As you know, we’ve had a “bit of weather” here in the DC Metro area. I was cleaning off my car this morning and scraping off all the ice and snow when I was hit with an epiphany that I guess was a long time coming.
I thought about my dad. He was a lineman for the county (and, yes, he drove the main road). He worked for the phone company for 35+ years, through its many name changes, mergers and readjustments. He’s retired, but only insofar as no one pays him to go around fiddling with stuff anymore. He’s too used to hard work to ever sit still.
I remember dark, frozen mornings when he’d have to work in the snow and sleet and hail and ice. He’d start out at 6:30, clean off his truck and be at his first job by seven. He’d come home, get a bite to eat, and get right back to it. Typically, he’d wind down his day at 5:00 or so.
During the ice storm of ‘96, my dad worked hours on end. He would work for thirteen hours straight and be home well after dark. Mom would do her best to keep the house hot and have dinner ready and when he got in, he’d be red from the cold and the wind and aching from a full day of digging cut cables, wrestling downed wires and trying his best to earn his pay without flipping his truck or hurting himself or getting frostbite.
My dad wore several layers. There was his exterior rain suit to keep out the wetness. Then, there were his coveralls. Under those, his chamois work shirt and his jeans. At the base, a pair of long underwear and some thick wool socks. When he had outdoor work, he was well-dressed; when he had to go into a nice warm home to work, I’m sure he was burning up under all that insulation.
My dad’s job was an important one back then. People in the country needed their phones because A) some of them didn’t have a car and B) some of them didn’t have neighbors, and in some cases, C) both A and B. Your landline phone was likely the only phone you had. You didn’t have many options. Hell, the mail might not deliver anywhere near your door, so you might have to just sit in your house and die if something happened to you.
My dad’s job was to take service orders, go troubleshoot the problems and fix them. If he got word that the person was older or in need of immediate assistance, he had to prioritize. If the order needed two hours to finish, my dad would get mad if he couldn’t get it done, the right way, in less than 120 minutes. He’s a relentless problem solver. Had he be given the education, he’d have been the best engineer you’d ever hope to meet. And even without an advanced education, he’s still one of the smartest people I know. He’s contemplative and careful. He likes to get things done, and he likes them to be done right.
There were so many icy mornings for my father. He put on his four layers and trudged through the ice and snow so many times in thirty years. He skidded all over the pavement and marched through the sludge and did his many hours of work. Thanklessly. Consistently.
He did all this, as he told me time and time again, so that I would be able to get a good education. He did it so I wouldn’t have to do it. He did it for my benefit.
And now, on a clear, bright, warm day, I go to work and worry about how many pages should be in a whitepaper. I fret about font weights and I whine about eye strain. I do all of this in a climate controlled, comfortable office full of nice people and I get to come home at a reasonable hour.
Chipping the ice off of my car this morning was about as messy as it got for me today, a day which would’ve surely seen my father leave when I was still asleep in the morning and get home after 8:00 at night.
And were I a child again, he’d still make time to hug me and ask me about my day. He’d eat dinner with me. He’d eat a few Chips Ahoy! cookies with me and drink a glass of milk with me. Through all his weariness and worry, he’d still make the time.
Though all these facts have been real to me for a very long time, it finally sunk in with me this morning: my father worked harder so I could work smarter.
I don’t think he regrets the many days of digging up cables, splicing broken ends, testing lines, fighting yards full of angry dogs and pedestal boxes full of wasps. I don’t think he regrets the hours he left and returned for home in the dark. I don’t think he minds now all the days he had to wear his “bib and tucker” and all his padded clothing. I think he’s okay with what he went through to make life good for me, and for my sister, and for my mom.
And while I’ll never have the hard, rough hands he earned, snowstorm after snowstorm, I hope his work ethic shows through in my own work. I hope my commitment to making things better only gets stronger. I hope I can be as loyal and as good at what I do after thirty years as he was, and in some ways, still is.
I hope in working smarter, I can still be thought of as working hard. I hope my kids see that in me. And I hope that, after a day of being battered, I still have time to hug them and kiss them and ask them about their hard day of school. And I hope I’m sympathetic, and understanding.