by michael on January 19, 2011

I wish I could get outdoors more—more camping, hiking, fishing, clay target shooting. Whatever. I confess that when I visit outdoor sporting conventions and sporting goods shops, I have a touch of envy—more than a touch, truly—for those that manage to escape the office and the city and commune with Nature, the noblest cathedral.

One of the sporting goods stores I have visited for almost two decades is Cabela’s. The first time I stopped at a Cabela’s store was on my return from Hebron, Nebraska, visiting Nancy’s folks. What a wonderland of great stuff!!

Fate has brought me to a friendship with David Cabela, son of Dick Cabela, a founder of Cabela’s. I sent David a copy of “The Good, The Bad and The Difference.” David sent me a copy of the just-published book, “Two Hearts in Tanzania: Dick and Mary Cabela’s Hunting Chronicles II,” in which David played a significant role in writing and publishing.

David and I chatted on the phone a few days ago, discussing in a rambling way, as friends do, examples of the influence parents have on their children. David spoke vividly and reverentially about his parents and the lessons they passed on to him. I asked if he might be willing to write a few words for me to share on this blog.

HERE ARE DAVID’S WORDS. I could not have anticipated the power of his story.

My grandmother used to tell a story about my father. Only now do I understand why she told it to us. It is a story about three people, my grandmother, my grandfather, and my father. The story illustrates a strength I have never known, a challenge of a severity I have never had to face.

My father grew up during the 1940’s, during the height of the polio epidemic. It swept across America like a plague. It attacked the country’s children with total disregard for their desire to just be—it tried to steal their youth. But polio misjudged a child’s ability to believe. The pernicious diseased misjudged a person’s character.

For my father, a polio diagnosis meant responding to the allure of the Nebraska prairie would have to wait. But my dad needed more than the backyard—he needed the promise of adventure beyond. So shackled in leg braces, he stumbled away from the house a little further each day. He refused to be bound by braces.

The doctors told my grandparents that the only way for my father’s legs to strengthen and for him to live a normal life was to make him fight the conditions of the disease on his own. If there would be triumph, it must be his.

So my grandparents watched from the window as my dad, their first born, with bloody knees and elbows, tripped and fell relearning to walk down the lonely street. And as my grandfather’s eyes blurred with tears for one of the few times in the more than ninety years, he watched his son learn self-reliance, patience, perseverance, hope, and courage. He watched his son deal with pain and blood. But he never saw his son yield to defeat and failure.

Fifteen years later, my father, Dick Cabela, founded Cabela’s. He, his wife, Mary, and his brother, Jim, started with a handful of fly fishing flies, a fistful of determination and a strong set of core beliefs. They built a business empire based on hard work, moral integrity and uncompromising honesty.

“Honesty above all,” my dad told me again and again. My dad, Mary and Jim believed a person’s handshake was as good as his signature. They believed capitalism worked best when people trusted each other. And to earn the trust of their customers, they stood behind their products. My father’s company has touched the lives of outdoor enthusiasts across the globe.

I spent the day with my parents recently at a hunter’s convention in Dallas. The numbers of friends and strangers who wanted to shake my father’s hand reached beyond the convention’s closing time. They said, “We value your friendship.” “We love your products.” “We love your business.” “What does it take to accomplish what you have?” To this he answered simply, “Be honest.”

Later, in a moment of reflection on the day, he said to me, “All we did was live our lives.”

But my dad was too modest. My parents did not just live their lives. It was how they lived their lives. When folks expressed their admiration to my parents, they were really expressing their admiration for my parents’ values; for their honor, their integrity, their dedication to quality and respect for their customers.

Yet their admiration was incredulous to him because, before he was a father and a grandfather and a great-grandfather, his parents taught him through their example, by their ethics, to just live your life with integrity. His parents trusted him to understand that all the achievements in the world meant nothing without noble values to back them up. Thus it came natural to my dad because his parents nurtured the good that already resided in him.

My father gave me much. I am deeply indebted to him. Little of what he gave me actually has to do with Cabela’s, our wonderful family business. I may never be able to repay him fully for his gifts to me but if I pass on to my children even some of what he gave me, then I, too, will have accomplished something worthwhile.


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