I’m Sorry Dad But I Don’t Want To Be A Welder

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I was eighteen years old, had absolutely no life plan, and I was sweating it. I was just weeks out of High School and working as a busboy/dishwasher at The Grill and Skillet diner. This place was gritty, like a diner out of some obscure Hollywood film. Walter, the cook, looked exactly like James Brown. Roaches would drop from inside the range hood right onto the grill. Walter would nonchalantly scrape the roaches away from the home fries into the grease trap without missing a beat.

This was extremely hard work, paid nearly nothing but I liked the people there and it was fun when I was still in school. Now that I had my diploma this job lost it’s luster and it was time to move on to something better. All of a sudden I felt like my life was going nowhere and, even scarier, I had no idea what my next move was going to be.

I had two things that interested me, writing and architecture but didn’t know how to make a living at either of them. I was also the first in my family to graduate High School and college didn’t seem within my grasp. With each day that passed I sank deeper into this abyss of terror and confusion at the realization that I was now an adult and I had to make my way in the world. My father must’ve keenly noticed the state I was in.

One morning, as he was getting ready to leave for work dressed in his chambray work shirt with his first name, “Verlo” stitched in navy blue cursive across the white patch on his chest pocket, he asked what I was planning to do with my future. My father’s question was met only by my blank stare accompanied by an orchestra of imaginary crickets.

“I could get you on at the shop.” he said.

His offer immediately filled me with a sense of trepidation. My father had been a welder in a fabrication shop as long as I could remember. He worked extremely long days, came home tired, dirty, and smelling like metal. Some nights he would walk the floors unable to sleep due to the pain of flash burns and metal shavings in his eyes. Despite all of this his job was honorable, it took great skill, and it provided our family with everything we needed and a little extra. His job as a welder allowed my mom not to have to work outside of the home while raising my brother and I.

Even at the age of eighteen I knew I was at a major crossroad.  This was a point in which, depending on my choice, a course would be set that would be difficult to veer from. Even though I wasn’t sure what my dreams even were then I knew if I accepted this offer to become a welder it would mean a future with little time or energy to pursue any endeavors outside of this job.

I quickly responded with, “I’m sorry, dad, but I don’t want to be a welder.”

My heart was pounding so hard as he silently left for work that morning. I don’t even remember his response but I do remember being concerned that my answer hurt my father’s feelings. I was worried that he would think I was ashamed of him, that he would view me as ungrateful. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. I just knew in my heart his path wasn’t my path. I was destined for something else, not something better but just something different.

I am extremely proud of my father. His dad passed away when he was three years old. His mother (my grandmother) was poor and, although she did the best she could, my father found himself being raised off and on in a succession of foster homes throughout the 1940’s. In these foster homes he was subjected to abuse that he rarely talks about. As a result of this he had a difficult time adjusting in school and he eventually dropped out in the eighth grade. Despite all of the hardship life threw at him my father retained an extremely kind heart and a sense of selflessness. His childhood could have left him a bitter man, with a closed heart but it didn’t.

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To this day I know he would do anything he could for anyone he cares about, this alone is a monumental accomplishment given his upbringing. There’s much more. Even with no paternal example to follow he has been a great father to my brother and I.  He was always willing to be the first one to go down the biggest sledding hills, ride bikes the fastest, and fly kites the highest. I remember one afternoon we were flying a kite in the field of our neighborhood elementary school, Fairmoor. We had the kite up so high that we could barely see it and ran out of string. What did he do? He went to the store to get two more packages of kite string and we flew it even higher.

I was a very sickly, asthmatic child and he pushed me to my limits and beyond by taking me on twenty mile bike rides, long walks, and hikes when I was not more than nine or ten years old. As a result of this I became strong and fit and eventually rarely needed to use my asthma inhaler.  Still today I have a love of bike rides and physical activity. When my brother and I were growing up dad was the first to rush towards anything that had a hint of danger and fun. Naturally, my brother and I eagerly followed his example. Ours was the antithesis of today’s, “everybody wears helmets and knee pads and everybody gets an award” kind of childhood. Looking back now I see that our childhood was my father’s second chance to enjoy all the fun he missed out on when he was younger. He certainly made up for a lot of lost time with us.

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My father was very strict when he had to be. He wasn’t the kind of dad that taught me how to get into an Ivy League University or the best mutual funds to pick for my 401k. However, his words, more often his actions, taught me everything in life that matters. He taught me to work extremely hard, to jump into challenges with both feet, and to never be afraid to take chances. Dad raised me to always do my best and more importantly to never give up. He also taught us how to be creative, frugal, and how to survive without a safety net because he sure as hell never had one.

My father’s lessons of dedication, strength, and determination have served my brother and I well in life. As I look back throughout my twenty years of struggling as an author, the fire that kept me going when every single door was slammed in my face was largely stoked by my dad’s lessons. I often think if fate were just a little different and I would’ve had a different kind of father I would’ve given up decades ago. If I would’ve given up I would now be living the worst kind of life, a life of regret and I would always have wondered…what if? Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

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Thank you for being the man that you are. You were and are the perfect father for me.

Never forget that you are loved, you are respected, and you are appreciated. I promise, just like that kite we flew all those years ago I will keep this life of mine flying higher and higher, no matter what.

http://www.ericvancewalton.net/

 

 

THEY WALK AMONG US


I was five years old and panic stricken. I was away from my parents for the first time, laying on a hospital gurney in some cold and sterile holding area waiting for my turn in the operating room. Through my tear filled eyes I noticed I wasn’t alone, there was a man lying there on a gurney beside of me. He resembled a young Cat Stevens. This man reached through the bars of his bed to pat my hand as he asked me what my name was.  He told me his name, of which I forget, and shared that he was a poet. He asked if he could recite some of his poems to me. A great sense of peace washed over me the moment he began reciting his poetry.

This small act of kindness calmed my racing heart and made everything feel as if it was going to be okay. It was the first time I realized the true power of words.  This kind soul gave me only five minutes of his time but these five minutes were immensely valuable to me. So valuable, that the lesson has survived inside of me for almost forty years. Small deeds can have a huge impact, they can transform lives. and create lasting change. Could this experience be partially responsible for my becoming a writer and poet?  Maybe or maybe not. It’s interesting to think about.

I have many other examples in my life that I can share. There was Mrs. Bohl, who could have made me repeat kindergarten for being out sick so many days but she didn’t. Mr. Morgan, my seventh grade teacher who took an extremely skinny, shy, and awkward pre-teen boy and over the course of the school year transformed him into a much more confident young man.

There was also that one boy in the group of twelve who chased me down for blocks in our inner city neighborhood that dark Friday night in the mid-80’s with every intention of beating me up and/or robbing me. I had been in enough of these situations to understand what the outcome would be if they caught me and they were gaining on me fast. I ran through all of the options in my head and chose the only one I had left, I stopped under a streetlight, turned to face them, and plunged my hand inside my jacket as if I had a gun. The group stopped instantly. Suddenly this boy said to the others in his group, “Wait, I know him! It’s cool, he goes to our school.”He didn’t have to say anything, but he did.  A few of them paced, high on adrenaline and testosterone, itching to take part in a beat down.

More recently, as my writing career has started to go global, I’ve had the good fortune of having many virtual mentors. The largest, by far, has been James Altucher. I’ve devoured his podcasts and blog posts and feel as though his guidance alone is responsible for most of the growth in my writing career this past year.  There’s also Maja Gray, Joan Holman, and many more people that I’ve met through the Choose Yourself Facebook group who give so freely of their time and their ideas even though they’re busy themselves.

Add my loyal readers to this list, my true fans, people like Ulrika and Cecilia Fjellborg, Annie Rider, Bobby Leigh, Anthony Smith, Jeanne White, Charles Bond, Claudia Tucker and the list goes on and on. These folks have been with me from nearly the beginning of my social media presence. They enthusiastically purchase my books, they like and share my social media posts. Some even geek out on the fictional characters in my novel (I LOVE this.)  I feel like they are an army rooting me on, they make me continue to march on when I feel like I’m up to my knees in mud. They make me believe in myself through the countless struggles of this profession.

Each of us are presented with opportunities. I call them Angelic moments. These are brief points in time in which we make a difference or not. We can step outside of our comfort zone or not. We can risk being ostracized by the herd by voicing an unpopular opinion that we truly believe in or not. We can have the patience to lend an ear and offer words of support or not. It takes a certain kind of courage and isn’t always comfortable. The choice is up to us and the beauty is each moment presents us with new opportunities to test our wings.

We simply can’t help everyone but if you feel a strong urge to do or say something in a given moment, take heed. If you feel something tugging at your heart, pay very close attention to it. Act, don’t over think. Act. It could make all the difference.

The truth is Angels are more common than we think. They walk among us. Sometimes they’re dressed to the nines and other times they wear filthy clothes. Sometimes they offer sweet words of praise, sometimes they swear at us like sailors. Yes, sometimes the angel is even walking in your shoes.

~Eric Vance Walton~