Work, life lessons from Dad
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at today’s youth in a recent speech, saying they carry on as if “work is a four-letter word.” She blames iPods, cell phones and high-speed Internet access for manufacturing an environment that “really argues against hard work.” However, it seems as if most young adults will find a way to avoid work, easy or otherwise, regardless of their access to the latest technological gimmicks. As I see it, the labor disease suffered by today’s teens and 20-somethings directly relates to fact that they weren’t raised by my dad. From the time I took my first real (non-baby-sitting) part-time job when I was younger, he began instilling in me the significance of perseverance, duty and commitment. I accepted a gig as a hostess of a restaurant with a view of the harbor in my town on Sunday nights during my sophomore year in high school. I thought I’d have the kind of fun that Cruise Director Julie McCoy had on “The Love Boat.” Sadly, no amount of fun (or shuffleboard) was involved. My four responsibilities were greeting people when they entered, escorting them to their tables, distributing menus and bidding adieu as they left.I tried livening up the six-hour shift by circulating the restaurant with a pepper mill, offering salad-eating patrons a fresher alternative to their crusty table shakers. The first and only time I twisted the mill, though, the manager (who more closely resembled Captain Stubing than Dr. Adam Bricker) hurried over in his brown Hush Puppies, starchy white shirt and black polyester vest, tapped me on the shoulder and warned me in a spit-flying whisper never again to abandon the front door unless seating a group of new diners. After two Sunday evenings of being grossly micromanaged by someone who clearly never flashed an open smile on a friendly shore, I went home and declared my intent to resign before my next shift. Without hesitation, my dad motioned for me to take a chair and in a tone and volume usually reserved for Report Card Day, strongly advised me to erase the dark clouds that hovered in my eyes, look happy even if I didn’t feel it and show up the following Sunday and every one thereafter for at least six months. I whined, moaned, cried and pleaded to no avail for an explanation as to why he even cared since it wasn’t as if I even needed a job. Nevertheless, after a few more months of excruciatingly repetitious trips between the hostess perch and the dining room, the manager offered to write me a recommendation so I could forge ahead to the world beyond the restaurant. It still took me months to shed the resentment toward my dad for forcing me to work in what had initially been a voluntary venture and even longer to make the correlation between my attitude and the positive reference that enabled me to move on (albeit to another painfully dull part-time job). I spent one summer in high school at the now-defunct Sassy magazine as their first-ever non-college intern. To secure the spot, I sent the editors countless creative writing samples, followed (at my dad’s suggestions) by phone calls to make sure my packets had been received, then (again, at my dad’s urging) hand-written notes thanking them for taking my phone calls. The editors informed me that while my writing samples impressed them, the passion I demonstrated through the persistent mailings and the phone calls landed me the position. They also pleaded for the phone call and letter passion campaign to cease immediately. Procuring the internship thrilled me to pieces. The actual internship didn’t. My friends frolicked at the beach all summer. I spent it schlepping on the train every morning and evening in and out of a sticky, hot and humid Manhattan, plodding down to Times Square back in the days when the majority of its store fronts proudly heralded “Real Live Nude Girls!” instead of Disney musicals, theme restaurants and electronics stores. No one at Sassy ever asked me to write a cover story. But everyone at Sassy asked me to fetch coffee from Burke & Burke for their daily staff meetings and hourly caffeine itches. Halfway though the internship, I announced to my parents my desire to spend August swimming with my friends. My dad offered me two choices – complete the unpaid internship to which I had pledged a full summer or quit and lose my car privileges. My decision was obvious, but wholly frustrating – until which time I graduated from college and some of those Sassy staffers became valuable contacts. While he’s never been shy about offering his guidance as I’ve muddled through endless sticky, political, delicate job situations over the last 15-plus years, what I value most from my dad continues to be how he teaches by example. Thanks to him, I always present firm handshakes while simultaneously making direct eye contact. I try my darndest never to show negative emotions through the inflection in my voice or the posture of my body. I invariably arrive everywhere early, dressed neatly (although seldom in the below-the-knee-length skirts and blouses he favors for me). I e-mail or hand-write notes immediately following interviews and first meetings. I avoid ordering the most expensive item on the menu (unless I’m eating with him) and never salt my food before sampling it first. And I work hard not to concern myself with how anyone else besides me spends their time.Sen. Clinton says today’s youth thrives on a “culture that has a premium on instant gratification.” Too bad they don’t have dads like mine to patiently teach them that the most enjoyable rewards are those earned by simply and genuinely working hard. After landing a coveted position at “Saturday Night Live” and spending my first-ever six-day, 110-hour week at the show, I came down with a flu that caused me to feverishly drop a glass bowl in my 208-square-foot studio apartment, sending glass shards in every direction. My dad took the subway from his midtown office to the Upper West Side and appeared unannounced at my door with a gallon of Tropicana, a container of chicken soup and a brand-new vacuum. And he says I only remember the bad stuff.E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.
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For the past five-plus years I have sat in a big chair in a small office on Hyman Avenue watching life in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley play out in front of me.