My dad managed the landscaping and groundskeeping for townhouse and industrial complexes from the time I was seven years old until I was thirteen or so. Before that, he was a branch manager for CIBC. After the landscaping and groundskeeping, he went into car sales. He ended his working career planning repairs and scheduling maintenance of fighter jets for the for an aerospace company who serviced the Canadian and American air forces. When he wasn’t planning repairs or scheduling maintenance, he served as a union steward. He retired years ago and generally spends his time puttering about, fixing things, breaking things, and causing trouble when he isn’t doting on his grand children. That’s my dad.
He’s taught me two things I will never forget.
The first thing he taught me happened late one night while we were cleaning up an industrial complex. I remember him either weeding or planting in one of those planters boxes that are in some places. They usually have some kind of easily maintained, non descript plant. I swept the floor with a push broom, thinking all the while that he was somehow saving on his bottom line by having his son work for him for slave wages. He probably saw what I was thinking reflected in the quality of my work and quickly came over the correct me.
“If I show you how to sweep and mop a floor, son,” he said, “you will always have a job.” That’s more or less what he said. I don’t remember it exactly. Dad wasn’t always a man of many words.
After that time, I put in the minimum effort through school, got reasonable grades, fell in love, fell out of love, got into trouble, got out of trouble, created trouble, but I always had a job. And the best part of every job was cleaning the floors. Swear to God. I still judge every place by how clean their floors are. It says alot about who they employ.
The second thing he taught me happened when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. I had finished at least my first year of high school and I thought I was a bad assed motherfucker. I wore rock t-shirts, smoked cigarettes, cursed, swore, drank, and generally got into shit everywhere and anywhere I could.
In my head I was the smartest, cleverest, best person on the entire planet and the everyone else who didn’t think so were stupid and deserved to be told as much. I was a teenager. And, instead of playing softball that year, I was smart enough to create my own team of players and teach them how to play softball and be a bad assed motherfucker like me. I did it with a friend of mine, but in my eyes, it was all me. I was hotter than Georgia asphalt. No one could touch me.
And my friend and I created that team. And it was the best team in the league. My friend and I got to coach the rep team for softball because we were so bad ass. My friend was an excellent player and I was the best back catcher the league had ever seen, with an arm that could through a strike from centre field. No shit. Even my dad would acknowledge that fact.
One day, a team we were playing, their coach did not show up. My dad did not want the kids to miss out on a chance to play the game so he volunteered to coach for them. And he beat me. No, he didn’t merely beat me. He throttled my team and left me for dead, using tricks and plays on me that he’d never taught me. I also thought, at the time, that he cheated me and that made me mad.
Afterwards, when the game was over, and I was still being, well, a teenager (see the paragraph above the previous one about the definition of a teenager), he came up to me and clapped me on the back.
(N.B. the way he clapped me on the back is the same way I remember him clapping me on the back when he caught me a few years later, skipping school for the umptymillionth time, and told me that I had better either get back to school or get to work, because no matter what it took, even if it meant his marriage, he would kick me the fuck out of his house. And then he bought me a coffee and asked me what I was reading)
“Better learn how to lose now,” he told me after the softball game. “And then turn it into a win, because next time, you won’t be losing to someone as nice as me.” That’s more or less what he said. I don’t remember it exactly. Dad wasn’t always a man of many words.
It’s been a lesson I’ve thought about for the last twenty five years and never understood, not completely, until now.