Lessons from Mom and Dad

Dad Maggie Steve Mom

September 24, 2011

“Your life can be a stepping stone for your children to do greater things or it can be a stumbling block that causes them to struggle and live in mediocrity.” –Joel Osteen

We all have a mom and dad. Some of us are even fortunate enough to feel proud of them. If you fall into that category, do you think of your parents as leaders?

My friend, Lowell Nerenberg – an executive leadership coach in the DC area – blogged about the notion (fact, really) that we’re never not leading. This is especially apparent with parents. Many of us look up to our parents, learn about life from them and … perhaps even spend a lifetime seeking their approval. Entering my 41st year as Marvin and Sharyn Dorfman’s son, I’m especially conscious of the multitude of positive examples my parents have set for me, my brother Rich, sister Jodi and countless others who’ve been fortunate enough to know them through the years.

It’s easy – especially when it comes to immediate family – to find and focus on what’s “broken,” wrong, or that which simply drives us crazy. However, I find it’s far more important to remind ourselves of the many lessons imparted – and reflect upon what we are grateful for.

The saying “actions speak louder than words” is especially true with my parents. Reflecting on many conversations with them, it’s clear to me that my folks go through life not fully realizing the impact of those (positive) actions on others. Here’s what I’ve learned from Mom and Dad, not from their words, but from their deeds.


With Mom and Dad, what you see is what you get. I’ve never known my parents to put on airs or try to appear to be something they are not. Too often, we worry about what others will think – if we say or do a certain thing, will we look good in the eyes of others? But when you live authentically – being who you are and not caring what others think, this doesn’t tend to matter so much. It’s like Dr. Seuss said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”


One of the most important elements of integrity is doing what you said you would do; honoring your word. By the way, as I see it, there is a difference between honoring your word and keeping your word: With punctuality as the example, a person who keeps his word will be on time perhaps because he knows he “should.” A person who honors her word will be on time because she is her word. My parents are almost never on time, so maybe that wasn’t the best example. Other than punctuality though, I’m reminded of my dad’s work ethic. Dad is the epitome of integrity. He’s Honest Abe and I know that I can always count on him – everyone can. My dad served (for more than four decades) as office manager for Katz’s Kosher Supermarket in Rockville, MD. You should hear how the Katz/Kaufman families speak of my dad – as the embodiment of integrity … and loyalty.


My mom has always shown me how to smile and not take myself so seriously. She taught me, at a young age, that people would notice my facial expressions. Consider what you want to be telling the world with those expressions. It may sound trite, but a smile is one of the most valuable tools we possess.

Mom can find something funny in just about anything – she’s a master at using humor to diffuse difficult or awkward situations. She’s one of the most fun-loving people I’ll ever know; a kid at heart. Just when I think I’ve achieved something great and have fed my ego, Mom has a unique way of expressing that incomparable motherly support, while her way of being also reminds me to not take myself so seriously.


Six days a week, for 42 years, Dad held down the fort at Katz’s. He was their rock and the unsung hero. But he’s never been one to boast about his accomplishments. In fact, he’s probably uncomfortable with me using this word to describe him, but my dad IS great. Throughout the years, he wasn’t only loyal to his employer; he built long-standing relationships with many of the organization’s partners, customers and vendors. People quickly learned that Marvin was someone you could count on and trust … and he would trust you and remain loyal to you, unless you ever did something to really screw that up.

“Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.” –H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


This is a tricky one. I used to believe that my younger sister could get away with just about anything … and that wasn’t fair. “Life’s not fair,” many will say, and here’s what I think that means: If you’re going to keep score, you will quickly become disappointed and easily find the evidence that life isn’t fair. How could it be? Mom and Dad have taught me that keeping score will drive you nuts. An eye for an eye … do unto others … you scratch my back… these phrases are all examples of keeping score. I invite you to create your own definition of fairness and do so with generosity in mind, giving people the benefit of the doubt, expressing kindness without expecting anything in return and without having to keep score.


Standards, principles, ethics, morals and ideals – all of these words can describe the foundation upon which our family is built. The order of the day has always been, do the right thing. Not because anyone is watching, but because it’s the way to live and lead a life of integrity. Tell the truth, express your feelings, give people the benefit of the doubt and always do the right thing.

Dear Mom & Dad,

Whether you know of the great extent or not, you have been a tremendously positive influence in my life and have imparted many life (and business) values to me. You’ve created a legacy that I will proudly carry on when I start a family of my own. Thank you for modeling authenticity, integrity, loyalty, humor and fairness, and for instilling the importance of values. As I now enter into my own marriage, I take with me the best of what you’ve taught me. I appreciate you and I love you.

We live only six minutes from Mom and Dad and do get to see them often. For that, I feel incredibly grateful.


  1. Bev Nerenberg says

    Wonderful testimony and tribute to your parents, Steve. You absolutely embody all the wonderful lessons/values you learned from your parents. I know some people who were rebellious and chose the opposite of what their parents wanted to teach them. Perhaps “you’re not going to tell me what to do” was a motivator. YOU took the high road and your goodness shines through in every aspect of your life.

  2. What wonderful parents, what a wonderful son, what a beautifully written tribute, and what a great set of values to live by. Inspiring. Steve, this truly is a message for the ages.

  3. @Bev & @Lowell: Thank you so much! You two are awesome!

  4. Steve,

    Knowing you and your family for so long, your article here couldn’t ring more true. Your Mom, Dad and family represent such a great standard of living, while being uber approachable and easy to talk to.

    I heard a funny comment recently about how the amount of effort & training needed to get a drivers licence far outweighs the training required to make & raise a child.. if we all realize that what we are saying and doing daily impacts so many around us, perhaps we’d think twice or more before acting in certain ways.

    Great post, keep it up.

  5. Jennifer Schneider Healy says

    I remember your Dad from the deli. I loved going to Katz’s and your Dad was in the “tower”. My mom, who has since passed away, was Lynne Rappaport Schneider and my Dad is Stuart. I am sure your Dad will remember them. Please pass my kindest regards to your Dad and Mom.

  6. Wow, Jennifer. Small world. I just sent my Mom and Dad the link so they could read your comment. Thank you!


    What a wonderful tribute to your parents. I hope my children express similar sentiments about me and my husband one day. They obviously raised a very decent, kind and respectful young man. I remember you being that way in high school too. I was formerly Ericka Gibbs. Glad to know all is well.

  8. Wow, Ericka! Thank you so much for the kind words. (You were always a much better musician than me). Glad to know all is well with you, too. All the best!

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your parents. You know they are good people just by seeing that their son – whom they raised – took the time to write this for them. Watching the love and loyalty in your family was inspiring to us. The way you support and encourage each other is a rare and wonderful thing. Happy Birthday dear Marvin!! Love to you all.

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