Friday, November 7, 2008

Emails with Dad "Part II"

"I AM CONTINUING TO PAY $1000 PER MONTH TO MERRIMACK WHICH IS $48,000 BY
THE END OF THIS LAST TWELVE MONTH PERIOD. WE NEED SOME BALANCE AND
UNDERSTANDING, I JUST DONT HAVE ANY MORE. AND I KNOW THAT YOU NEED SOME MONEY TO ENJOY YOUR COLLEGE EXPERIENCE. I REGRET AGREEING TO THE SUMMER EXPERIENCE. IT HAS CREATED A HUGE PROBLEM FINANCIALLY. I KNOW THAT YOU HAVE DONE TERRIFIC AND I WILL TRY TO SEND YOU SOME CASH. BUT FOR A WHILE IT NEEDS SOME TEMPERING.

SORRY TO HIT YOU WITH THIS.

I KNOW THAT YOU ARE DISCOURAGED WITH FOOTBALL. WE ARE PROUD THAT YOU HAVE STUCK IT OUT. THAT IS WHAT IS IMPORTANT AS WELL AS YOUR ACADEMIC PERFORMANCES WHILE ENGAGED IN FOOTBALL SAY NOTHING ABOUT ROTC. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

TELL ME WHEN YOU ARE GETTING HOME AND I THINK THAT MRS. DOLLOFF'S SON
COULD USE YOU SHE SAID. TELL ME WHEN YOU WILL BE HERE AND I WILL TELL
HER."

I don’t know how my parents managed to pay for my college. I know that my academic and ROTC scholarships helped but they certainly did not pay for all four years. When I began applying to schools, no college was off limits. My father told me that price was not an issue and that if I liked a school, he’d find a way to pay for it. This was a far cry from how he went to college. He paid for his own way, working during the school year to support himself. The lone support that he got was a $7 check each week from my grandfather. He and my dad were self made men. I on the other hand am a product of their efforts.

One day my dad called up to see what I was doing. I answered on my cell phone and told him that I was golfing. He replied “Oh that must be nice (in a jokingly sarcastic voice) I just got out of work and now I’m going to teach so that we can make your tuition payment.” And that was my dad. He and my mom bent over backwards for me so that I could go to school and meanwhile I was off doing things like golfing!

There’s something about manual labor that my father has always loved. His desk job doesn’t give him nearly as much satisfaction as building a porch or working in the garden. It was through him that I began to appreciate labor jobs like construction and landscaping.

My first feeble attempt at construction was a tough adjustment. I learned really fast that a strong work ethic made up for lack of experience and skill. The lone piece of advice my dad gave me before I left that first day of summer employment was “whatever you do, don’t just sit around, always do something.” He should know, many on the crew I was going to be working with were guys that my dad had worked with when he was in construction. To this day he has often told me that those were his favorite times working any job. He loved building and working with his hands. He enjoyed being outside and making a hard earned but honest dollar. But for the lack of pay, he would have almost certainly stayed.

Being “Jim’s kid,” gave me instant credibility with some of the guys. Despite the fact that I was all of 140 pounds soaking wet, they all knew the reputation my dad had back when he was working with them. Immediately, I knew that I had to prove myself. My dad dropped me off that first day without waiting around. It wasn’t that he was in a hurry, I think he wanted me to find my own way.

“Do you have a license kid?” asked the foreman who identified me as the new kid from the brand new Wal-Mart boots I had on (non-steel toe mind you). “Yes sir,” I replied. “Ok, then take that truck right there, none of these bozos have licenses, we’re going to Durham.” And that was my orientation. In a matter of a morning I had grown up a little more. We started driving at 6am and no sooner after I pulled out of the company parking lot did two of my co-workers start chugging Budweisers in the back seat. I glanced at them in shock through the rear view as if I were in some bad nightmare. “Keep going kid, this is what these clowns do, your Dad knows how it is.”

Once we reached the site I listened attentively for my orders. In theory my job would be simple; take the 8 and 12 foot forms from the pile and drop them where the guys building the foundation asked for them. Once the concrete was poured in between the two slabs of steel, I was to help tear it down and start over again. The job sounded easy. I was looking forward to getting started.

I definitely underestimated the heat. By lunch time, I was dragging and the rest of the crew was going strong if not stronger. I don’t know if it was their super human strength or beer buzz but whatever they were doing, they were showing me up. Some of the guys who were well over forty, carried two at a time as if they were pillows, all the while puffing on a cigarrette. I couldn’t believe how hard these guys worked.

Each day felt like two or three combined. As I got to know the guys, I began to get a real appreciation for the people who executed the blue prints of everyday life. I wondered if those “white collared workers,” ever got to see the people that I had the great opportunity to work with. I knew my dad had been on the other side. When I came home from work he would ask me all about my day as if I had been to some paradise that he wasn’t able to go to. He had been there though and he recalled certain tasks as if he had just been out there with us. I think his time doing construction gave him a sense of ruggedness that is so lacking in men these days, but also a strong sense of self.

Work was tough but I could hack it. After a long day, I just wanted to take a shower and crawl into my bed. I couldn’t see how people made careers out of construction. I worked just short of a month before I opted for less strenuous summer employment. The decision was part of my choosing and part influence from my boss.

“Stay in school kid, you don’t want to be doing this for your entire life. Most of these knuckleheads like my nephew over there have never graduated high school and now look at them. Just stay in school, we don’t know anything else, this is all we know.” I remember that mini lecture so clearly as if it were a favorite on my Ipod played constantly. My boss had drawn a line between me and the rest of the crew and that line was education. He continued too, “Seriously kid go work at Shaw’s. You don’t need to be out here. They just built it and it’s inside! What don’t you kids get about working inside. If it’s hot…you’re inside! If it’s snowing…you’re inside. Christ, if it’s raining…” And like that I told my dad after some arguing that I was quitting and applying to the grocery store.

I was disappointed in myself that I gave up. And even though I was going somewhere, I still felt as if I had run away from something else. I look back at that summer in high school and wish that I had the mental toughness of my dad. There were two things that I was never allowed to do in sports. One was cry and the other quit. Granted this wasn’t the athletic field, I often applied his lessons to whatever I was doing.

The following year I vowed to prove to myself that I could handle doing manual labor for an entire summer. This time I would be working for a family friend’s landscaping company. I had known Jonathon for a long time and knew how much he looked up to my father. It was a no brainer that with that connection my foot was in the door. Like the year prior, my dad dropped me off at Jon’s shop but this time waited for Jon. “Hey, you don’t take it easy on him you hear? Make him earn every penny. And son you work hard for Jon.” He smiled the whole time as Jon gave a chuckle as he drove off. Still, he meant every word.

The several summers that I worked landscaping through college for both John and later for Kevin, were some of the best times I’ve ever had working. While my other friends were getting tan pulling lazy lifeguard duty on the beach or scooping ice cream, I was getting dirty and having a blast. I learned a little bit of everything and drove around in those trucks from site to site with my head up high. I enjoyed walking into the hardware store knowing the exact tools and orders that I needed. At times, I even felt bad for people like my dad who were stuck in an office all day.

John and Kevin came from hardworking families. My dad respected the hell out of both of them. He knew their dad’s really well and told me amazing stories of how hard they worked. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I became a firm believer that hard work was a code written into someone’s DNA and was passed on. I saw John and Kevin busting their tails just as my dad told me they would. Lately, I’ve come to a conclusion that they simply don’t make men like they used to. I used to write that phrase off as cliché but the more I think at how all three of those guys (John, Kevin and my dad included)working, the stronger I invest in that motto.

I’m no stranger to work. My dad started me at a young age while I was still in junior high. Each summer I had a job, sometimes two or more. Many of my jobs were different too. I was learning ‘what I didn’t want to do when I got older.‘ I worked at an arcade, construction, landscaping, grocery store, convenience store, sold kitchen supplies, prep cooked and everything in between. My dad always took my pay check and put it into a savings fund that only he could access. I never really thought too much of it. I just worked hard.

1 comment:

beachbunny said...

I am so proud of you!! Never doubt the path that you have taken, because its still not over and later you will be grateful to were it has lead you to.