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California Father of Six Offers Father's Day Advice


A California man who rose from poverty, built a successful business and raised six sons along the way has some Father's Day advice for other fathers and their sons. In Los Angeles, VOA's Mike O'Sullivan spoke with Joe Massengale about his recent book, "Six Lessons for Six Sons."

Joe Massengale was born in poverty in Marshall, Texas, and suffered the jeers of other children for being so poor. An African American, he also saw discrimination, and once watched as a mob threatened to lynch his father. He was determined, however, not to become bitter, or let resentment hold him back from pursuing his dreams.

He decided to head to Los Angeles, were some of his brothers were living, and asked the railway clerk for a ticket.

"And he said, the fare will be $40.86. And I said, Oh my goodness! He said, I guess that will stop you from going out there," Mr. Massengale recalled.

The high fare did not stop him, and neither did other obstacles he encountered along the way.

In Los Angeles, Joe worked at tree trimming with his brothers, and later decided to start his own tree-trimming business. He and a friend rented a truck and walked up and down the street, knocking on doors.

"You knock on the door. You don't even have a card. You just talk to the people, tell them what you're there for," he explained. "And they were nice enough to talk to you. And if you could come across to them, they'd give you a job."

He says that after unsuccessfully visiting 150 houses, the young men finally persuaded a woman to give them a chance. That first day on the job was the start of a successful 60-year business.

Later, there were business cards, a marketing plan, and long-term relationships with wealthy and sometimes famous customers in Beverly Hills. But he says his early hardships taught him rules that he would later pass on to his sons, about the importance of confidence, strength of character, pride, persistence, and other qualities.

Joe's reminiscences are woven together with comments from his sons, and others who speak of lessons learned from their fathers. The book include short contributions from ex-boxing champion George Foreman, from the first African American in space, Guy Bluford, as well as Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston and Olympic gold medallist Rafer Johnson.

Joe has had a varied career, with forays into radio, breeding racehorses and running a restaurant. He says, in whatever he has done, success has come from persistence and hard work.

He adds that young people today have big ideas, often too big.

"They want to jump the gun," he explained. "That's what they want to do. It's the wrong thing to do. If it's a gardening job, take it. Take it. Take an honest job."

Throughout his life, Joe Massengale says he has focused on his family and has tried to convey to his sons the importance of character.

His sons now range in age from 26 to 53, and live in various cities, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and Seattle. Most have their own businesses in fields that include catering, real estate and high tech investment. But he says they are always willing to help in his tree-trimming business.

"They never did get too big," he said. "When I call, I say, hey look, I've got a job. I need you guys to come out here and help me. And they would do it."

Joe Massengale lives today in a very different world from the one he grew up in. But he says the qualities that helped him endure discrimination and poverty are helping his sons lead successful lives today.