Friday, July 29, 2011

"Don't complain that you had to wait to eat."

I grew up with a dad who worked construction.  Mostly heavy construction - roadworks and sewer and water - when I was a kid.  If he wasn't away in that vagueness us Canadians call "Up North" for a few weeks to a few months at a time, he was working long hours all summer, effectively gone to me with my early bedtime and his early wake time, and then laid off all winter.  This was also in the days when there were no cell phones.  I remember how excited we were when my dad got a pager and we could page him, knowing he'd call us back as soon as he got to a payphone or the office.  Before that, we had no clue most nights what time he might come home at.

I remember sometimes on weekends my dad would take me with him running errands.  This often meant stopping at various suppliers' warehouses or showrooms for work-related stuff, going to the dump (we lived in the country and my dad likes to scavenge for stuff he can fix up), washing the car, stopping in at Beaver Lumber (where they had full size play structures on display outside to play on), going to my Uncle Luther's studio (he's an artist and collector - I loved looking at all his things and artwork), stopping in at friends' houses (images of Lynrd Skynrd records, motorcycles, full ashtrays, stubby beer bottles, dirty garages full of car parts and greasy jean jackets are conjured up) or milling around in Princess Auto.

I have this one memory...  I'm too big for my car seat now, a big girl.  I like my car seat.  It's familiar.  White plastic form with light brown waterproof lightly padded cover.  My mom says I'm going to go with my dad to take the car seat to the dump.  We go and my dad just gets me out, takes it out of the car, chucks it, we get back in and drive away.  I feel strange in the big seatbelt - loose and insecure.  I'm sad that my car seat is gone.  My dad wants to cheer me up.  We're on a gravel road and there is a bump coming so he speeds up a bit so we can get butterflies as we go over.  This is not something I would enjoy but it is something he would enjoy.  My father has trouble making these distinctions.  There's a pothole when we land and I bounce up too high, hitting my head on the ceiling of the car.  I'm upset, he's uncomfortable and he doesn't know how to comfort me.  He makes some jokes, tells me to tough up and I try.  Now we're at the car wash and he leaves the radio on for me while he soaps up the windows.  As he cloaks the car in white darkness I wait in anticipation for him to make a peephole with the clean water and smile and wave at me.  George Harrison's Got My Mind Set On You plays on the radio.  This is a nice memory for me, this time in the car wash with my dad, peeping in the window, smiling and waving at me in the dark carwash.

As I got older, my dad got better jobs and in my teen years he was typically gone five days a week but home all weekend.  Because I was a teenager and he was absent so often, I think he felt some responsibility to pick up the slack parenting on the weekends which is a noble deed, to be sure, except that he did it in a disciplinarian, authoritarian way.  We never really had a close relationship because he was so often absent so this compulsion to just "enforce the law", as it were, made it even harder for us to be close.

My Dad Walks Me Down the
Aisle Four Years Ago
As a little kid I didn't really understand that my dad was doing anything different from other dads.  As I got older and teen angst grew stronger and our relationship grew more tenuous I was glad when he'd leave on Mondays because my mom and I had a routine and she was predictable.  As an adult, I am sad that I don't have a close relationship with my dad and I can see that it is at least in part due to his often being absent.

Now, I'm married to a carpenter.  We have been fortunate that he has generally had work close enough to home to sleep in our bed each night, though we have had separations typically a few times a year for work for anywhere from a few days to six weeks.  Since The Smiler was born, though, The Carpenter hasn't had to go away for work.  Until now, that is.

For the past month my husband has been gone five days a week and home only on the weekend.  For the past five months before that, he worked 60-70 hours a week, at least six days a week, starting early in the morning and working until late at night, often not seeing his son or only being able to say good night to him quickly before he fell asleep.

Most People Have Chairs in Their Breakrooms.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn't think about this when I married him.  I know what it was like having an absent father and I'm worried the same thing is going to play out for my son, now.   The Carpenter tries very hard to be home as much as possible but sometimes you have to accommodate in order to keep your job.  His employer isn't bad to him and it's the same way everywhere else in the construction industry.  I remind myself that many other places are in recessions and no building is taking place.  We have a short summer in Manitoba and we try to do as much construction as possible during those months, I get it.  I really do.  I try to be thankful for the work that IS available.  I try to be grateful that my husband has a good enough job that we can squeak by on one income and whatever I get from odd jobs here and there.  I try to be grateful for all the stuff I have that others don't but when there's a crying toddler and I haven't had a break all week and I'm hungry and tired or when my hair is dirty and the kitchen needs cleaning and my vehicle needs repairs or when I skooch over out of habit to make room for someone who isn't there next to me at night I miss my man.

The Smiler is missing his daddy, too.  He gets so excited when The Carpenter comes home and when it's time for him to go again on Monday, The Smiler just keeps hugging him and doesn't want to let him go.  He cries when the door closes behind his daddy.

My Monkey Man Up Six Stories in the Air
I'm sure The Carpenter sometimes wonders why he didn't choose a different career path, too.  He's amazing at what he does and truly loves it, though, and I would never ask him to give up a career he loves (to be clear, he loves carpentry, not being away from home).  At the end of the night, after he's worked all day and has only a shared hotel room to go "home" to after eating restaurant food for supper AGAIN (trust me, this gets old fast), after he's hurried in the shower to accommodate his roomie(s) and lays down in a foreign bed, my man misses his family.

So what am I saying all this for?  Here it is.  Sometimes, when I was a little girl and my dad was working heavy construction, on rare evenings when he'd be home for supper and we'd eat as a family, my mom would complain about traffic hold-ups on the way home from work.  My dad would say, "Don't complain that you had to wait to eat."

The Carpenter Was Mere FEET Away When This Crane
Fell and Nearly Killed Him and Several Other People
Next time you find yourself stopped in the car, staring at a "SLOW" or - even worse - "STOP" sign and maybe getting a little perturbed, or unable to find what you need in the grocery store because of renovations or having to park on the far end of the lot because they're repaving, remember that those people working there bust their asses every day.  They get up at the crack of dawn, they work in conditions postal workers wouldn't even consider, they work in the blazing heat and the freezing cold, in pouring rain and mucky spring muds.  They skip their breaks and lunches, they run out of water and can't access more, they hurt their hands, knees and backs, they work late, late, late to get it done (as the saying goes in the industry, "Time, tide and concrete wait for no man"), they work nights, they go up and down in crazy machines, risking their lives and they work HARD.  Physically HARD.  They have families waiting for them at home and they don't want to be at work any more than the next person does.  They certainly don't want to hold up your day, either.

These are the people who make the roads we drive on and the sidewalks we walk on.  They make the grocery stores we shop in and the malls we walk around.  They make the museums we take our children to.  They make the skate parks and amusement parks.  They install the sewer systems we don't give a second thought to when we flush away.  They make the swimming pools we swim in and the stages we are entertained on.  They make the stands we cheer from.  They make the driveways or garages we park in and the homes we sleep in.

They are my father and husband.

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