It is safe to say that there was something typical about the times of my childhood. My Father was hardworking and blue collar. My Mother had corporate experience with large corporation names on her resume. However, Mom chose the role of a housewife for a while. She chose this until I reached an age that my brother and I could govern ourselves at home alone. Yet, a large portion of my childhood memories are that of my Father, whom I refer to as The Old Man, coming home late after a long day’s work. By this time, I was already washed, ready and dressed for bed. I could see the intensity in his brow. I could see that he had worked hard and that he was tired and that yes, The Old Man was left the proverbial “Big piece of chicken.”
The Old Man took his spot at the head of our empty dining room table which was on the ground floor of our somewhat small, two-floor cape. The hour was late to me and the mood of the home was mainly quiet and winding down.
My bedroom was up the stairs and to the left. The Old Man and my Mother’s room were up and to the right. At the entryway of my home were the stairs which led upwards. To the left was what we called the living room. To the right is what we called the den and where the big television was. My Brother David’s room was around the corner from this and next to the den. The dining room was connected to the living room and the kitchen was to the right of the dining room.
There was an island of cabinetry that separated the kitchen and the dining room. There was one bathroom down the hall from the kitchen and again, at the end of this hall was my Brother David’s room.
I lived here for most of my young life. I saw things here. I watched The Old Man go through business changes. I saw his stress level change after he left one company to open another. The Old Man had a work ethic like nothing I had seen before—not even up until this date. He was never afraid or intimidated by the size of a job nor was he afraid to work. He did not allow time for social snobbery nor did he bother with the difference between white or blue collar people. To him, life takes work. Either you work to live or you work to have someone take care of you.
In the previous chapter, I exposed a sense of emotion, which is what I plan to do in this chapter. However, I plan to do this from a different angle. In fact, I plan to show the emotion that comes with pride of ownership.
Now, in the opening chapter of this journal, I told you about my first job and a man named Irving. As mentioned, I worked for Irving at his luncheonette. After this, I worked at a bagel place. I worked at a fast food restaurant for a very short period of time, which is a funny story; however, my goal is to accentuate the positive lessons I’ve learned in the workplace.
Admittedly, I was not a well behaved student. Admittedly, I was somewhat of a troublemaker, which is why some of my after school jobs never lasted very long. Since I was not a good student nor well-behaved; part of my punishment after my failing grades was to work for the Old Man’s company during my summer vacation.
Okay, before I go on; I would like the record to show that I was not strong by any means. I was smaller than most teenagers my age. I had a thousand different thoughts in my head; none of which were focused on work, nor was I interested in making a living or preparing for my future.
I never dug a ditch before. I had no mechanical understanding of plumbing or heating or which tool is used for what job. I was hired to be a helper to the mechanics in The Old Man’s plumbing and heating shop.
I was hired to carry tools, clean up after the job was done, to learn, to do as the mechanics told me to and more importantly, all of this was to be done with one rule; at no point was I ever allowed to say anything about being the boss’s son. The Old Man hated this. He did not like entitled behavior nor did he allow for this in his shop. I had to work the same as everybody else. Period. End of sentence. In fact, I would have to work harder to prove that there was no favoritism allowed in this shop.
I was certainly too young to understand anything about benefits or savings. I didn’t know anything about the need to save money or pay rent or bills. The people I was about to meet were real people who had real lives and worked long hours to feed their family. They had real jobs with real responsibilities and deadlines that needed to be met. Yet, there I was; a long haired, scrawny little kid with an attitude and bloodshot eyes. I never understood the concepts of work or what happens if work doesn’t get done. I had a Mother and a Father who took care of me. I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my belly. Not once did I ever consider the cost of these things or what happens when the bills aren’t paid.
This was how I was about to spend my summer vacation:
I was about to work with real people who lived real lives and the last thing they needed was to hear me or my complaints or be stuck with my lack of skills. I say this again because deadlines are absolutely a bitch. A person’s word on their deadline is no different from money in the bank. This is your worth and should your word be broken then your word is equivalent to a check that bounces. And to The Old Man, his word was his bond and to him, the word on his completion dates had to be as solid as his value.
You learn a lot when digging ditches. You learn a lot about your energy when carrying heavy tools or lifting heavy things. You learn a lot about your personal ability and the importance of adaptability.
It would be inaccurate to say that labor or the laborer is an easy or uneducated job. Math was important. I had to understand the material lists. I had to understand how to adapt my knowledge to the job that was in front of me—and above all, I had to learn and be ready with a tool before my mechanic asked me.
This was one of The Old Man’s pet-peeves. To him, the helper should always be watching and always be one step ahead of the job. If it is clear that a tool will be needed for the mechanic to take the next steps, the helper should have this ready for a hand off before the mechanic turns around.
“This is a lesson in life. Not just on the job,” said The Old Man.
The mechanics worked me hard and yet, they took care of me at lunchtime. They laughed when I struggled but yet, they laughed because they had a deeper understanding of the work I was doing; and, perhaps, this was their way of saying “Welcome to the real world, kid!”
Always be ready. Look at the job and see what you need to work smarter, not harder. There is no reason to waste time or energy. These are great lessons but there was more.
Don’t walk away empty handed. This cuts down on trips that go back and forth.
I learned to use the right tool for the right job. I learned that people might hear you when you yell or scream but they might not always listen. I learned that proper communication is vital. If you don’t know something, then say you don’t know; and if you really don’t know, then ask. This way, you’ll know for the next time.
I learned that everyone has a life and that everyone has their own struggles. We all come from a different culture and background. We all have different ways of learning and understanding. Our intuition is our own, same as our vision, same as our hunches, and our personal levels of knowledge. No one knows everything and suggestions are not a threat (unless you allow them to be).
Maybe I was too young to understand the wealth of knowledge here.
As a matter of fact, I know I was. I didn’t understand that one day; I would be in the adult world. I never thought much about interpersonal skills or the ideas of a career. I never thought much about looking at a job and seeing what I need to be better prepared.
Here I am though. I am decades into my adult life; and safe to say, I’ve worked many hours and many days. I’ve spent countless hours in places that I never wanted to be. I spent long hours trying to figure out how to improve myself. I learned from different people about how to get along and how to advance. But still, no lessons are more important than those that I learned so long ago.
There was a night when The Old Man and I worked late. This had to be one of the hottest days of the year. I was filthy from being inside the belly of an oil burner in the basement of a tall residential building. I washed several times, and yet, no matter how I scrubbed; I could not get the soot from my skin. My fingerprints were outlined with black. My fingernails were black as well. My face was dirty. My long hair was scraggly. I was sweaty and I wanted to go home. However, The Old Man insisted that we eat first.
I explained that I was filthy and that I didn’t want to sit in a restaurant and eat like this. But The Old Man refused to listen. Instead, the Old Man pulled into a burger place that was down the road from our house. I did not like this burger place. Nor did I want to sit where someone I might know could see me this way—which was all filthy and dirty. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just go home. But still, The Old Man insisted.
This was the best lesson of them all.
We got our food and sat at the table. The Old Man began to eat. I unraveled the burger from its wrapper. He was as filthy as I was; and to be clear, I didn’t recognize this lesson until much later in life.
The Old Man asked, “What’s the matter, you don’t want anyone to see you this dirty?”
He looked at me with a stern glare. The Old Man had a sense of pride that I had never seen before.
He told me, “Never be ashamed that you get your hands dirty.”
He told me, “This means you’re not afraid to work for an honest living.”
And then I understood.
Never be ashamed . . .
This wasn’t just a meal. This was a father’s pride. This was a moment between father and son. This was about two men who share a special bond, eating together after a long day’s work, and no one else; not even the CEO of the biggest corporation with all their millions in salary would ever have something like this moment that I had with The Old Man.
I was never a fan of that burger place. But I am a man who works for a living—and I sure wish this place was around today. I’d like to go there and revisit this lesson. I’d order the exact same thing and I’d tell The Old Man, “I think I got it now, Pop.”
Thanks for the lesson.