A LETTER FROM OUR CHAIRMAN, Ken Falke, TO HIS GRANDCHILDREN
December 13, 2015
Dear Troy, Riley and Cameron,
Two weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) and his wife released a beautiful letter to his newly born daughter, Max. Their letter inspired me to write to you.
Today, I am nearly 54 years old. I have seen a lot of change in my lifetime for both the good and the bad, but mostly good.
We live in a world that is full of mostly good people. Unfortunately, it’s the bad stuff in our world that gets the most attention. In a world filled with so much good and so much money, you would think that the leadership of countries could fix some of the really bad things like, access to healthcare, hunger, and homelessness.
At the same time, you would think that humans, especially Americans, would all step up and do their part to make things better.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where this doesn’t happen to the extent that it needs to.
I grew up in a very Catholic family. My mom died of a very rare form of liver cancer at the age of 29, when I was just seven years old. Losing my mom at such a young age was devastating. I couldn’t believe that any God could be so cruel.
I was a lucky child because two years later, my dad re-married and I grew up with a very loving stepmother and my dad was one of the kindest men I have ever known.
I spent 21+ years in the Navy. Most of those years as a bomb disposal expert and most of those years deployed away from your grandma, your mom, and your aunt Rhian. I wasn’t even home when your mom was born. I was on an extended deployment onboard the USS John F. Kennedy CV-67 in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya because we had just shot two Libyan fighter jets down and the nation thought we were going to war.
After my Navy career, I was fed up with bad leadership and wanted to be my own leader and started a small business based around my bomb disposal experience. The company did very well and we ultimately sold the company and made more money than we ever thought we would have and I hope that some of it is still around for you after I am gone.
I wanted to share a few of the things that have helped me along the way, and the core values that guided me through my imperfect life.
1. Humanity will never agree on a single God, but most do agree that Jesus was a good man and did great things while he was here on earth. Jesus established the “Golden Rule”. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Whether you grow up religious or not, if this is your guiding principle, you will be successful. Kindness and compassion are contagious.
2. By the time you are old enough to understand, the world will be moving much faster than it is today. I have seen life with no internet and I have seen life with the internet. I have no idea how much misinformation will exist by the time you are adults. Don’t forget our very rich history and reference factual data before making opinions and airing them on Facebook or whatever else is open for public consumption.
3. Set a vision for yourself and your families. Know what is most important to keep you all together. Today, 50% of folks that get married get divorced. Most of the reasoning is because people can’t agree on so many of the simplest issues in life.
4. Learn how to listen. Be present with your family and friends. This is a skill that will get you somewhere. Most people listen with their mouths. They form opinions before they even hear and understand what is said. Be careful of folks that offer advice and have never experienced what they are talking about. This is how non-listeners operate. Listen, experience, and share!
5. Work hard and always work. Don’t be a freeloader. This won’t happen with any money you are left from us. We have structured your trusts so that you can only take annually what you make. I have no desire to leave behind a legacy of snot nosed, ungrateful rich kids. You will surely have a better start in life than most, but you need to work to earn your place in life.
6. You will become the sum of the 3-5 people that you spend the most time with. Whether this is online or face-to-face, surround yourself with people that care and live your core values. Most friendships don’t last forever, and the ones that do are the ones that you will share the most common experiences with. Relationships need to be mutual in all accounts. If you find that you are giving much more than receiving, you are probably with the wrong group. Every group needs a leader and I hope that is you, but be careful of those who always seem to take!
7. Be accountable for your actions. My experience is that everybody wants increased responsibility, but no one wants to be held accountable. Yesterday on Facebook, a “friend” of mine was complaining about a parking ticket that he got in Washington, DC. He even took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook. The ticket was for $30 and he was illegally parked. He was complaining that it was raining and what type of “lazy meter-maid” would be out in the rain to catch him? You break the law, you will need to be accountable. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. John Wayne said “if you are going to be dumb, be strong”.
8. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Just be a safe as you can. I made over 1000 parachute jumps, about the same number of underwater dives and am now on my fourth company as an entrepreneur. Risk taking is ok and can be very rewarding. Just balance things out. My best advice is to dive in, just ensure you know how deep the water is!
9. Give back. Mr. Zuckerberg and his beautiful wife and daughter have committed to give away 99% of their wealth, which today is worth $45 billon. That is a lot of money and I really hope that it goes to good use. Money in this world is often more of a problem that it is good. Unfortunately everything costs and I am sure in your adult years, these costs will be greater than today. But lets talk about giving back.
a. First, assuming you are working, you will be paying your fair share of taxes. Do it. Pay them. This is the first step in your Philanthropy. Our government charges us for many great programs and you need to pay your fair share.
b. Volunteer! If you have downtime, it should be spent helping others. This is a balance that only you will achieve, but I see NO reason that you shouldn’t be doing this often. An hour a day feeding folks at a homeless shelter or reading to children at a library is as good for you as it is for them.
c. Donate money. I can’t tell you how much, because I don’t know how much you will have. If I had $46 billion, I would surely give away $45 billion, but here’s the bottom line. 1) Look at every penny you donate as an investment. 2) Understand the organization’s leadership and mission and their sustainability plan. Organizations that rely on handouts as their primary sustainment plan will never succeed. Do not perpetuate mediocrity. 3) Treat your nonprofit investments as serious as you treat your nonprofit efforts.
d. Donate money now. Don’t wait until you make a lot of money some day to decide to start giving back and helping those who are deserving in your community. No matter how little or much money you have, share some. It will be worth the investment.
10. Take care of your children. 99% of the entire lifelong trauma we live with comes from our childhood. You must take care of your children. When I look back at the loss of my mom, if my dad wouldn’t have remarried and I would have grown up in a single parent house, I would have surely gotten more off track than I did. There are very successful single parent families, but only because those parents care, work hard, and have great core values. Child development and love is so very important to our long-term success.
I’ll finish this by saying two more things.
The first is that I hope that I am a better grandfather than I was a father. I know that my deployments and travel away from my family have left a mark. My goal is to be here for you more than I was for your mom and aunt and your grandma. You grandma is a tough lady and has always been the stability of our family. The love that we have for each other is amazing and I never could have done what I have done without her.
The second thing and something that Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife left out of their plans is something that you can never forget: the men and women of our country’s military and our first responders. Today we have an all-volunteer force - which was not always the case - and in your lifetime, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the draft to military service reinstated.
Everyday, men and women don a uniform to defend the Constitution of the United States and our communities. This comes at a great price, from long separations, to catastrophic injuries, to death. These men and women fight and protect us so that we can live a life of freedom and liberty. Yes they volunteer and yes they get paid, and yes there are government programs to support them, but none of the benefits are enough for the efforts and sacrifices these men and women make.
But know this. Less than 1% of Americans will do these jobs and that is the 1% that deserves our daily support, thoughts, and prayers. In addition, think about and support their family members who hold down the home front when those serving are at work and deployed, and live every day not knowing if their warrior will return or what atrocities they will see while performing their duties.
Our country needs the strongest military and police and fire departments that money can buy. Why? Because no matter what we do, there will always be bad guys and unfortunate circumstances to deal with. Our great nation was built on the values that everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed and the men and women in these uniforms work tirelessly for this to happen.
You, my lovelies are getting a better start than most and in addition to your great grandparents, your grandma, your mom and dad and aunt Rhian, you have the US Navy to thank for that.
Love you always,