If there were a contest for the hardest working man on the planet, I would put all my money on my dad. He grew up in an extremely poor home; a home without a financially successful mentor; a home where college wasn’t an option; a home where fried flour was a staple food.
He also grew up in an era where construction work could still get you into the middle-class if you worked hard enough. Because my dad worked harder than everyone around him, it was no surprise that he was able to work us out of my childhood trailer park and into a brand-new home in a wonderful middle class neighborhood.
He often worked from sun up to sun down to provide me and my sisters with a better life. I wore nice clothes to school and had gifts at Christmas. We even had season passes to a major water park. You could feel his efforts pulling our family up higher and higher with each passing year. Well, until that one year.
One day, when I was about 10 years old, there was a terrible accident. My dad was painting cabinets in a hospital when somehow a door, which wasn’t on its hinges yet, fell and hit him in the back of the skull. The impact sent him into the cabinets he was working on, which he broke with the front of his head. My dad would never be the same after that.
He didn’t have health insurance, or any of the luxuries a white collar job might afford you. He didn’t have the ability to work when injured the way I could if I was injured. His body was his main tool, and without it no amount of willpower would put food on our table.
The details for me are pretty blurry because I was so young and my parents were of course shielding me from a lot. But what I do know is that we had to sell our new home in the suburbs and move to a tiny one-red-light town with a significantly lower cost of living so my dad could try and recover. None of us wanted to move… none of us.
While unable to work he went back to school and received an associates in drafting. I think the plan was to get his undergrad, but at some point he decided he needed to get back into construction, even though his body wasn’t ready.
My dad has since worked in pain every single day of his life. It’s important to note that he isn’t even 20 years older than me, so I am talking about a man who was in his twenties when all this went down. How does a man deal with that day in and day out? I know the answer; what drove him was his desire to take care of his family, and that he did. Unfortunately he sacrificed his body for our well-being, for which I will always be grateful. This is of course what parents do; we protect and provide for our children at any cost.
He never had a nice car and he never had any hobbies that I can remember, other than playing the guitar. He never really had anything of value because it was all spent on us. I often wonder what dreams he wasn’t able to attain because of the responsibilities his family required of him, and the complications of a life-altering injury. One day it really dawned on me as I looked down at my brand new Nike’s, and then at his dirty, worn out, Velcro shoes. There was an obvious sacrifice happening in this home, much of which was for me.
There is nothing more noble than the selfless sacrifices we make for our families. But what I learned from my dad is that we must try as best we can to avoid having to make this sort of sacrifice in the first place. Not all of us are born into situations that set us up for success in life. My dad certainly wasn’t, and it only took one unlucky break for everything he had built to crumble out from under him. There was no rich dad to call up for help, there was no security blanket for my father.
The good news is that in this day and age we don’t have to be the dad in Velcro shoes. We all have so much more opportunity available to us than my dad did. I’m not saying everything is equal for everyone,,, but student loans are available, computers are inexpensive, and you can literally learn a new skill every week using only the internet. We undoubtedly live in amazing times that present us with information that only the wealthiest had access to in the past.
It is also just as easy now to end up in the position my dad found himself in then. Despite all these opportunities around us, it doesn’t do us any good if we don’t take advantage of them. We must use all the opportunities available to us to succeed, we must learn the skills we need to move forward, we must follow our passions without guilt in order to become the people we aspire to be. If we can learn how to realize our own dreams, we will be that much more qualified to help our children reach theirs.
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C.J. is the blogger behind the Vow of Practicality. “Let’s grow your wealth, increase your productivity, and maximize your happiness.”