While I was dusting the living room this morning, a book fell off the shelf and a small ID card fell out. It was my dad’s Building Pass from the Seaboard Railroad building in Jacksonville. My dad worked for the railroad from his early 20’s until he died in 1987 at 52.
My dad worked hard. He worked two jobs once my sister and I were both in college, but no matter what else he did he was always a railroad man. At Seaboard he ended up in the accounting department. One day he took me up to the Board Room where, before the executives gathered each morning, he would create charts of the previous day’s financial activity. I was unimpressed; maybe he knew that later I’d be as proud of him as he was to show me.
The Building Pass reminded me of another time I went to that building. The summer after I graduated from high school, my girlfriend’s father got me an internship in the computer department of Independent Life’s home office. The Seaboard Building was right down the street, so on my way to my first day of that job I stopped in to see my dad.
My father’s office was a very uptight place. I showed up in my khakis and dress shirt and tie; I thought he’d be really proud of me. The first thing he said, though, was, “Where’s your belt?”
“Belt?! I don’t need no stinking belt!”
I didn’t say that, but that’s kind of what I thought. I never wore a belt.
Before I said anything, he had his own belt unbuckled and pulled through the loops. He handed it to me. “You can’t show up the first day undressed.”
What could I do? I put on the belt, thanked him (I hope) and went on my way to work.
It wasn’t a big thing, I know. But I bet he felt half-naked the rest of the day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his colleagues didn’t razz him about forgetting his belt.
As I look at his Building Pass and think about how much I miss my dad (I can’t believe it’s been 25 years), I remember the lesson he taught me that day. . .
It’s the little things we give up that are important. Big displays of self-martyrdom aren’t necessary.
Small sacrifices as a way of life show other folks we love them.