My Dad Gave Me a Knife When I Was 11 to Help Him Work. That Knife Opened My World.

Pop couldn't pass on much, but what he did teach was priceless.
My Dad Gave Me a Knife When I Was 11 to Help Him Work. That Knife Opened My World.
Image credit: Courtesy of Jeff Walsh
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The box arrived from India and contained my future. Inside was the first prototype of my company’s first product. But to open the box, I used something from my past. It was a knife given to me by my father when he taught me the greatest lesson of my life.

Pop dropped out of school in the ninth grade to work in a tomato-canning factory. He worked many jobs after that but never earned much. I grew up as the youngest of seven children and decided early that I’d go to college — which would require paying for it myself. I started doing odd jobs whenever I could, including joining my dad at work.

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When I was around 11, Pop took a job as a diamond courier. I worked with him often, and his company paid me anywhere from $10 to $25 a day. Oftentimes we’d break down boxes, passing a knife back and forth for hours as we ripped through cardboard and tape. After a while, he gave me my own knife. It felt like a small gesture of acceptance: At 11, I earned the right to be trusted with the knife, seen as a work partner, and given my own tools.

By the time I graduated high school, I’d saved enough to cover half my college expenses. Loans and partial scholarships paid for the rest. Then I became the first in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree; I majored in aerospace engineering. 

Unfortunately, my father was not able to celebrate with me. He passed away unexpectedly during my sophomore year, and it almost broke me. While cleaning out his belongings, I came across the knife he’d given me. He had borrowed it earlier that month. I realized then how much the knife represented: It was the jobs that earned the money to get me through college, which transformed my life.

Related: 22 Successful Entrepreneurs Share What Inspires Them to Keep Going

I still keep the knife close, which is why I had it on hand that day in 2019 when the prototype of my first product arrived. (It’s called Cuffee, and it’s a heated sleeve to warm up cups of coffee or tea.) As I work to build my products business, I always remember the lessons of my father: Make a goal, work as hard as you need to obtain it, but don’t lose focus on enjoying the present, because it can all change in a moment.

Pop couldn’t pass on much, but what he did teach was priceless.

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