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Origins of the Dopp Kit and Our Fathers’ Influence on Our Lives

Posted on: December 12th, 2023 by Ira Jackson

ira-and-senior.pngMy dad turned 94 this year. With each circle around the sun, I reflect more and more on the impact he has had on my life and how immensely grateful I am that he’s still here.

I know how fortunate I am to have a father, especially this one. The lessons he taught me, the wisdom he imparted, the example he set – all are priceless tools for life. I like to think of these tools as the contents of my proverbial Dopp® Kit, a finely tooled leather case that holds the things I rely on every single day to navigate life, work, ups, and downs.

My kit holds valuable life tools from both of my parents.  

Although I’m using this as a metaphor, the Dopp Kit has an interesting history. The kit originated with Charles Doppelt, a German immigrant and designer of leather goods who arrived in Chicago in the early 1900s. He patented the concept in 1919.

old-dopp-ad.jpgDuring World War II, soldiers used the kits to store and carry their shaving paraphernalia and other personal items. After the war, the kits became extremely popular, including as a gift for young men as they moved into adulthood; however, Dopp Kits have always been made for both men and women.

I’m sure you have one in some form, whether it’s an actual Dopp Kit, a toiletry bag, ditty bag, travel kit, personal hygiene kit, or something similar. 

What tools have you symbolically carried forth in your kit from your father, mother, guardian, or other parental influence?

Here are a few of my most prized possessions. If they resonate, you are equally blessed!

There really is magic in thinking big

think-big-image.jpgDuring his college years, my dad consistently encouraged his fellow classmates to “Think Big!” He professed these uplifting words to anyone willing to listen and became known for them. Twenty years later, the words came back to him in a poignant way. 

A college classmate named Joe had gone on to become principal at a school in Ohio. When one of Joe’s students moved to Atlanta, he asked the young man if he had ever heard of Ira Jackson. Coincidentally, the student said yes, to which Joe replied, “When you see Ira again, you must say these words to him: ‘Think Big!’” The student did just that and when he shared his connection to Joe, the world got a lot smaller for all three of them. The student also ended up working for my dad!

When he was 4-and-a-half years old, my dad lost his own father. His mother, a schoolteacher, repeatedly encouraged him to be all he could be. (There is a pattern here!) “If I were to put it in words,” he says, “it was the determination that I would be successful, that I would not fail. When you think big, when you believe you can fly, it carries you through hard times.” 

Encouraging others to think big has always been a hallmark of my dad’s character. After he went into business for himself, the thing he loved most was helping others do the same. “To me,” he says, “the most satisfying part was helping others who had the desire but not the resources. I could see the potential in them to want to be somebody and become entrepreneurs, too.”

I also followed in my dad’s footsteps as an entrepreneur and have made steady strides by thinking big. It hasn’t always been easy. It wasn’t for him, either, which takes me to the next tool he gave me to live by.

You must be a doer

Dad could have written the book on the ‘can-do attitude,’ but he was far too busy just doing it. I heard those words a lot growing up, and to be honest, it aggravated me as a kid. I thought having a can-do attitude sounded Pollyannaish, too sunny for my willful young self. But Dad’s repetition through words and actions created the framework of an indelible mindset that has served me well.

senior-and-junior.pngMy attitude shifted when I found the ball of life, college, and then entrepreneurship in my own court. “Can-do” started echoing loud and clear, moving me to action. I was taught to aim high but I also had to be a doer, and he showed me how.

I’m not sure how many people realize what it meant for a Black man to become a business owner in 1960 – in the South. The Civil Rights Act would not pass for another four years. 

But Dad chose very early in life to look for what’s possible and what fits – and to just go for it. He knew he was Black and that things weren’t fair, but he never clung to that. He had a different compass point, to be a planner and doer, and a successful one. His courage and strength against all odds – simply humbling.

jackson-family-photo.pngHe started with one gasoline service station and expanded to eight, becoming the highest volume performer of any oil dealer in the country. As his business thrived, he doubled down on can-do in another way. He and a few others decided to take a shot at increasing the number of Blacks involved in local government. Fulton County, Georgia, had only one Black elected official at the time. In 1968, at 48 years old, Dad ran for office. He was elected the first year he ran for the Board of Aldermen (later the City Council) and served for 21 consecutive years. He never lost an election.

I was born in 1964, so I was around for most of this, watching, listening, and learning. Even though I had some seriously heavy lifting to do as I grew older, his can-do attitude, and the guts, grit, and determination that fueled it claimed a big space in my Dopp Kit. I use it every single day. 

Inspiration and courage to move forward

ira-and-mom.pngMy mother passed in March of 2020, days before the pandemic turned the world upside down and just weeks before the second pandemic of racial unrest and social protests erupted. As if she could see the future, her last words to me were “Move Forward.” 

Her last breaths memorialized what she did best – teaching her children how to succeed in life. The timing was surreal. I was engaged in one of the biggest undertakings for my business in 30 years. Right before COVID-19 hit, my management team and I were knee deep in strategy work, carving out our path to transformation and growth. Rather than postpone our work and investments until the fog of uncertainty lifted, we jumped in with all feet and no reservations. It turned out to be a wise decision.

The toughest dude I ever met was my mother. Her charge to Move Forward became my mantra and it holds a permanent and prominent place in my Dopp Kit. 

Shared gratitude and shared success in life

My sister, Lynn Stafford, is five years my senior and my only sibling. When I asked her to contribute to this article, it was no surprise that the list of life tools in her Dopp Kit is also extensive. Like me, she prioritized the most meaningful ones.

lynn-and-parents.png“From my mother, I learned to have faith in a higher power, confidence in my decision-making skills, and how to be a good mother myself, each one of these so essential for my life,” Lynn said. “She would ask if I made my own decisions about important things and if the answer was yes, then those decisions were mine to make, she would say, and I must be willing to live with them.”

lynn-and-dad.pngFrom Dad, Lynn also learned “the pragmatism of hard work and dependability. These played a pivotal role when I chose to become an attorney,” Lynn said. “The idealist in Dad taught me to be inquisitive and an explorer, and his signature brand of generosity runs deep in my veins, as well as my brother’s. Since Dad was a business owner, a lot of the child rearing was managed by our mother, but their influence on me was equal and still guides me through life. It was when I came home in the summers from college and after law school and settled into my work that I forged a closer adult relationship with Dad. We’re so close that I talk with him twice a day!” 

Recording a life of legacy  

journal-and-compass.pngA few years back, we had an impartial (non-family) colleague interview our dad over the course of a few weeks. At 91, he was a real trooper in answering a multitude of questions about his childhood, teen years, college, military service, and all the way to his business ownership, being a civil servant, raising a family, and finally, reflections on his life. It is a priceless journal of memories straight from the source that would otherwise be forever lost.

As Lynn and I read the transcripts, we laughed, cried, marveled, and learned so much about this man we had known our entire lives. We also saw the life tools we have carried forth in our Dopp Kits. 

Dad ended the interviews with, “I’ll give an update on my 95th birthday!” It’s hard to believe that update is right around the corner in 2024, God willing.

As we move through this holiday season, I encourage you to reflect on what’s in your Dopp Kit, and if you haven’t already, take the opportunity while you can and ask your parents about their lives. You’ll be glad you did. Keep their answers with all the other gems in your kit or share them with your kids (we did) or grandkids so they’ll always know exactly where they came from.

From our family to yours – Happy Holidays!

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