I was born into considerable poverty.
When I turned eighteen and left home to attend University, my parents had just started the construction of their million-dollar dream home.
The same father who was standing there when I made my entrance into this world was standing there once again as I packed my bags and embraced my family goodbye, bound for a new life some 3,000 miles away.
When I was born in mid-1980, my father was a young college student. 24-years old, he was working full-time to put himself through engineering school. My mother also took on employment in the limited hours she could afford to work. Being parents to my older sister and me, fitting in daily class schedules, and completing all of the nightly studies, left our family’s bank statements screaming constant red. The time and ability they both had to earn income was precious and often difficult to come by. We were a poor family, easily placed within the category of “those just trying to survive.”
I spent the entirety of my childhood, tagging along with Mom, purchasing our school clothes, furniture, and the majority of our other living necessities from thrift stores. Almost everything we owned was second-hand. Sometimes, I’m quite sure, third or fourth.
As if the demands of two children weren’t stressful and consuming enough, several more children were added to our family after me. Child number five was born with Down’s syndrome, and so required even more time and expense given on her behalf. In eleven years, my mother gave birth to seven children, each of them draining their own portion of the family checking account, each of them with their own set of specific or special needs, and each of them demanding whatever divided attention their worn-out parents were able to give.
Throughout it all, my father worked, and he worked hard. It wasn’t enough for him to simply keep up with the family’s growing expenditures. He graduated college and went on to earn an advanced degree in civil engineering. He worked every day, climbing the corporate ladder, improving his station, and thereby improving life for his family.
Eventually he joined together with his brother, and the two of them went into business for themselves. With time, the effort and strain to put his family ahead began to pay off. Though small in nature, he started seeing extra dividends for his labor and the risks he was taking slowly started to transform into measurable success.
When I was twelve years old, I remember how wonderful it felt to finally shop for our school clothes at Wal-Mart instead of the all-too-familiar second-hand stores. The euphoria I felt as I ran my hands across the racks of brand-new clothes was overwhelmingly wonderful. We still couldn’t afford much, but that year we could afford new, and to a pre-teen boy whose wardrobe was often the center of ridicule by other children, the moment was life-changing.
Buying new clothes felt so good. I remember standing there, staring at the shopping cart, not yet a teenager, promising myself that I would always work hard enough that my kids would never be forced to wear used clothing.
As a young teenager, I watched as bigger business deals fell into place for my father and his brother. I never knew how much money he was making, though I wasn’t oblivious to the quality of our lives improving as we first graduated from apartments to small houses, and then from small houses to bigger ones. We enjoyed better quality food in our meals. We stopped finding ourselves stranded, standing on the roadside next to broken-down or smoking vehicles. With time, the quality of just about everything improved for us.
At fourteen, I made the mistake of asking my dad for a free handout. I’ll never forget what he said in his somewhat stern reply. “Danny, I will never just give you money. You have to work for things in this life. I will, however, help you find ways to earn it.”
Thank goodness he was a real dad to me. No matter how much money he eventually made, he always required that I make my own way in life. If I wanted to buy basketball or football cards, I had to go weed the gardens of my neighbors. Later on, if I wanted to take a girl to the dance, I had to get a job so that I could afford to do so properly. If I wanted to drive the family car, I had to pay my own gas and my own insurance. My parents taught me to work. The life they gave me taught me to appreciate abundance. For both I am eternally thankful.
As I look back at the eighteen years of my life spent under the wings of my parents, I can’t help but shout hallelujah for the example they set before me. I can’t help but smile, thinking of the countless conversations my parents had one with another, asking the question can we do this. Or, I’m sure, the question is all of this worth it? I wish I could have laid a hand on their shoulders and given them a glimpse of the future they would soon enjoy. Thankfully for all of us, they never wavered, and they always chose to keep going.
It was just before I graduated high school that my dad signed the agreements on his first multi-million dollar business deal. It was my father, not any other man, who gave me the perspective of the importance of a man’s work for his family, and also the belief that no man has to be defined by his poverty forever.
And while level of income will never define a man, level of dedication to the betterment of living for one’s family most certainly will.
There is no doubt that it is the duty of a father to provide for his family. A real dad never questions this, and he never does anything less than what it takes to keep a roof over his family’s heads and food spread across his family’s table.
Real dads don’t slack off or sit idly by. A real dad is never content giving less than his all to his job and to his career. He is never content pushing for anything less than advancement in his position and increase in his fiscal situation.
He certainly doesn’t find happiness not working, sucking the system dry, freeloading government assistance while he does little or nothing to improve his, or his family’s situation.
A real dad is also never content sitting home, ushering his wife out the door each day to go fight and fend for the family’s needs.
A real dad does not hide behind a lack of education, lack of skill, or self-declared lack of ability. He doesn’t sit home, half-heartedly attempting to find employment, hiding behind the headlines of bad economies, tough hiring situations, or refusing to take jobs that are “below” his dignity. He doesn’t love the concept of unemployment income more than he loves the satisfaction that comes from bringing home a paycheck to his family each month.
He also doesn’t expect the world to hand him success or abundance on a silver platter. He understands that nothing worthwhile in life comes easy or free, and that even though he can’t always give his family a better life as soon as the following day or even the following year, over time, he does have the ability.
This is not to say that wives are never to work, or that a woman bringing in an income is wrong. The reality of this world often leaves neither opportunity nor additional options for some families. As society has changed, sometimes the best opportunities will come through a mother’s employment or ability to make money for her family. Such a decision is very personal to each married couple, and should never be taken lightly.
It is also not to say that some fathers are not forced out of work, against their will, unable to perform the duties that everyday dads are required to perform. For some, injury, sickness, or disability hamper their facilities, also leaving their families with fewer options than most are afforded.
Even in such situations, a real dad does not exist purely on the efforts of others. He finds ways to advance the opportunity for his family in whatever capacity he has. He is never ungrateful. He is never without purpose.
Real dads are ambitious and they are motivated; they rise from whatever level they currently find themselves, and they always work to attain that next step up. A real dad doesn’t permit himself to believe he’s forever trapped in a system or an income that he unmistakably knows he could improve.
If it’s education he lacks, he finds a way to become educated. He reads books, he takes courses, he watches programs, and he studies new tasks and techniques pertinent to his advancement in whatever medium to which he has access. For some, attaining formal schooling and degrees is the obvious or chosen path. For others, it’s ten daily minutes, learning whatever he can. Some men will make advancements over weeks or months. Others will take much longer. The speed does not matter. Only the effort, and only the direction.
If skill is the ultimate killer of opportunity, real dads work to develop whatever skills they currently lack. They aren’t satisfied letting advancements in technology render their abilities obsolete, nor do they linger idly as they are cast to the bottom of the employee food chain. They aren’t content leaving behind bigger or better job opportunities simply because those who know different skills are more easily able to land such jobs. Instead, they learn what needs to be learned. They ask for help. They work extra hours without pay, if they must, shadowing others to gain the skills they desperately need.
Furthermore, a real dad never declares himself as one who lacks ability. He refuses to declare that he is too unintelligent, too unable, or too incompetent. While some goals are more difficult to obtain, he believes that those goals are still free to be reached by any and all who will put in the proper work and sufficient time to do so.
Some dads dream big. Some dads dream small. Any dad who dreams at all brings great things to his family. Real dads are always numbered in this crowd.
As a fourteen-year old boy, a close friend of mine was hit by a personal water craft. He was resuscitated and survived with measurable amounts of brain damage. I have watched him closely over the years.
In high school, I watched him graduate among the highest in his class. I watched him serve as a missionary for his church. I later watched him graduate college with high honors and maintain successful employment. To meet him would leave you to think that such things were impossible. His answer to such thoughts would be simple. “Nothing is impossible except to those who don’t care enough to rise above the limits that are placed upon them by others.” He then would quote Muhammad Ali who said, “impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.”
This man is now working to create seminars and write books with some of businesses biggest titans, teaching others with disabilities how to rise above life’s biggest challenges and enabling others to chase the dreams that society would quickly proclaim impossible.
While he is in a minority, he is far from unique. Many there are who have overcome insurmountable odds to better the situation of themselves and their families. Many there are who refused to be labeled with statements of limitation. Many there are who we can each look to as inspiration as we feel that much simpler things are unbeatable or insurmountable.
And, coincidentally, many there are with far greater ability, intelligence, or opportunity who never do much of anything at all. They never rise above their own inhibitions, and they never achieve that which could rightfully be theirs.
In truth, the reason these men cannot be labeled as real dads is solid and simple. While a man may have the freedom to remain in his station for life, and while no other man can judge him for it, to force his family to do the same can be considered oppression. To take away all opportunity and prospect for his family to have a better life, under the broad umbrella over which thousands of excuses have a way of pouring themselves down, is wrong. Real dads realize that, and real dads do something about it.
My own father could easily have remained in poverty. He chose not to.
He chose to give his wife and his children a better life. He chose to chase his dreams, even when great risk presented itself and the jaws of hell gaped open behind him with every step. He choseto always push further, even though the timeframe for his goals turned from years into decades.
And with every choice, a thousand smaller choices always nipped at his heels. A thousand moments presented themselves, begging him to step back and to stop. Begging him to stay. Begging him to do anything but make for himself and his family a better life. Yet he trudged on, certain that one day it would all be worth it.
And, just as it has been worth it for the countless other men and women who have realigned their own stars throughout history, it was worth it for him. And it was worth it for all of us.
Yes, my dad taught me work.
But he also taught me something greater. He taught me that real dads come home from work.
From the first 18 years of my life, I have only a handful of memories that involve my dad working at all. Instead, my mind is full of reminiscences involving a dad who was there. Every single night.
My father was never so blinded in his quest for betterment that he made it a habit to bring work home with him. He knew that anything that could be accomplished could be accomplished behind a desk during the brunt of his day. He believed that bringing work home only obstructed the handful of hours that were his each night to be with his wife and children. And while it had to happen occasionally, it was rare indeed. We all knew that when dad came home, he was ours.
Real dads come home from work. They put away their computers, their drawing boards, and their emails. They don’t retire for the evening until they know the intimate details of the going-ons in the lives of the people they cherish most.
A real dad, as discussed in the previous chapter, is there. And he knows that being there has so much more to do with how he is there than simply coming home at night. He doesn’t leave his kids to teach and entertain themselves. He doesn’t disappear into the night in his quest for more money.
And in those rare times that bringing work home is inevitable, a real dad uses such opportunity to teach his kids the value of breaking-away from it all. Every so often, he vocally cuts into his workload and offers his undivided attention to his children. He declares that he has five minutes to play catch, and he plays catch. He declares that he has ten minutes to read stories, and he reads stories. He makes sure his kids know that on that rare occasion that he does have to work, he’s still there, and he misses them.
Leaving work behind is so often easier said than done. I know for me, it’s one of my greatest ongoing struggles. It is overly tempting to jump onto my computer when Noah gets lost playing on his own, his independence pushing me aside for the moment. When I do, it is overpoweringly difficult to then break-away again and give myself back to my son.
And so I continue bettering myself in this obligation. I continue perfecting my following of this Real Dad Rule. I continue finding creative ways to get the work done at times when Noah is not there. The quest to be a real dad is ongoing for every father, and I am no exception.
Yet I will perfect myself in it. I must, for my child needs a dad who, when he comes home, is actually home. My son needs a man who teaches him that work is everything, and also that work is nothing. Noah deserves a real dad, just like his dad had.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
What is your story? Did your dad work? Did he work too much? Do you have memories of him being there when he came home or do you have memories of him working even after he came home from work?
PS. Today’s post is the seventh chapter in a read-along of my new book The Real Dad Rules (which will go on through February of next year). Don’t wait to read the rest of The Real Dad Rules! Get your own copy today (Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Hardcover, or visit the official Real Dad Rules webpage for signed copies). Get it for yourself. Get it for your kids. Give it as a gift. Just get it, and get in on the conversation!
While I wrote this book to everyday dads (from an everyday dad), I believe that its message can be applied to and appreciated by mothers and fathers alike. And, if you believe in the message of The Real Dad Rules, and if you love what you’ve read so far, please do Noah and me two huge favors! First, please share this page with your friends and family. Second, please take a second and leave a five-star review on Amazon (or Nook/iBooks).