Lunch Money (Father’s Day 2014)

My dad has always been a simple, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth type of guy.  Architecture being a profession of equal parts technical and creative, I know for a fact that many of the things that I do on a daily basis are lost on him.  But the truth is, he has influenced my career more than he probably realizes. Most of my character — and the manner in which I practice — has come from my dad.

nickelsI remember when I was about to start junior high school.  In addition to the other huge cultural shifts in my consciousness that came with my post-elementary school world, this was this first time I’d actually have to carry lunch money with me.  School lunches at that time cost a whopping 95 cents (I realize that this dates me, but we’ve already established that I’m old).  Every morning when I left the house, there was a dollar bill waiting for me on the kitchen table.  My dad had long since left for work, but that dollar bill was always there, every morning without question, making his presence known.  Through that simple gesture, my dad taught me dependability and accountability — I only saw him for a few hours a day, but I knew that I could count on him.  It was years later before I realized how much effort probably went into that simple act — not only making sure that the money was available, but also having the actual cash on hand each day (as someone who has grown quite reliant on his debit card, that fact that I’m usually scraping for bus fare makes this painfully evident).  There was planning involved to make sure that he actually had a dollar in his wallet to give to me each day, a dollar that easily could have been spent on something else, just one of the hundreds of sacrifices he made for his children.  I learned that being dependable means doing what’s expected of you, without fail, without being asked, and often without a thank you.

Each day when I got home from school, with a shiny new nickel in the “fifth pocket” of my Levi’s, he’d let me keep the change. It may not sound like much… but gradually, over the course of the school year, I watched those nickels slowly grow into dollars.  He taught me the value of money, but also perseverance… that doing anything of worth, more often than not, takes time and patience.  That you sometimes have to start small, but even the smallest things can grow into significance if given the chance.

If all goes according to plan, we will be welcoming a daughter on Sunday, appropriately enough on Father’s Day.  She will join my son as the second part of the biggest — and most important — project that I’ve ever taken on, and I’m proud to have had the role model that I did.  My only hope is that my own children learn as much from me, in the simplest ways, as I have from my own father.

My dad also taught me how to be resourceful. The very next year, school lunches increased to $1.05. On the night before my first day of the eighth grade, he handed me a dollar bill and said, “so, remember all those nickels…?”