A life-long gift from my father
Father’s Day was last Sunday, and I don’t want the occasion to fade too far into the past before pausing to remember one of the most worthwhile, life-long gifts my father gave me—the understanding that work is honorable and that you need to work to achieve things in life, not expect them as some sort of right or entitlement.
Dad taught me this lesson in several ways. One, he was an example to me. Dad was not afraid of work, any kind of work. As a young man, he was a mechanic, drove a dump truck, and ranched. He was good with his hands (a gift not included in the DNA he passed on to me) and could do carpentry or fix broken items. After World War II, he felt led to the ministry and went to John Brown University. While attending full-time, he also worked to support his wife and four children.
We moved to Stillwater when I was in the eighth grade. Here, with a family now expanded to six children, he preached at a small church, taught shop in the mornings in Perkins and in the afternoon in Glencoe, and finished a master’s degree at OSU. In time, he became the photography teacher in the School of Journalism at OSU and also continued as pastor of a small church.
A second way he taught me to work was a requirement that I do certain chores around the house. This was not a hoped-for action or a request that I had the option of granting or disregarding; it was an expectation, a responsibility to be fulfilled. And it did no damage to my self-esteem, a worry that seems too prevalent today with some parents; rather, it boosted my self-esteem through the realization that I could do things and through the commendation and encouragement my mom and dad provided.
For much of my childhood, my parents were what today we would call poor. Income was limited and the dollars had to stretch with a large family. Thus, most of my life I did not receive an allowance, something many modern children would not understand or, perhaps, even believe. The limited time I did receive an allowance, it came with a requirement. I was assigned certain tasks; for example, I had to keep the trash emptied and do so without having to be constantly reminded by Mom to do the job. Failure to meet this requirement meant no allowance that week. A good way to learn.
What I remember most, though, about Dad’s teaching me to work came in the summer following my fifth-grade year in school. We were living in Electra, TX, where Dad was pastoring a small church. I wanted to earn more than my allowance and Dad asked if I had any ideas about how to do it. I could mow lawns, I suggested. Do you have a lawn mower, he asked. No, I said, suggesting that maybe I could use the family lawn mower. That mower was a hand-pushed mower, not a gasoline-powered one. It had rolling blades and was really hard to use on any lawn with grass more than a couple of inches high.
Dad commented about how hard it was for me to mow our lawn using that mower, but said I could use it if I could line up some work. I got a church member to agree to pay me for mowing her lawn, and I went to Dad with the good news. He congratulated me on my initiative and said he had another idea. To my surprise, he proposed that he buy one of those new electric lawn mowers at the local hardware store and I could use it with some requirements attached.
One, I had to round up several lawns to do and once I started the project there was no stopping because it was hot or I wanted to go swimming or I was tired of working or other excuses. Two, it was up to me to get the lawn mower to and from the work sites. Three, I was to mow our lawn weekly and do so without fussing, complaining or having to be told regularly to mow it.
I did not have to work out a payment plan to pay for the lawn mower. Dad was providing that and any money I earned was mine. If I was able to save money, fine; if I wasted it, that was my problem. But no more allowance, either. I was not only going to learn to work to earn my income, I was going to learn some great lessons in money management. However, there was one other requirement. I would have to tithe 10 percent of everything I earned. God’s portion came first.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Dad couldn’t afford to buy the lawn mower. He had to make a loan to purchase it. Yet, he displayed enough faith and confidence in me to do so.
That lawn mower lasted me for three summers of almost daily use. I managed to get enough work that I had hours of mowing almost daily. In those summers following the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, I earned enough money to buy myself a bicycle, my first new suit, and many other things. (My dermatologist might also tell you that those summers of going hours in the sun sans shirt and hat are now aiding her income.)
Fortunately, I remembered as an adult to thank my father before his death for purchasing that bright red electric lawn mower. It proved to be a life-long gift from him.