My father was a Mechanical Engineer. That was how he defined himself. Sure, he retired as the Executive Vice-President of the company where he worked for 42 years, but he was always an engineer first. The precision necessary for the development and design of machines was the same precision with which he conducted his life. However, if you didn’t know him very well, you would never have suspected that he thought or conducted himself in this way.
He came from a poor family so he knew that to realize his dream of becoming an engineer, he would have to find ways to make it happen. At the time, he lived in Akron, Ohio and this location had three things that he would need to make his dreams come true. First, the University of Akron (UofA) had a very good Engineering School, second UofA had an ROTC program, and third Akron was the home of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
He enrolled in UofA in 1932 as an ROTC student not because he was so enamored with military service, but because he could get his education free under the ROTC program. Then after his second year, he would also be paid a small amount each month. This was the Great Depression and every little bit of money was important. Then in 1935 during his Junior year, he married my mother. My mother, only 18 at the time, would never go to college and I don’t know what types of jobs she might have held at that time, but I do know that my father got a full-time job at Goodyear testing tires. In those days, tires were tested only one way; by putting them on a car, in this case a Model A Ford, and driving it around an oval track. Goodyear employed many such drivers to keep the cars moving around that track 24 hours a day.
Clearly, this is not a story about a man known to be lazy. During his entire working life, he would arrive at work 1 hour early and leave 1 hour late every single day. And so, when I was in my teenaged years, he said to me, “I’m probably the laziest person you’ll ever meet,” I couldn’t think of anything to say. I knew a little of his history and this wasn’t a lazy person.
This whole episode started when I couldn’t find my wallet. I then spent the next 15 minutes searching for, and eventually finding the wallet before I could go about doing whatever it was that I was going to do anyway. Shaking his head, Dad told me that when he gets ready for bed, he empties his pockets in the same way every time. That way he knows where his keys, pocket change, pocket knife, and wallet is every time he needs them. “I’m too lazy to go looking for things, so I always put them where they belong,” he told me.
The next few years I experienced the result of Dad’s singular mission to teach me to put things where they belong. All the while, he would say how lazy he was and how much extra energy I must have to be willing to do so much extra work in life. I wasn’t a very good student I’m afraid. When I did the dishes, no one could find the lids to the pans. When I washed the car, no one could find the bucket or the sponge. I won’t even mention the anguish when I would borrow tools to work on my car. He was relentless. There was always an occasion where he would notice that things weren’t where they belonged, and he never missed an opportunity to mention it to me.
Then I left home for college, and I’m sure Dad was shaking his head wondering whether I had learned anything from his efforts. While I’m sure I didn’t mention it to him, I was starting to notice that I never had to look for keys, or my wallet, or anything else. Slowly, it became my mission to know where everything belonged. Gradually, I became as lazy as Dad always claimed to be. Conducting my business the way Dad had taught me then spilled over to my workplace. I was always ready for the next assignment without having to gather materials or documentation and I saw new opportunities come my way as a result.
Then I got married, had children, and the cycle began again. I tried to teach my children the same principles that my father had taught me. However, I lacked the relentless dedication to this mission that my father had imposed on me. There were times when I would let things slide or not even notice that things were misplaced. As a result, I have probably spared my children some small portion of OCD that my father tried to pass along to me. He was driven to do things as perfectly as they could possibly be done and he would constantly check to make sure everything was done properly. I’ll bet his employees were all kinds of happy working for him.
This story shows an example of the subtle changes that often occur when family teachings and principles are handed down through the generations. We accept what our parents teach us and do our best to learn from them. Sometimes we don’t like the lessons. Sometimes we don’t like the teaching methods. But, I think we all take something from each lesson and attempt to pass it along to the next generation, often with our own experiences melded into it to form a new lesson. Over the years, I began to realize that this wasn’t so much a result of my need to teach, as it was my children’s need to learn. There will always be a constant, ‘Dad why do you do it this way?’ or ‘Dad how does this work?’ or ‘Dad do you know where I left my wallet/keys/pocketbook/iPhone/iPad/?’ Followed by a gentle shake of the head and thoughts of how lazy I am.
© J T Weaver
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