My dad turned 70 today. In my mind, however, he’s always been about 40. Which is odd because I’m almost 40 now… and still feel 18. If you meet my dad today, you’d peg him as at most, a vibrant 55. It’s not out of the question for you to meet him, actually. He’s constantly on the move. On any given day, he could be in Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Kentucky, New Zealand, or Rhode Island. Short guy, huge heart, boots, cowboy hat, Southern drawl, conversationalist, doesn’t believe in strangers… that’s him.
I don’t get to see my dad often. But, I still hear his voice every day. When there is hard work to be done, others are giving up, and I’m thinking about letting up, I hear a disapproving grunt and, “Ain’t nothin’ worth doin’ that’s easy.”
While other kids were couch bound, my dad had me building endless barbed wire fences, splitting wood, digging ditches, cleaning horse stalls, throwing hay bales, popping blisters, and growing callouses. He didn’t just send me off like a slave- he was always right there with me, shoulder to shoulder, leading by example.
Dad worked at a cigarette factory for 26 years. He worked long hours, and never missed a day. As supervisor of the materials section, he was under constant pressure to make sure that an incredibly high volume of production was never delayed due to paper, tobacco, filter, or chemical shortages.
My dad busted his hump… and had to manage a lot of people who didn’t have that drive. Dad used to occasionally let me tag along with him as a kid. It was so exciting to walk into this huge, bustling factory. On one visit, I remember going into the breakroom and seeing a guy leaned back with his feet up on a lunch table. A few hours later, I walked by and noticed the same guy in the same position. Near the end of the day, I saw the guy taking it easy yet again. After we walked by I asked, “Daddy, does that man work here? I only see him in the breakroom.” Dad just chuckled and mussed my hair. I think he knew at that moment that he’d done his job as a parent.
High school was easy for me. I never studied- and graduated 1st in my class. Then, I went to a prestigious engineering college and got my ass handed to me. The classes were tough, and the competition was fierce. I had to learn how to study. I got used to all-nighters. Though I wasn’t as smart as my classmates, I did well (and often better) by simply working harder. I’m convinced that I would have failed without those endless hours of post-hole digging in my youth.
I’ve forgotten more math than most people have learned. I’ve spent my career helping companies implement complex computer aided engineering simulation tools that my dad marginally understands- yet he’s helped me every step of the way.
I want to wish you a heartfelt happy birthday, dad…
…and thanks for giving me a gift that will serve me for life.