Some Thoughts on My Father

In the spirit of Father’s Day, I wanted to share some thoughts about my own father and the huge impact he’s had on my life, personally and professionally.

I grew up in a single income household. Most of the time, my father worked in a factory making construction equipment, while my mother stayed at home. We lived about a mile outside of a small town on a plot of land that was about 75% covered in woods.

Our house was very much a humble one. It was old and small, with three very small bedrooms. The largest bedroom in the house is almost completely taken up by having a twin bed in it, and the smallest? It’s basically a closet.

The center of our lives were family and friends. There were people constantly at our door, stopping by to say hello or to bring us something. We spent many evenings visiting other people, too, often with some item or another in hand to give to them. It was rare when a meal consisted of just people who lived in our home.

My father was constantly busy. Given the demands of his factory job and the fact that there were three kids at home, my father usually took on every bit of overtime work that was offered to him. He also often jumped from shift to shift to get better jobs with better pay.

This meant that there were periods where I didn’t see him as often as I would like. This was particularly true when he worked the evening shift, which meant that he clocked in at 3:30 PM and clocked out at midnight (assuming no overtime hours). Since I was in school, that meant he was at work during the evenings after school and asleep (because he got home at about 1 AM) when I got up in the morning before school.

He also maintained several “side gigs” as I was growing up. He grew an immense garden and sold the excess produce, both directly to neighbors and friends and to grocery stores. He was a small-scale commercial fisherman, an endeavor I helped with to an extent, especially during my high school years.

There were times when he was laid off from his factory job. The company that ran the plant went through some serious financial problems in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s and there were periods where the company almost went bankrupt. He was laid off for months at a time.

During those periods, my father just kept on working. He would throw himself into his fishing business and his gardening practices.

He always, always found a way to keep food on the table for my brothers and myself, no matter what. We never went without. That made a giant impression on me.

When I look back, I remember lots of times when I wish that my father didn’t have to work so much. I remember sitting outside when he was working on the day shift, waiting for him to get home from work. I remember staying up late sometimes on Friday nights so that I could give him a hug when he got off work when he worked the evening shift.

As busy as he was, he always made time for me and made sure that we had a strong bond, even if we weren’t always interested in the same things. I remember doing countless things with him, from mushrooming in the woods to fishing, from watching baseball games to playing catch in the yard. He somehow found time for this.

He had a great relationship with my mother as well. A few of my most vivid memories of them from my childhood involve them sitting together outside on a warm summer evening, just talking to each other about life as they sat close together, often sharing a glass of wine.

It wouldn’t be honest at all to say that my father was or is a perfect father. He isn’t. He was merely a great father, which is all I could ask for.

He also provided a great blueprint for my own adult life.

He taught me to have a strong work ethic. He worked at a full time job that often included overtime hours and always had other things to work on to generate income. He almost never sat still during the whole time I was growing up. The only time I ever seemed to see him be still was when he was asleep.

I try every day to match his work ethic. Some days I match up and others I fall short, but I haven’t missed a scheduled post for The Simple Dollar in many years.

He taught me to put my family’s needs before my own wants. Over and over again, he did this. He made sure we always had food to eat. He made sure that there were always Christmas presents under the tree and birthday presents on our big day. If we needed something for school or to improve ourselves, he always found ways to make sure that we had those things that we needed. He did that by putting us first rather than himself almost all the time.

I made the choice to become a husband. I made the choice to become a father. Making those choices means I accepted a lot of responsibility and it’s on me – no one else – to live up to those responsibilities. That means that I spend a lot of time and effort taking care of my family when I might want to be doing something else – and, in fact, I would be doing something else if I hadn’t chosen that responsibility. I chose the avenue that demands my responsibility, and it’s up to me to live up to that.

He taught me that having lots of income streams means that you’re not caught in a disaster if one of them goes away for a while. He maintained a fishing business and what amounted to a small gardening business pretty much constantly when I was a child, and sometimes dabbled in other things as well (such as junk trading and scrap metal collecting). Even if he happened to be laid off from his job due to a downturn at work, he still had ways to keep food on the table and keep the bills paid.

Again, I took this to heart. The Simple Dollar started off as a side gig. Even today, I take on little side gigs all the time. I run a pair of small businesses when I’m not writing that earn some additional money and could be scaled up if I was no longer able to write. Having income streams means having more security in life.

He taught me to appreciate what you have rather than longing for what you do not. My father never wanted much of anything other than a simple meal and a cold beer in the evenings. We never had lots of expensive things. He never needed a brand new truck to drive around in or a brand new boat to go fishing in. He never needed an expensive watch on his wrist or fine clothes to wear. He was – and still is – simple and humble.

The older I get, the more I aspire to that standard myself. I wear blue jeans and old button shirts and t-shirts almost all the time. I don’t wear a watch these days. I prefer simple meals – rice and beans and vegetables. I don’t have any need for finery. I’m happy with friends, family, the outdoors, and a good book on a rainy day.

He taught me to not give up when a setback happens. My father experienced long layoffs. He experienced devastating plant blight. He experienced long periods where the fish weren’t biting, and periods of drought and flooding where fishing and gardening were impossible. He didn’t give up on his family, his gardening, his fishing, or his job. He got right back up and gave it his best shot once again.

Setbacks are going to happen. That’s just part of life. The question is whether or not you allow yourself to be defined by those setbacks. I don’t want to be defined by my setbacks. I want to be defined as a person who, when he gets knocked down by setbacks, picks himself up and tries again.

He taught me to believe in myself. My father has a sense of unwavering confidence in his skills and, because of that, he has aways taken on challenges that pushed himself quite far. The size of the gardens he planned was ludicrous, enough to provide a gardener with a full time job. His fishing exploits involved extensive operations requiring several people to pull it off. The diversity and intensity of the things he pulled off was impressive, yet he just went ahead and did it. Why? He believed in himself.

Sometimes, this is hard for me to do. I find that whenever I’m afraid to take that leap, I can just think to myself about what my father would do. He’d take that leap, and so sometimes I do, too.

My father taught me a lot of things as I was growing up, and he continues to teach me things as he grows gracefully into his elder years. I can only hope that I can live up to even a fraction of his standard.

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