Recently I have been thinking about how hard my parents worked to see to it that my sister and I had what we needed to have a good life. They both worked hard both at their jobs and then at home. They never shrank from work. There was not man’s work and woman’s work. There was just work. They both pitched in on whatever needed doing. They never complained about it. They just did it. They both dug out the dirt to create a basement room in our newly acquired house. They hauled that dirt in a wheelbarrow to make a wider front yard and as a foundation for a much wider front porch. Each had his or her own lawnmower. Mother’s was electric. Dad’s was gas powered.
Consequently, my sister, Jean, and I grew up with a good work ethic. We were taught by words and examples that all work if it is legal is honorable. While serving as a graduate assistant in the speech and hearing center’s program for young adults at the University of Alabama, I learned firsthand how motivational the prospect of being able to get a job and earn money was for the clients. These severely impaired young women and men tackled work related vocabularies with gusto. They discovered as did I that working feels good and is good for both body and soul.
Once I said to my late wife, Liz, when our children were younger that I would like to be a beach bum. “Go ahead,” she said. “I can’t,” I said. “I have you, Suzanne and Michael.” “Oh no buddy, you can’t pull that one. You can’t be a beach bum because your make-up will not allow you to do nothing. It is not us. It is you.” I had to admit that she was right as usual.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both talk about bringing back jobs. Neither of them talk about how meaningful work is to the mental health of the worker. They never talk about how important work is to the dignity of the worker. Work is more than a paycheck. Middle class Joe Biden gets it. Sure, a paycheck is great and necessary, but that is not the end of the story.
I never thanked my parents for all they did for us. The dignity of work was one of their greatest gifts.