My father’s name is Rex.
He is an intelligent man. Could have been, could have done anything I believe. Very capable, he tries things, takes risks, and is pragmatic. He chooses not to dwell on things that he is now unable to control - deeds done, mistakes made, words said. Find it and fix it, or forgive it and free it. He chooses to be positive.
He is interesting, and is interested. Interested in people, and curious about things; how they work, why they work they way they do. If something is broken, he enquires, investigates. If something is broken, he doesn’t replace, he repairs.
My father has simple, varied pleasures. He’s an avid reader - science fiction mostly. He likes a good beer, JS Bach, Creedence, and the Doobie Brothers. He likes going for long drives; he's mad about fishing; he loves chopping wood, and every evening, before dinner, he enjoys 12 Meal Mates, with tasty cheese and too much marmite. He eats food very slowly, savouring every mouthful, “conscious-eating” some might call it. He is careful to collect every fallen, errant morsel; waste nothing. Leave no crumb behind! This is how Dad is.
He is brave. He saved a baby from a burning house once. I found the article from an old newspaper, in a box at the back of my parents’ wardrobe. He doesn’t boast. He did what anyone surely would do, he says.
He is tough. Cuts, bruises, burns and blows don’t stop him, nor does a cracked head when an industrial sized chain fell from a 30 foot rafter in his workshop. Drove himself to A&E with his head out the window, careful to not get blood on the seat. Didn’t want to cause a fuss or make a mess.
By day, Dad fixes stuff. He's a fitter and turner by trade. He fixes cars, trucks, tractors, diggers, dozers, graders. Engines and everything else - huge and small. He fixes them when they're broken, burst, blocked, boiled over or blown up. He does this in the pit of his workshop or on the side of the road, in hot sun; in torrential rain.
My father gets up every morning at 4.30, to start work at 6am. My father is 69 years old.
I don't know a whole lot about fitting and turning and all that it entails. But I do know he is great at what he does. Brilliant, even.
He's old school. He doesn't necessarily do things the easiest or the fastest way. He does things the proper way, the right way. He’s a good man, and thorough.
But at the same time, he's willing and ready to adapt and improvise and innovate. If a part doesn’t exist, he’ll make one. If one way doesn’t work, he’ll find another. He’s Macguyver-esque.
We'll be driving down the motorway. Someone’s car has broken down on the side of the road. Dad will be the person to stop. He’ll be the person to try to fix their broken alternator or johnson rod, and he'll try to do it with whatever he has on hand. If his toolbox isn’t there, it’ll be with whatever is: a bobby pin, a broken pencil and plastic spoon.
He'll do what he can, with what he's got.
When I was 19 I had my first “proper” job, in an office, wearing a suit, 9-5, very professional. I didn't really like it. It wasn't that it was bad. It just wasn't good. I'd been trying to stick it out - maybe this is what work is supposed to feel like. Maybe that’s just the way proper work is.
I talked to my Dad. I expected him to give me a sternly worded reminder of the sacrifices my parents made, outline the privileged position I’m in and follow up with the responsibilities we all have and that like them or not - endure we must. I expected he’d finish with a trifecta of pith: “harden up; stop complaining; get on with it”, that sort of thing.
But he didn’t. Instead, he said, "every morning I get up, I have my shower and my toast and coffee, and I think about all the things I've got to do. The problems I've got to deal with. I think about how I'm going to fix them. I plan my day around all that. And I look forward to it. If you're waking up hating what the way you're about to spend your day, seeing no value, then, there’s a problem and that needs to be fixed.”
And so I moved on. It took a while. But still, I moved on, inspired by my Dad who likes his job and who looks forward to his day.
Now, this job of his is not one that pay heaps. It's really quite modest.
And he’s spent a lot of time doing it, forgoing other things. He wasn’t around that much growing up: always working. Late nights. Weekends. Holidays. They had time and a half then; double time on the statutories. That extra pay made a difference in our household.
He's not in a senior management position. He's not interested in that, never has been. He wants to be in there, his big permanently oil-stained hands dirty, getting under the machinery, fixing the problem, making it better than before. And in the fixing of the pistons and the distributors and the brake pads and the crankshafts, there is evidence of the craftsman at work. Of skill. Of care and respect for the work he does and of that which he works on. Here's a man who chooses to enjoy how he spends his working day.
He doesn't leap out of bed, singing a happy ditty, skipping out the door like some toothpaste commercial.
But he doesn't dread it. Doesn’t find it a drag. There is no drudgery there. There is no clockwatching, no wishing the working day away. He’s never pulled a sickie because he can't be bothered. He doesn't slag the job off. Yes, he talks about his frustrations and challenges, but therein lies opportunity - to fix, to make better. There’s pride there. Love for the work. Love for the opportunity the work presents.
He looks forward to the contribution he'll make. To the conversations he’ll have. To the people he'll get to meet. To the driving he'll do. To the problems he'll solve. Simple things perhaps. But stuff that matters to my father.
He has been in the job, for the same company, for 51 years, 5 months, 21 days. This dirty, messy, modestly-paid job he likes. That he looks forward to every day. Content and fulfilled and busy and challenged. Feeling everyday like he's helping in some way to make stuff and things happen.
To do that, for that long, and feel that good about it, I think, is remarkable. And inspiring. And wonderful.
To choose to enjoy what you do, to know you’re good at it or to work till you are, to know you are contributing, for it to be your craft - that there is real gold. It's wealth. That is, to paraphrase Thoreau, to be paid handsomely and made rich by the satisfaction which one’s labor yields. Propelled not by pecuniary profit, but instead by a sense of purpose, of pride in one's performance, and by passion for proficiency.
As Annie Dillard says, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Like my father, I want to choose to spend it fulfilled in the way I spend my days, fulfilled by the meaning and mastery of the things I do, the disposition I maintain, the contribution I make, and the help I can give. For that, in my eyes at least, will be a life well spent.