My father and I never had one of those father-son pissing contests that so many seem to have. Growing up, I thought (and still do) that the sun rose and set upon my dad.
Mom would often go to bed early, to lay in bed and read (I got that from her) and Dad would stay up and watch the news. I would stay up with him – just to be in his presence, uninterrupted. And sometimes, not often, and you could not plan a thing so important, but sometimes, we would get into a discussion after the news that might go for hours. The best memories of my childhood are of us sitting up late at night, discussing things – the future, my hopes and plans, how things work.
He would sit in his recliner and I would lay on the floor and I felt so proud to sit at his feet, to learn from this man who showed me that true greatness comes from serving others. He seemed ancient to me, but he was actually only 36 or 37 – four years younger than I am now.
The summer I turned 16, we sat up several times to discuss my job hunt. I had been offered a job at the grocery store in the nearby small town for minimum wage ($3.35 an hour in those days) or a job on the right-of-way crew for the power company, clearing brush away from the power lines for $4.50. I had a preference, and it revolved around the money.
Dad, however, advised against it. He told me that if I took the right-of-way job, at the end of the summer, I would know the other two guys on my crew really well, but that would be it. But, he said, if I took the job at the grocery store, I would meet a wide range of people. I would make some people really happy and upset others. I would see people at their best and at their worst, and I would know a lot of people at the end of the summer that I didn’t know now, and make lots of friends.
“And the only wealth in this world is friends,” he said.
So, I took the job at the grocery store. And it was a good job, and I stayed there until I graduated high school. But none of that is the story I wanted to tell you.
See, it was near the end of that summer, and I had been working at the grocery store for a few months. I had just gotten in from work and Mom was in bed and Dad was watching the news. So I sat on the floor at his feet and watched with him. And I knew, just knew, one of those treasured conversations was about to happen.
He turned off the tv when the news was over, and he asked how work was going.
“It is going great!” I said. “I am finally at a point where I know who the important people are.”
His whole body changed – I don’t have the tools to describe it. He looked overtaken by a wave of sadness.
He got out of his recliner and sat down on the floor next to me. He looked me in the eye, put his hand on my leg and said “Son, they are all important people. Every single one of them. Don’t ever forget that.”
I never have.