Tom Kane is not a CEO; he is not an influential political figure or a military leader, but to many people, Tom is a person they will confide in, listen to and trust. Leadership, after all, is a human endeavor. It is the interaction between one human and another that defines leadership, and Tom has it down pat. Tom is more of a natural born leader. He does not try; it just comes naturally to him. Natural leaders do not think of themselves as leading, they are just being themselves, and people gravitate towards them and make them the center of attention (Brady, 2017). Tom still owns the same restaurant in the neighborhood where I grew up. Most of my friends worked there through our younger years, and my best friend is one of his sons. On any given day several of us kids from the neighborhood were either waiting tables, bartending, cooking, cleaning dishes or just hanging out.
It was a great environment and a friendly neighborhood place. It kept us off the streets and allowed us to learn the things not taught in school or by our mothers. We all looked to Tom in a fatherly way. He had his spot in the corner of the bar and was there from opening until closing. No cursing, no religion, no politics were allowed in the bar. If our grades were not B’s, then we were not allowed to work. He always had the best one-liners and maxims to explain things or give advice. When he said, ‘hello, how are you,’ he meant it; he really wanted to know. He is a genuine person without false airs.
Tom Kane is currently 75 years of age and only recently has age started to catch up to him. He now leaves after the dinner rush to go home and relax. Tom still works full time though and reads upwards of a book a day. He reads so much that he has been known to pick up books and after two pages discover that he has already read the book beforehand. He never drinks when he is at the bar. It is part of his code. He was born and lived most of his life in Philadelphia. He was the second child of a large Irish Catholic family that was two generations removed from Ireland. Growing up Tom was known as a smart kid and a good athlete. The old timers would always tell stories about him as a kid growing up and the mischief he would get himself into. A stand out football player in high school he was recruited and received scholarships to several universities to include Notre Dame, the Naval Academy, and Temple University. He chose Temple early in his senior year because he wanted to stay close to home. Unfortunately, during his freshmen year, he was plagued by injuries and a coaching change, so he decided to leave college.
He then proceeded to talk several of his friends into joining the military, but they could not all decide on one branch of service, so they let fate decide for them. Pulling crumpled up pieces of paper out a hat that had Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (x2 because there were five of them) written on them, he chose Air Force piece of paper. The next day he and his friends walked into the recruiter’s office to sign the paperwork. Tom spent the next six years in the Air Force. He says it was the best decision he ever made. He started as a medic working on airplanes transporting wounded Soldiers from Vietnam in route to Clark Air Base in the Philippines and Kadena Air Base in Japan to further receive further treatment. After this assignment, he was relocated to Germany to work in a neonatal unit at the hospital on Ramstein Air Base. He claims he knew more about parenting then his wife did when they started to have children.
Upon completion of his term of service, he went home and worked as an iron fitter on several bridges being constructed over the Delaware River in Philadelphia. After a couple of years of hard work, he started working as a bartender at the Philadelphia Racing track. This was a union position which enabled him to explore other career opportunities in the city through the hotel and restaurant union. Through his networking, he opened several opportunities and decided to open his own place in the city. He was now married with a couple of small children. The establishment became a focal point for the local community.
For his children, and us neighborhood kids growing up in this atmosphere, it was a great glimpse and immersion into adult learning and the dynamics of social interaction. It showed us the good, the bad and the ugly of human nature; specifically, how he managed, dealt with and led through it. After Thanksgiving dinner, we all still go back, and tell stories and listen to Tom’s sage wisdom. To this day, I catch myself at times using some of his lines or mimicking his tendencies. Doing so is probably the best form of flattery, but if I told him that, he would say, ‘be your own person’ in his humble way but still give a slight smirk of acknowledgment.