Addition Through Subtraction


“You see, George, you really have had a wonderful life,” says Clarence the angel to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. It was addition through subtraction. It wasn’t until George was subtracted that he was able to realize how much he had added.

I have been thinking about that a lot lately. My father, Fred, has been subtracted from my life. I now see more clearly than ever what he has added to my life, my family, his friends, colleagues, and the world.

Fred Marcon, added to the south side of Chicago in 1937, led the quintessential American life. Born to Italian immigrants (his father, Celio, came to the U.S. from Padua, Italy as a 13 year old – by himself! – and his mother, Teresa, came with her family from Bologna, Italy when she was 12), he was the 2nd youngest of 7 children – and the only boy. He was subtracted from this world on January 19, 2017.

When you subtract his 1940’s / 1950’s immigrant upbringing, you see where our work ethic was added. Nothing was given or taken for granted. Everything was earned. His dad worked 43 years at the George M. Pullman Company without EVER taking a sick day. I remember numerous times waiting up at night for my Dad to get home from work to come in and say good night. Today, my boys’ bedroom is my first stop whenever I come home late and the last stop whenever I’m out the door before the sun came up.

When you subtract the local parish, St. Anthony of Padua, you see where our faith was added. It shaped our lives. It is what gives us the strength to look at death, suffering, and injustice and know that there is a far greater reward waiting for us. It’s what gives me the comfort to know that Dad is now going to be with Mom.

When you subtract 7 children / 6 sisters, you see where our sense of family was added.   Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews form an unbreakable bond of strength, faith, and support. Celio and Teresa created a tree of 7 children, 23 grandchildren, and 44 great grandchildren. Not bad for two people that did not finish grammar school. I write this as I await the birth of my first grandchild.

When you subtract a community, you see where our sense of giving back was added. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, you looked out for one another; you took care of your own; you gave back. Despite the late nights and the increased job responsibilities, my father coached me in every sport I played from the time I started playing it until I went to high school. Baseball, basketball, football. Every team. Every season. He would walk from the train to the gym or field, remove his tie, roll up his sleeves (to EquityRisk – that is when it is acceptable to roll up dress sleeves!), meet my mom who had his whistle and coaching clipboard, and run practice. He taught me how to win, how to compete, and more importantly, how to lose.

When you subtract all of the corporate accomplishments, you get a sense of where our drive, ambition, and commitment were added. He taught us that it was not just what you achieved, it was how you achieved it. Class, dignity, honor, principle. Those words were my “personal MBA” that were drilled into me in ways I did not even realize were occurring (until I found myself in certain situations repeating the same phrases and following the same path many years later).

Alison Vin wedding 1.jpg

When you subtract the love of your life to a hideous disease, you see where my appreciation for “the best decision I ever made” was added. My fondest memory of my Dad has nothing to do with sports or business. It is when I informed him that I was quitting my fast track career path, moving across the country, and marrying a divorced, single mother. He told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Several months later, after my wedding and the birth of his “2nd” grandson, we were finishing up one of our weekend runs (actually, I had already finished and I was waiting for him!). He pulled me aside, looked right at me, and said, “I want you to know, I was wrong. You made the best decision of your life.”

When you subtract Fred Marcon, you can see where the hole in my heart was added.

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.

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