Thirty-eight years ago, my dad began working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. His job was to order, monitor and maintain the parts and services necessary to keep his district’s highway equipment functioning properly.
For 38 years, he parked in the same parking lot, worked in the same building, ate lunch in the same break room, traded stories with the same guys, and then went home to the same house and same wife.
It wasn’t what most people would call a glamorous job, not something I generally bragged about to my friends. People asked me what he did, I told them, and that was usually that.
I’m not even sure what my father thought about his job. It’s not something we spent a lot of time talking about, probably because I was preoccupied with my own concerns and not particularly interested in his.
My dad didn’t attend college. After graduating from high school and serving overseas in the military, he began working for the state the same year I was born.
My dad told me once that a government job was good because you didn’t have to worry much about job security or benefits. That left more time to worry about bigger issues, I suppose, such as how to feed and clothe four little kids and a wife on a rather meager salary guaranteed to rise some – but not too much – every year.
He was dependable, sincere, hard-working and a good friend – positive attributes, to be sure, but not exactly ones that land you in People magazine these days.
He was offered a few promotions, I later learned – more money, better jobs. But the promotions required pulling up stakes and moving somewhere else.
He didn’t go, according to my mom, because he didn’t want to uproot his kids from their schools and their friends. He stayed where he was, making it easier for my sisters and me to go where he wanted to go.
Once, I thought about dropping out of college after a few miserable months 600 miles from home, so I called my dad for advice.
Stick it out for awhile, he said. Things will work out.
For quite a few years, that was his standard response to my problems. And, although I tried to be polite, I always thought the same thing: That’s pretty simplistic advice. Sure, it works for you, but…
But I grew older, and after I tried different jobs and lived in different cities and moved to different homes and neighborhoods and married and had kids, my dad became smarter.
Somehow or other, things always seem to work out. Not exactly as I want them to, and never as quickly as I’d like, but things always seem to work out.
Well, my dad retired from the highway department last month. He won’t be punching a time clock anymore; I’m not sure exactly what he’ll be doing – messing around on the Internet, maybe. Taking care of his small farm and doing whatever odd jobs my mom comes up with, I guess.
He’s ready to live life for himself, hopefully, after 38 years of working and providing for the rest of us.
Many years ago, while we were driving home from some now-obscure elementary school event, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
My response, straight from a young, impressionable heart, was quick: “I want to be just like you, Dad.”
I’ll never forget his response, delivered without taking his eyes from the road: “I think you can do better than that, Rick.”
I’m not so sure, anymore.