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Selling shoes, Dad taught me to see work as a calling

Updated: August 3, 2011 10:21PM

All I learned about having a career, I got from my Dad.

Sure, I knew women who worked, but the impression the young me got from them was that women had jobs not so much because they wanted them, but because they had to have them, to help their families survive financially. With my heart set on being a journalist, I felt my work would be different. To figure out what it was like to be someone who saw his profession as a calling, I looked to Dad.

For his entire adult life, Dad was a manager for the now-shuttered Kinney Shoes. What a disservice the shoe man Al Bundy on the TV comedy “Married ... with Children” did for that job! My dad, who has been retired for quite a while now, just loved his work; he enjoyed the customers and his employees so much.

I know I picked up a lot from watching how he felt about his job. Working long hours, giving the job your all — and then some — treating the people who worked for you fairly, those are all traits I believe I picked up from Dad.

As a teen I worked for him. We rode to work together — more time to glean his wisdom — and it was in these years I witnessed how, when you found the kind of work you loved, there was so much joy and personal satisfaction in it. Take the first big snow of every season. While everyone else dreaded its arrival, that was like Christmas Day for Dad. The store would be packed, boxes of boots were everywhere and the register never stopped ringing. In the middle of it all there he was, talking to customers, helping this employee or that one and always so pleased at the big sales.

Or there’d be the times when he’d be out back tinting a pair of shoes for someone’s prom or a wedding. He’d stand at that table mixing those colors like a chemist and experimenting until he’d gotten it just right; after all, someone would wear them for a special day. From watching him, I realized if I was going to have a career, money was not nearly as important as having work that mattered to you.

Thinking back on all this, it makes me sad to realize how many kids don’t have a dad there to be the good influence he should be. A study out this week from the Pew Research Center showed 27 percent of dads with kids 18 or younger don’t live with them. Some of those dads — 20 percent — make it their business to see their kids several times a week. That’s great. Yet sadly, of those not living with their offspring, 27 percent didn’t see their children at all in the past year. Wow.

The report also mentions that lower-wage dads are less likely than those with good-paying jobs to be involved with their children. But it’s not the job that a dad has, it’s the attention he pays that is important, and all fathers need to realize that. Maybe they worry they don’t have much to share. But they do.

My dad wasn’t in a profession that made big bucks. But what I learned from him in those days is something money can’t buy.

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