On Friday, my Dad woke up at 4 a.m. to go to work for the last time.
His time is now his own (well, his and my mother’s.) This seems impossible to me, as my dad has planned his life around his duty to his employer since before I was born.
My dad has always worked hard. He got his start at Children’s Palace when he was a teenager. Long defunct, Children’s Palace was a retail chain that sold toys. He followed the post office’s motto—neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would stop him from showing up for a shift.
One morning he woke to find several feet of snow on the ground. Shutting off the alarm and going back to bed never crossed his mind—he had a shift. He couldn’t drive on the unplowed roads, so he started walking.
Though someone eventually picked him up, he intended to walk the ten miles to Children’s Palace if he had to.
I have no doubt he would have.
He was one of only a handful of employees who’d showed up, and there were certainly no customers. They tossed around a football in the parking lot.
He spent the bulk of his adult life working in a factory that made automobile windshields. Because the glass-making furnace took days to reheat after being shut down, the place ran twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.
Every day meant every day.
Saturdays. Sundays. New Year’s Day. Thanksgiving. Christmas Day.
My dad worked every hour of the day—the morning shift, the swing shift, the midnight shift. He worked on a rotation, changing shifts after a week so that he could never really get into a dedicated sleep schedule. He worked many twelve hour shifts.
And when he finally got a day off, if someone else was sick or called off, he’d have to go back in.
The glass furnace never slept. My mother made sure he did.
He wanted to forgo daytime sleep and run on caffeine and the boundless energy he still possesses. But I forever remember her browbeating him into bed, even though she’d rather have him up with her as well. She enforced quiet while he slept—no friends over, no screaming while running around in the backyard.
He made his sacrifices, and she did as well.
He drove 25 miles each way to work, and some days it took almost an hour.
He was never late. If there was a snowstorm, he left early. If there was a blizzard—like the Pittsburgh blizzard of 1993—he left earlier. He made it there in a Geo metro with a 3-cylinder, 1.0 liter engine.
The company gave him a special award for making it to work that day.
He had no great passion for his work—he saw each shift as a promise, and he is a man of his word. He showed up, he did both the job on the job description, and anything else he could find to make himself useful.
I had no idea as a kid that this might be a difficult way to live. I didn’t know because he never complained.
It wasn’t until I became an adult—with the luxury of weekends and holidays off, every night for sleeping, and the ability to take a sick or work-from-home day on a whim, did I realize how he grinded all those years.
They’re calling for snow tonight and into Monday. Eleven inches, maybe more. Weather that’ll close down the city, but wouldn’t have closed down my dad.
And for the first time since his days at Children’s Palace, he won’t have to suit up and take it on.
He can sleep through it or, knowing him, he’ll build a snowman.
But finally, he’ll have the choice.