For Men Only by Al Sikes

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Oh for the chance to have one more back and forth. Too often our intrinsic treasures are only truly treasured when they are gone.

I can recall of course. The union card. Walking on my knees, picking cotton. The adventure in Alaska. So, let me give you a son’s perspective.

Dad wanted, no insisted, that his sons experience life’s needs, not just its wants. The need to work hard for a living and to appreciate those that did so. The need to go well beyond your comfort zone. The need to understand education as a privilege.

William K. Sikes with his son Al Sikes

Thank you, yet only on reflection, for that job at Scott County Milling Company. It was there I learned to plow out boxcars which arrived by rail from grain producing regions; offloading them was part of my job. The grain was converted to feed and I was in the middle of the process—and a dirty, dusty process it was. The dust was so thick that Dad urged me to wear a face mask.

I refused; it was hard enough being a kid among men. On the third day, I didn’t show up for work because of a respiratory infection. On my next day at work I wore a face mask and as I would remove the filters it became apparent to my fellow union workers that they too needed protection. My moist breath had converted dust to a muddy look; not a pretty site. Face masks and filters were required in the next contract.

But, perhaps the perfect fusion occurred when Dad convinced a friend of his to hire me to work in Anchorage, Alaska, at Elmendorf Air Force Base. I drove to Alaska—what a trip, the last thousand plus miles took me on unpaved roads through British Columbia and the Yukon.

Alaska introduced me to homesteaders, jack hammers, tar paper roofs and King salmon. Men, even in their teens, can profit from a Hemingway experience. Yes, I learned to tar paper roofs and handle a jack hammer, but the really important lessons were learned on the Russian River access trails and in the relationships at work.

Today’s summer jobs for youth are often in fast food or staffing camps, or, for those in college, internships that might lead to post-college jobs. On the camping front a recent Wall Street Journal article noted camps to teach young people to invest. Several names: “Camp Millionaire, MoolahU, Financial Investors Club of America and WhizBizKids”.

We need to better understand each other. Yet the military is now volunteer, most summer jobs are clean hands affairs, and frequently that last pre-career summer begins the gap year and foreign travel. And now, camps with financial missions.

Father’s Day is mostly a commercial event. But, I would urge today’s fathers to consider how their sons will recall their relationship–what kind of reflections their sons might have when Father’s Day appears on the calendar. I recall wisdom.

 

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Letters to Editor

  1. Diane SHIELDS says:

    I am not sure why this is titled “Men only”. As a young teen, I worked ‘blue class’ jobs such as waitressing, landscaping work, delivering newspapers, etc. Once I earned a college degree, and found a professional level career, I recognized the difference between these types of positions. I appreciate those early job days, for teaching me to understand the hard work, hardships, and lack of power and control, endured by those who don’t have the education and opportunities to advance.

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