I have spent a lifetime learning lessons from my dad. Some lessons came through our conversations as we discussed simple principles and practices such as seeing the best in people, constantly learning, never judging, pursuing excellence, reading and writing with purpose, servant leadership, and how to help others see and reach their potential.
However, one of the most important lessons I have ever learned from my dad is one we’ve never had a single conversation about, but one I watched and witnessed as far back as I can remember. The lesson? Endings matter.
Living in a house with 11 children is a daily experience of organized bedlam careening toward complete chaos. The clamor went even higher when visitors came. There was a never-ending rush of people coming and going, always compounded by the fact that our home was the gathering spot for parties, neighborhood get-togethers, dinners and church events.
My mom made sure everyone felt welcomed with great food, laughter and always room for one more. My dad, on the other hand, was the closer for the Matheson family experience.
At the end of a family gathering, neighborhood party or visit with friends it has never been adequate for my dad to just say goodbye from the living room. A hug or handshake in the kitchen on the way out? Not enough. “See you soon” from the front door? Completely insufficient. Dad always walks you out — snow, rain or sunshine — all the way until the car door is closed. Then he waits, to wave one last time as the car drives away — because endings matter.
Dad always makes sure that the ending of a visit is just as high-impact as the beginning. For the grandchildren he makes sure they stop by my parents’ famous “candy closet” for one last treat. For friends there is always an ask from dad if they want some of the leftover food or dessert for later. For social guests there is always a word of thanks for something they said or did, for what they brought into our home, and a sincere invitation to please return soon. For us kids, he usually takes us by the arm, tells us how proud he is of us, how much he loves us, occasionally slips some cash into our pockets and then sends us away with an expression of confidence in our ability to endure, overcome or get important things done.
It has taken me half a century just to begin to understand what my dad was really doing and teaching. Endings matter.
Thomas Monson once described seeing a sign in the window of a furniture store in Salt Lake City that read, “Finishers Wanted.” It wasn’t a sign seeking those who could complete a couch or construct a chair as much as it was a call for those who could apply the perfect finishing touches and transform useful objects into magnificent, handcrafted furniture.
It is easy to play the front end. Beginners are many; finishers are few. I remember in Washington there were those who loved to walk into the room with the senator, those who were always at the ready when a TV camera was near, and those who were all too eager to swoop into a meeting with the rich, famous or powerful.
Far fewer were the finishers, those grand souls who were willing to do the hard work and heavy lifting far from the spotlight and well out of microphone range. The caseworker who would stay late to make certain a struggling constituent got exactly what he needed. The legislative assistant burning the midnight oil to complete tedious research so the senator would be properly prepared for an obscure committee hearing. The sleep-deprived communications professional laboring to polish and perfect the speech no one will ever know she wrote. Like my dad, these folks are the finishers — the master craftsmen and craftswomen committed to making sure that the final touches of the ending are what matter, have impact and make a difference.
In our conversations, relationships, work projects, meetings and community interactions, endings matter. A good ending makes the rest worthwhile.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions. He is also the former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee.