Sunday, March 22, 2009

Message from my father

Jonathan and I drove up to visit my parents this morning. We played on the playground in the school yard behind their house, and flew kites in the mountain breeze that blows out of the nearby canyon. I spoke a little bit with my father.

About nine years ago, my father lost his job. He had been working as an engineer in the same company since he finished his college degree. Since starting to work for this company, he had been married, started a family, and watched his oldest children grow up and move away. He had assumed that he would work for the same company until he chose to retire. However, nine years ago the company changed ownership and let him go.

At the time, my parents would have had four children living at home, while they were trying to support two others through college. The stress must have been difficult for my parents, particularly my father, who was used to supporting the family financially, and now was unsure where the money would come from.

He did find another job, working again as an engineer. He worked for a few years for other companies, and then began consulting again for his old company on a project by project basis. Finally, a few years ago, they hired him back again on a full time position.

Three weeks ago my father lost his job again. He is near retirement, but he and my mother were planning on living off his income for a few more years as they worked toward their financial goals. Instead, he has found himself dusting off his resume and practicing interview skills.

We spoke a little bit about his plans this morning.

He told me, "You know, at my age in life, I start to see different things as important."

He then told me of meeting up with an old friend. This friend had grown up with him, and then taken a job at the local steel company with a Swiss name. By the time he met up with my father, the friend was no longer working for Lausanne Steel. My father found him bitter and angry. He complained of his poor treatment by Lausanne Steel, and how he had suffered under the company.

My father was struck by the conversation. He was not enraged by Lausanne Steel, but rather surprised by the anger in his friend.

"Good grief", my father reported to me. "I started thinking, there is so much more to life than what happens in your career."

I suppose he didn't want to end up like that, bitter and angry over his job.

"Losing my job three weeks ago," he told me, "was not the devastating experience that it was nine years ago." This time, it was just a job.

This time, he and my mother are also empty nesters. They own their house outright, and have been mortgage free for years. They are still supporting one son on a church mission in India, and another is working his way through college, but the one in college is mainly using his own funds. My parents were hoping to spend their retirement traveling and serving, and they don't feel they have saved up enough to make that goal a reality immediately. But I don't think they are facing a financial crisis. Not immediately.

I wonder.

My siblings and I have volunteered to take over some of the costs of the brother in India. With some planning, we could probably pay for the service missions as well. But my parents are not asking for our help yet. They need to work out their own timing. My father wants to continue to look for jobs, even though he has little hope of finding one in this economy. My mother has been considering dusting off her credentials and trying to find a position herself after 33 years of working full time at home.

I don't know what they'll decide to do. But this morning, my father seemed more concerned with my future than with his own. Or at least with sharing advice and a message and a story about a man who worked for Lausanne Steel. "There is much more to life than a career," he said to me while I spoke of church schools and school culture and teaching evaluations.

I want to be successful in my career. But perhaps success is measured in little things, like avoiding bitterness after the unexpected termination of a job. Or in some financial stability even as larger retirement goals disappear. With these measurements, my father has been more successful in his career than he gives himself credit for.

How successful will I be?


Mark and Emily said...

Beautiful post...beautiful writing.

We will miss you tremendously this week.

Tiffany said...

I think I like your dad. I like his advice and outlook. Thanks so much for sharing this. Lovely, as usual. :)

Letterpress said...

I've always liked your Dad. He has a sanguine air about him, like someone who is taking it all in and won't sweat the small stuff. Even if it's big.

A touching post.
Thanks for a good Sunday read--

Thora said...

This was the perfect post for me to read after the post I just wrote. It's good to remember that what makes us "successful" is not really what we'd put on a resume, but how we learn/react to our life events, and thus what kind of people we become. Thanks.

Bryan said...

I'm finally getting caught up on your blog. It was nice to hear about your conversation with Dad. We have good parents.