stress

A wage more valuable than money

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The October sun beat down on my head with a relentless anger that seemed out of character for that time of year.  As sweat beaded on my head and ran down my face in tiny streams, I continued to pull the rake back and forth across the ankle-deep leaves on that five-acre patch of land behind an old farmhouse.  I was a starving college student in Arkansas in my early 20s, and the $100 I was promised for this particular task seemed like a small fortune—until about four hours into the job.

The man who hired me was a ruddy farmer who almost exactly matched my preconceived mental image of his weekly attire with old, faded coveralls and a straw hat to match a face and forearms that throbbed in a hue of dark red that reminded me of an overripe apple.  I met him at a church I just started attending, and he seemed a genuinely nice sort who just wanted to help a youngster out with a temporary job.  I learned a lot about him the first day I was there.

He set a platter of sandwiches and a jar of lemonade on the splintered and weather beaten picnic table on the side of his house and gave a loud whistle for me to stop and grab a bite.  The whistle was quite unnecessary, as I was standing maybe 20 feet from that table.  As I dropped the rake and stripped off my work gloves, he clamped his hands to his wide hips and shook his head slowly as if the burden of the world had suddenly descended upon him.  His first words were jarring.

“Boy, you ain’t worth the skin God printed you on, you know that?” he said in his low, gravelly voice.  “If you was my son, I believe I’d drop you off at a bus station somewhere and wish the world luck with you.”

Gone was the sweet, smiling older gentleman who welcomed me to his church only a few weeks before.  His upper lip was curved in a sort of menacing grin that told me these next few days were going to be the longest of my new tenure in adulthood.  As I settled down at that old, rickety table to hush my stomach with the help of a few ham and cheese sandwiches, he continued to stare holes through me.

“Seriously.  What have you been doing all morning?“ he asked in a growl that dripped with disgust.  “You should be halfway through this job by now and you ain’t got 20 feet from this house!”

He paused his tongue lashing long enough to bless the food, and once he uttered “amen” (in Jesus’ name, of course) the verbal flogging resumed.  Each bite I took through that entire meal was punctuated with some new commentary on my work ethic, the way I gripped a rake, the size of the piles I made with the leaves in his yard.  I waited through the entire meal for some nugget of encouragement, but none came.

The verbal beat downs continued each and every day for the entire week I worked for him.  I went to bed each night with blistered hands, a throbbing back, and a wounded spirit.  By the time the week was over, his entire property had been raked, an old storage shed had been torn down (and the rubble hauled off), his house had been repainted, and that old picnic table had been fortified, sanded down, and repainted.

At the end of the last day, he called me over to get my check before I left.  My shoulders slumped as I trudged over to receive my remuneration—and probably one last commentary on how I represented the most worthless generation he ever witnessed.

I stopped in front of him and noticed immediately that the man I had been working for all week was gone.  In his place was the warm, smiling man I met recently at a country church.  As he handed me a folded check, he gripped my hand tightly and thanked me for all of my hard work.  As my face turned into a soupy mess of confusion, he patted me on the shoulder and gave me one last speech.

“Son, I believe in hard work.  Always have,” he said.  “You were doing okay from the start, but I knew I could get a lot more out of you with the proper motivation.  No matter what job you are given, you owe your best.  All you can give.  That will always be rewarded.”

As I climbed in my car to leave, his words continued to ring in my ears.  I started the engine, but before I shifted into gear, I took one peek at the folded check from that old farmer with a unique motivational approach.  He had doubled my promised pay, but I earned much more than a couple of hundred dollars that week.  I earned a life lesson on the importance of pouring my all into every responsibility I have.

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frankvaughn@gmail.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

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Early impressions of single parenthood

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I was the child of a single parent for the first eight years of my life. Being a child, I naturally could not understand why my dad was always tired, frustrated and easily irritated. I couldn’t capture the challenge of our situation from a real-world perspective because I was looking at life through the eyes of the innocent—the inexperienced.

I have been around single parents my whole life, and although the math in my head certainly told me that one person doing the job of two must be difficult, I couldn’t really capture the feeling of being singularly responsible for other lives. All I knew was that I was determined not to find out the hard way what it feels like. Then the Army happened.

I am now two weeks into being a “single parent” and I am quite certain I have learned some lessons from this experience, but if you tied me to a chair and shined a light in my face I don’t think I could honestly say what they are just yet. I’m still processing through the lessons, but here are some of the circumstances I have faced so far:

First, there just aren’t enough hours in a day. I have a 12-year-old who is in constant need of—stuff.

“Dad, I need burgundy jeans for a party this weekend. Oh. And by the way, there’s a party this weekend.”

She’s also at an age where school projects are becoming a regular thing, so…you know that school supply list they hand out at the beginning of the school year? Yeah. No one told me there would be supplemental lists every other week throughout the year as well. She wears school uniforms, and in the infinite wisdom of the school she attends, the embroidered-logo polo shirts they wear are white. WHITE. Seriously?! So those have to be replaced about every other month and, of course, there is only one place to get them and they have to be pre-ordered.

My two-year-old is a human wrecking ball. Besides being roughly twice the size of a normal kid his age, he is also right in the jet stream of his Terrible Twos, which means I clean the house top-to-bottom, only to discover 10 minutes later that it looks like Fallujah in 2003 all over again. He is also in the beginning stages of potty training, and I admit I have no idea what I am doing with THAT.

So much to do and so little time.

Second, there isn’t enough energy to maximize what precious time I do have. I hated going to school when I was a kid, but as a parent I realize what a God-send it is. Daycare, too. Someone else takes care of my kids while I go to work and try not to fall asleep drooling on my keyboard in the middle of a teleconference or long chain of emails regarding some facet of my job. I love my children more than my own life, but I get a little anxious when it’s time to pick them up because I know the whole tornado of life circumstances will blow in again as soon as they are in the car. I also hated going to bed when I was a kid, but again, as a parent, I absolutely LOVE bedtime—for them.

Finally, the circumstance in all of this that grips me the hardest is fear. Fear that something will get missed and my kids will suffer for it. Fear that I will make bad decisions and we will all pay the price. Fear that I will let them down somehow by succumbing to my own fatigue and stress and act in a way that they observe and store in their memory banks for future use in their own adult lives. I know they are watching my every move and depending on my every action, and if I get something majorly wrong, what am I shaping them into?

I am not sharing all of this as a means of complaining about my life. I’m merely sharing what I have experienced so far (and it has only been two weeks!) as a way of saying…thank you.

To all of you single parents out there who are really working your tails off and doing your absolute best, thank you. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for working hard. Thank you for loving your kids enough to lose sleep, sacrifice personal desires and ambitions and life goals to make sure they have everything they need. Thank you for being the model of responsible adulthood that our children so desperately need to learn from.

I also want to say, don’t worry. You will make mistakes, you will falter and doubt yourself from time to time, and you will be hard on yourself. But don’t worry. If you are there for your kids and truly love them more than yourself, then you are already on the right path. Never forget that you are important and valued, and never forget that your children will always know who was there for them.

God bless you.

 

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frankvaughn@gmail.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.