Fathers, birthdays and learning the value of hard work
By Stephan Drew
Tomorrow, my father will be 89 and I still can’t believe it. He doesn’t look his age and doesn’t act it, either. He still wakes up in a good mood every morning around 7 (earlier if he is going fishing or hunting), puts the coffee on and, usually, starts breakfast before Mom and I awake. He gets around better (and faster) than most 60- and 70-year-olds and he stays active the entire day, rain or shine. He shaves every morning, even though the only people he may see that day are my mother and I. He always finds some “project” around the house to keep him busy and gets a little upset if he doesn’t finish in time or if things don’t work out the way he planned. But he never gives up, no matter what. He doesn’t have to work, so why does he behave as if he is punching a clock every day (even on weekends)? That strength and drive amaze me. So, I began to wonder why he still feels he has to put in a full day’s work, even at his age? I guess it’s because of how life was when he was younger. Dad was born in 1932. When he was a child, hard work was a natural part of life for just about everyone in this area. Most people over a certain age know what I’m talking about. It was a different time and they did things we can’t even imagine today. Waking up before dawn, having a full breakfast and getting outside by sunrise to put in 10, 12 or 16 hours a day tending the crops, milking cows, mending fences, chopping wood and all the other chores necessary to maintain a farm and keep food on the table. Back then, most people had gardens and farm animals. This wasn’t a hobby. It was unavoidable if you wanted to eat. They cured their own meat, made their own soap and drew their own water (usually from a pump on the back porch). They didn’t have indoor plumbing, electricity or a refrigerator until the 1940s. There was one vehicle and, because it was a farm, that was a truck. Back then, church was a weekly requirement and, every week, down dirt roads, they walked there and back on Sundays. They shined their shoes every Saturday night and, since they didn’t want their shoes to get dusty, my grandmother carried their socks and shoes in a bag while they walked barefoot until they arrived at the little white building. There was a creek nearby where they would wash the dust off their feet. Then, they would put their socks and shoes on before they entered God’s house. As soon as church was over, they would take off their shoes and socks again, play with their friends in the churchyard and then make their way home for Sunday dinner. My grandmother had prepared most of the meal on Saturday night because you weren’t supposed to do “hard work” on Sunday. My grandfather and the men in the neighborhood kept wood cut and piled in the corner of the church so they would have heat while services were in progress. These and a lot of other things come to mind as I think about why my father still works so hard. He was brought up that way. He has always had to do for himself. Never accepting charity, and probably getting upset if it was offered, he knows no other way but “do it yourself.” I wonder how youngsters nowadays would handle it if they had to struggle the way children did back then? Would they wake up smiling every morning if they knew they had 10 or 12 hours of backbreaking work ahead of them every single day? Would they do their chores with a pleasant demeanor or would they sulk and frown the whole time, complaining about having to do any work at all? Would they feel, as some children today do, that they had been singled out for punishment if they were asked to pitch in and help? Or, would they be thankful that they had parents who taught them how to “fend for themselves” in an increasingly disappointing world? I wonder. My father taught me the value of hard work. I didn’t learn that lesson easily. It took many years of inner struggle before I realized its true worth. I learned that, if you did a full day’s work and gave it everything you have, you should have no room for regret. Even if you don’t succeed at accomplishing your task, you’ve given it your best. I also learned that if you plan a project every day, you will always have something to look forward to tomorrow. You can see your progress daily and you feel better about yourself. You will learn many things, too. You’ll discover how to solve problems you didn’t even know you might encounter. You will find what works and what doesn’t. When you do something unassisted, it gives you a better sense of “self.” That, alone, will take you very far in life. It will give you the satisfaction that comes from achieving a goal. The fact that you did it without help will also diminish any sense of fear you may have. If you can do it alone, why would you fear not having any help? The more you can do for yourself, the less you’ll be dependent on others. And isn’t self-sufficiency what most people want? That is one of the most important lessons my father taught me. Doing things for yourself gives you an indescribable feeling of independence and self-confidence. There’s just nothing else in the world like being “unafraid.” It took me a long time to realize that but I’m so glad I did. I’m truly blessed to have a father who was patient enough in his lessons until I learned. Happy birthday, Dad! I’m glad you’ve been around for so long to teach me the lessons I’ve learned. I hope and pray you’ll be around long enough to teach me many more.