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Dad's UAW retired worker cardThe ethic, not the work

A couple of days ago Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz asked, via Facebook, "What's Your Labor? What do you do with your days? How did you get here?"

I've been thinking about my job compared to my dad's, my work life compared to his. I sure didn't follow in his footsteps as a factory worker—he'd have hated that—but I work hard because he taught me how.

He carried his beat up "Retired UAW Member" union card in his wallet from May 1975 until he became bed-ridden in his last months. Never an activist, I think he still really did see himself as an autoworker. He didn't love his work as a grinder at Ohio Crankshaft. Sometimes I think he hated going in at 6:30 every morning. But he did it because it was a good, secure, decent-paying job, and that's what a man did.

I remember dad coming home from work tired and napping on the couch after our 4:30 supper. Maybe that was only the days and weeks when he worked overtime, when his day stretched to 10 or 12 hours. No matter, later every night after the 11 o'clock news he would make his lunch: a bologna sandwich, maybe a piece of fruit. Then he'd wrap it in the Sports section of the Cleveland Press that he'd saved so he could read it at lunchtime.

On the weekends, and some weeknights too, he and mom would work on remodeling our old house on Heath Avenue, across from St. Catherine's. He taught me about sweat-soldering copper pipe and hammering nails and painting, pointing out my mistakes or short-cuts with the old saying "Either do it right or don't do it at all." At the time in my head I always responded "OK, I won't do it at all" as I grudgingly hammered or painted.

Years later I realized the irony as I told my own son as he did his chores: "Either do it right or don't do it at all."

My work

I'm a college teacher. I love my job, teaching Visual Communication & Design at Cuyahoga Community College. Just the other day I was walking down the hall and looked in on another teacher in front of her class. It struck me right then what a great job this is: you know something about a subject and you get paid to hang out in a room a couple times a week talking with people who want to learn about it.

I have a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree and I think I'm pretty knowledgeable in my field, but sometimes I feel like I'm just a guy doing a job. In a good way: I'm getting paid to teach, so I'd better do it as well as I can. It's what a man does. If the taxpayers are getting their money's worth from me they can thank an autoworker.

Happy Labor Day.

Dad at his latheDad's last visit to the machine he operated for 42 years.

This is probably at his retirement party: note the box of cigars in his hand, and of course the fancy clothes.


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