliar with Saint Louis, know one thing: the cliché is true. Where you went to high school is truly, unbelievably important. Almost instantly, it was as though I was sharing a room with my brother again: I could feel Sean rolling his eyes behind me, and occasionally, I could hear a grumble of heckling from behind Sean’s glass door. I loved it. Reminded me of home. It felt like I was back in the Steak ‘n Shake parking lot after a game, listening to The Urge’s “It’s Gettin’ Hectic.”

As the redbirds made a playoff run last fall, Sean and I first bonded over Cardinals baseball. On the couches in front of the flat screen in the office’s main entrance, while shoveling burritos and sucking back an ice cold Budweiser, I came to know this guy, this funny, loud, passionate guy.

And boy, is he passionate. Whether it’s the jam fest of Phish, The Black Crowes, and AC/DC which will start to emanate from his office like clockwork one hour before quittin’ time, or a lengthy discussion on the color of a beer bottle, he’ll let his passions be known, and you can’t help it if you appreciate it.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I received a more well-rounded understanding of the guy. For a couple months, as much as he tried to leave the personal strife at home, Callahan’s Corner became a more somber place, as Sean’s dad was losing his battle with cancer. Unbeknownst to Sean, my uncle wasn’t doing well either. He was the first of my parents’ ten siblings to die. He passed at just about the same time as Sean’s dad. I didn’t say anything, at least not at first, but following Sean’s lead, I was made more comfortable in dealing with my loss — however differently as it was my uncle and not my father. When we finally commiserated, Sean shared the eulogy for his father with me, and he gave me permission to share a portion of it with you here.

It’s a time I won’t soon forget, and Sean’s a guy I’ll never forget. A great guy, a passionate guy, and zip code be damned, make no mistake that nasally accent and that bright red ball cap are two solid indications, he’s a Saint Louisan, through and through.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Tyler Thoreson

Tyler Thoreson. Today, he’s the VP of Men’s Editorial, Creative & Customer Experience for GiltMan. At the time I learned of him, he was co-hosting a web series called “In the Closet” for MenDotStyle. And around that time, I recalled a photo of him showing up on The Sartorialist. There he was, this guy at a runway presentation wearing garish, yellow socks, staring dead-eyed into the camera. Since then, I’ve come to know Tyler through his writing and the segments he does on television. I appreciate his ability to explain the world of men’s dress with a few simple sentences. I have to assume it comes from the lessons in mechanics handed down from his father.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Jerry O’Leary

Design Director at IDEO and co-founder of central standard timing, a watch company which was successfully launched on Kickstarter earlier this year, Jerry O’Leary is keen to wear many hats, figuratively speaking. Earlier this year, my girlfriend attended a talk referred to as “IDEO Stories: An Evening of Storytelling at the Intersection of Design, Creativity and Everyday Life (Minus the Boring Bits).” It was an opportunity for employees of the design firm to share their origin stories or to provide a bit of background on how they became designers.

Afterwards, she raced home to tell me about this unbelievable, moving, and sometimes hilarious talk our friend Jerry gave. “You would love it. It would fit right in with the Things My Father Taught Me.” As so many times before, my girlfriend was right. Please set aside fifteen minutes to watch and listen to “Fake It ’til You Make It,” the story of a boy and his father, growing up in London, learning how to get by and becoming a world-class designer in the process.
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Things My Father Taught Me: Sean Hotchkiss

Sean Hotchkiss is a handsome devil. He is fearless. I admire the way he is always putting himself out there in new and different ways. I first learned of him while he was crafting posts for the Khaki Crusader, and later the GQ Eye and J. Crew, and it’s been great to follow along as he’s advanced in his career as a writer and a photographer.

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