I always wondered why my Dad gave up a regular job with insurance and retirement benefits to strike out on his own in a small business venture that never really turned a profit. I also wondered, as the next few years prior to his untimely death went by, why he didn’t give up and go back to a steady paying job instead of doggedly pursuing his dream of being his own boss and running a paint and body shop.
He was an automotive paint and body guy who was more of an artist than a businessman. He could lay down a layer of paint that seemed to be half an inch thick and a mile deep without a single sag, drip, or run. But he was such a perfectionist that he couldn’t churn out work fast enough or cheap enough to make a living at it. He raised cars and pick-ups from the dead, and doctors and lawyers in Fort Worth and Dallas sent their Corvettes and Jaguars to his run down shop in Greenville after a wreck, because people knew he would send them back in better shape than they’d been on the original show room floor.
In his previous jobs he’d proven he could do anything. He could manage a work crew and get a project completed on time and under budget, repair just about any piece of machinery, weld, drive eighteen wheelers, operate a grade-all, run a combine, whatever you tossed at him he conquered. From single-handedly facing down burglars in the middle of the night to dragging a hundred-plus pound steel crane hook to the top of overturned railway cars, Ted Frazier never backed down from a challenge on the job. He held several jobs at different times, and his bosses always had glowing reports about his work ethic and skills from my recollection. And it didn’t stop there. The man worked at keeping his own livestock, hauling hay, and all manner of side jobs from security to carpentry every chance he got to earn an extra few dimes to feed and clothe me and my three siblings in attire that matched any upper middle class family on Sunday morning. He had pride.
I know his bosses appreciated him, because I worked for a couple of them myself after my father moved on to other jobs. I remember him getting me my first real job at the Highway department. “Jim,” I heard him say to the chief maintenance foreman over the phone, “just give my boy a shot at the summer crew job. He’s got a weak mind and a strong back. You won’t find a better worker.” Two years later at age 19 I had progressed from filling pot-holes to welding signs to drawing right-of-way maps to inspecting concrete bridge construction and quadrupled my income.
I moved on from there and landed one of three slots available with the local police department, graduated from the academy with honors, and spent 8 years as a patrol cop in my own home town (much to the chagrin and surprise of some of my old dope-smoking high-school classmates as well as my more prim and proper childhood friends).
And I had an immense sense of pride that I was contributing to society.
Meanwhile I watched Dad’s career fade away and crumble into a small ram-shackle tin-roofed garage on the outskirts of down-town Greenville. When a motor vehicle accident took his life unexpectedly, his career ended there…his life cut short in the midst of what ultimately turned out to be an exercise in futility, trying to make a decent living as his own boss.
I’m starting to understand why a man would pursue such futility so stubbornly, even losing money month after month, year after year, in hopes of sustaining himself without dependence on others.
He was fleeing corporate stupidity. To distance oneself from the sycophants, the self aggrandizing, the pompous overseers and office toadies of the corporate world, a man might eventually submerge himself in the bliss of hopeless pursuit, grasping at the elusive straw of self sufficiency, even though it becomes senseless and self destructive. That pursuit, that hope, false though it may be, seems so much more desirable than the daily grind of office politics, hypocrites, and charlatans. I heard him speak of it often, but back then I never realized how much it weighs on you as the years go by and you see the “Peter Principal” repeated over and over and over again.
Lately it’s been sucking the life out of me, and I find myself wondering what good it will do the world to eventually hang up my spurs having contributed so much to the retail world and so little to things that really matter for time and eternity. It won’t matter that I’ve achieved a white collar salary on a blue collar education. It won’t matter that I had a nice house or drove a nice car or rode a nice motorcycle. All that will matter to me as an old geezer rasping out his final breaths will be that I wasted so much time allowing people to set my priorities and direct how I used my time.
I’ve seen life and death. I’ve been involved in both. Those of you who’ve been in the military, law enforcement, emergency medical, or fire-fighting services know what I mean when I say I often have to suppress the urge to laugh out loud at the solemnity and seriousness with which these corporate types talk about integrity, honesty, and courage. Some of them have the outright gall to preach about humility.
Not that everyone in the white collar world is bad, it really just boils down to a few. But man do those few make life miserable for the other 95%.
If I don’t move on to living out a dream of writing and working just for yours truly, I hope I’ll remember I did the best I could, brought a steady pay check home to my family because it was the responsible thing to do, and didn’t jump off and go self-employed without prayerful consideration and wise counsel first. Maybe a vacation will help. Maybe other opportunities will arise that aren’t as risky as just throwing in the towel and assuming I can write magazine articles and blog for a living.
Perhaps I’ll land a job with a company that has less sucking up and more of a friends and family atmosphere.
I wonder whether my father ever regretted quitting his 8 to 5 job and striking out to pursue his dream?
Or did he regret not doing it sooner?
He died broke. Worse, he died in debt. But he died his own boss.
Maybe that made him much richer than I.