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Working Dad

How his father inspired him to pursue his dream career.

I truly enjoy working at Guideposts (I bet I’ve mentioned that before). I like the people I work with. I thrive on the challenges and rewards of serving a wonderful, engaged and passionate audience. And I am grateful for a career that nourishes my spirit as much as my ambition. What can I say? I love my job. It’s a fun job.

Not so my father. Dad hated his job.

He grew up fairly well off but when the stock market crashed, his family lost most of its wealth. As the story goes, my dad’s aunt Blanche and a crooked lawyer ran out with the last of the money, and soon enough the lawyer ran out on Blanche.  

My grandfather couldn’t find work so Dad eventually had to drop out of college—he’d planned to be a doctor—and get a full-time job selling cash registers. Later he landed a good sales position with the company he would spend the rest of his working life for, selling bowling alleys and high-end sports equipment.

Dad wasn’t a natural salesman or marketer, though he was successful. He was reserved to the point of being mistaken for dour. He was deeply religious in a glitzy world of professional sports sponsorships and celebrities who were dying to invest in something cool (believe it or not, bowling was way cool in the 1950’s and 60’s).

Dad suffered all the modern ills of job-related stress: bleeding ulcers, high blood pressure, heart attacks. My mother used to joke that Dad spent as much time in doctor’s offices as he would have if he’d actually gone to med school.  

Yet my father had another side to him apart from the stressed-out business exec. Many years later when Aunt Blanche was found languishing in a run-down hotel, penniless, Dad put a small addition on our house and had Blanche live out her days there in comfort. He did it because he believed it was what his faith demanded. Though he never fulfilled his own medical dreams, he put his little brother, my uncle Eddie, through med school, as he would put the three of us kids through college. He’d anonymously send small amounts of cash to total strangers he heard about who’d fallen on hard times.

Dad was a talented and passionate photographer and was actually able to start a small photography business after he retired. But he never thought of it as something he could do for a living. That would have been too risky, trying to make a go of it on his own taking pictures. He would suffer the pressures of his day job to pursue his passion in his own private time. He was never happier than when he had a camera in his hand or was hunched over a pan of developer in his darkroom.

Perhaps that is why he never understood my ambitions to write. He didn’t see how anyone could make a living at it, or why anyone would confuse what they were passionate about with what they had to do to put food on the table. After all, he hadn’t done that with his photography. “All you want is a fun job,” he growled at me once.

I didn’t understand that remark until later in life when I finally began to understand my father and the complexities of his life, his fears and his desire to do what was best for his family, the dreams he’d had to abandon. What heartache it must be to see one’s dreams slip away.

I have learned from my father and his humble but noble life. Today I do have a fun job. In so many ways I have my father to thank for it.

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