February 14, 2010
How did your father support your family?
This is an interesting question for me, since once again I have the hindsight of growing up with my father and of having been a father myself supporting a family. And the question for me really should read more like, "What did you do to survive while trying to pay your bills and still strive for some meaningful career and life?" One of my favorite quotes is from John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Without actually asking my father to recount his life story here, I may leave out some important endeavor in his life, but here is the general idea. Before I was born, my father was in the Air Force, stationed in Hawaii and worked as an Airplane mechanic. I believe that set the stage for future work. He's very mechanically inclined. After active duty in the Air-Force, he was a mechanic with a small airline company in southern MN. I also remember stories of operating an automobile service station with his brother in St. Paul. And when I was very young, before elementary school, he also drove milk truck in our rural farming community. At some point he joined the Air National Guard and became a sheet-metal mechanic, which is basically airplane bodywork. My dad successfully retired from the Guards after more than 20-some years. But that's not the whole story as I knew it while growing up.
My father also had an eclectic entrepreneurial spirit to try to get ahead and pay for his five children. He had a taxi-cab service, was an over-the road truck driver, was a household product salesman, a real estate agent, a volunteer fireman, policeman, and even a local politician. And my mom and dad even owned their own craft and hobby shop. Now I'm almost sure I'm leaving something out. My father was into a lot of things, and it is not surprising to me that I inherited some of that from him. Because basically my father believes in his own two hands and hard work and that he is capable of doing anything, given the opportunity. He's definately smart enough and mechanically inclined enough. And he's a problem solver; a fixer.
As I got older, moving through my school years I heard more of the discussions that took place behind the scenes, between him and my mom and others. My dad had dreams and goals, many of which panned out enough to make a life of it and have some fun along the way. A stock-car racer? He also took opportunities that came up, because that was all that was available for work. And that is how I answer this question when looking at how my father managed to survive a lifetime of paying for kids, mortgages, automobiles, insurance and all that food we consumed. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Looking back at my career, trying to raise a family I see a lot of similarities. Circumstances play a big part of a persons life and how it proceeds. I think a key for young people just starting out would be to set themselves up as soon as possible with a good education and the ability to learn. So then there are more possibilities open to them as life situations play their tricks.
I had big plans for my future, all of which detoured and morphed into something else, due to circumstances, availability of funds, or my ability to follow through with something at the time. I did have one key turning point in my life and career that took me down a path that has been very rewarding and challenging for me. It fully consumed and engaged my problem solving genes.
Like my father I also served on active duty military right after high school. Unlike my father, when I came off active duty I attended the U of M to study business. I also had a new-born son who was born on the military base that same year. I made it just about two years in college, as I saw my grades deteriorate and the pressures of earning income to support my family increased. My wife also had to work, as most people do now. After finally dropping out of college I had to find full-time work. And I did not have any marketable skills. Luckily for me, my wife's best friend and her husband worked for a manufacturing company that was hiring production workers. This actually helped in more ways than one. It gave me a year of steady work and income while I tried to figure out what I would do with my life. That production job also made me realize that I needed an education of some kind for more opportunities to open up in the future. More importantly, I needed to find an occupation that engaged my mind. Something that had meaning for me personally. I was busy making other plans.
I think I saw an ad on TV for a local technical school that focused on Architectural drafting and design. I had taken drafting in high school and remembered how much fun that was. That one idea became the spark. I could do that. When I started that school the next Fall, I was further stimulated by hand-drawing Frank Loyd Wright designs on paper. At that time in the mid 80's we had one class in computer-aided drafting. That was a spark that ignited a full-time career for me for the next twenty plus years. And I have found it continuously changing and growing with technology advances.
I've attended the U of M a couple of times, and part time while working full-time. The last time to study linguistics and the Korean language. Language is the other thread of passion woven through the fabric of my entire life. And this really has nothing to do with supporting a family, but has everything to do with being engaged in life and having a passion for something. I hope my father's life was as engaging and fulfilling as mine while raising children. It was certainly stressful at times and challenging. My father did some interesting things in life and is one of the most well-rounded, do-it-all problem solvers I know. And in my humble opinion, it's a good life to make plans while life happens.