My First Real Job/I get close with my dad:
Late in my sophomore year at Thornridge my dad’s company Union Carbide went on strike. Dad believed a man was not a man if he wasn’t working. Dad needed to work, so after his time on the picket line he looked for a job. The job he found was to change his and my life. It was a small hot water heater company was looking for a machinist and dad got the job. I remember him telling me, “I was honest with him. I told him we were on strike and that all I could promise was eight hours work for eight hours pay.”
TETCO Metal Products was a small plant that made hot water heaters in Riverdale. When the strike ended dad stayed on at TETCO and worded weekends and evenings for several years. He dearly loved working at TETCO. I often wondered what it was about TETCO that made him so happy. Looking back it, TETCO gave him a place where he could use all his skills and intelligence. It gave him a deep pride in his work a pride he never got at his union job at Carbide. In fact he worked harder at TETCO than at his full time job. I think the reason for this was Carbide was a job he had to have and TETCO was the job he wanted. TETCO also gave him something he needed desperately, respect.
Right or wrong dad never believed he was loved or respected by our extended family. He felt he was always being put down and that he was not really wanted. I believe he may have been partially right. I obtained his military medical records and personal file after he passed away. What I found has helped me to understand his feelings. I often felt the same way growing up and his records helped to validate my own feelings as well, at least in part. Growing up it seemed as if Dad and I were always a step behind and to the left of our extended family. Very often especially in my younger years I felt mom had some resentment toward me. It was one of those feelings that made no sense. Growing up I always felt loved but also felt some unease on the periphery of my consciousness.
Often during my sophomore and early junior years I would walk from1530 University Ave down Greenwood road the four or five miles to TETCO to visit with dad. Sometimes I would hop a freight heading to the freight yards in Dolton. The tracks ran the west side of Greenwood Road. I’ll never forget my first hop. I had just crossed Sibley Boulevard and was walking down Greenwood when I saw the slow moving freight train. It was going just a little faster than I was walking. I remembered old movies where hobos often hopped the freight and sat in empty boxcars. I ran across the road and started trotting alongside the train. Then with a boyish sense of adventure I grabbed the ladder going up the side of the boxcar I was running alongside and I was riding my way into Dolton. It brought me less than a half a block from TETCO, neat! Hoping freight became my means of transportation to visit dad until I got my license to drive.
Being with dad as he was working, seeing him creating something out of a block of steel and the joy he had in doing a job well greatly impacted me. My dad had no union at TETCO but he did have skill and a joy in doing a good job. As a result he was valuable to Mr. Teters who paid him well and gave him more and more responsibility within the plant. My dad had something Mr. Teters wanted and my dad was happy to sell his knowledge and ability to Mr. Teters at a good price. I remember my dad letting me run a milling machine and bringing the cut to within 1/1000 of an inch. He showed me how to use a set of calipers to make measurements and a feeler gauge. One night I visited him and he showed me how to use a me use a spot welder then gave me two pieces of metal to weld together. Another night he showed me how to use a welder and weld using a welding rod by “carrying a bead” down two pieces of steel. The more I saw my dad work using various trades he had learned over the years the more it hit me that the more you know the more you are worth.
In my junior year dad got me a job as a janitor at the plant. I was to work his hours and he would be my supervisor. Mr. Teters and my dad showed me around the places I would have to clean. It looked fairly easy until we walked into the workers locker room. It was a room that would inspire revulsion in the most hardened janitor. Too say it was filthy, dirty and gross would be an understatement. As we walked into the locker room we passed eight commodes. Each more gross than the other. It was like someone had purposely spread feces over the porcelain parts of the bowl. Used toilet paper lay on the floor evidently some people are so lazy putting toilet paper in the bowl is too hard.
The locker room itself was filled with dirty pictures and magazines, for me the only good part of the whole thing. My dad saw my revulsion and smiled. Later, when Mr. Teters left for the day dad found me cleaning one of the offices. He took me to the men’s locker room and gave me one of the most valuable lessons of my life. “Do the hardest job first and remember” he said with a smile, “you can always wash your hands and shower after work, and it looks like you’ll need too." he went on, "Remember you are here on my recommendation don’t let me down.” Then he showed me the best way to clean the locker room, a power hose, rubber gloves, strong cleaning solution and a long handled brush. I’m proud to say when I was done the locker room and commodes never looked so clean. Neither did the offices and break areas. Throughout the first night dad kept coming to check on me telling me how to best do the work and making sure it was done properly. After the first night except for an end of shift inspection he left me alone.
Over the next several weeks the complements started to come, “This is the cleanest the locker room has ever been.” It amazed me that the men actually started to clean up after themselves. The locker room still needed cleaning and the power hose was more than useful but as long as I kept it really clean they helped to keep it that way. It was the same in the break areas and in the offices.
As I got better at cleaning I got done quicker. Leaving me a couple of hours a night to do my homework my grades started to improve as a result. Working and the complements of doing a good job gave me confidence; confidence inspired me in other areas. I was changing. More important I was growing closer to my dad than ever before. We were not just father and son anymore, he was my supervisor, my mentor but more we were actually becoming confidants.