My family has a long history of tradesmen. My great grandfather was a commercial plasterer, and my grandfather the same; both working on some of the largest projects in Chicago’s history. For my dad’s generation, drywall took over for plaster and he was a carpenter and eventually an estimator/contractor following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps moving up to own/manage one of the oldest union commercial drywall and remodeling companies in Chicago. And I, for a short time, worked for the family business, as both a laborer and carpenter. But I was the generation that was going to step away and forge my own trail. And I did, kinda…
If there is one thing that I learned, it is that being a tradesman is in your blood. That bragging right to share what you accomplished and point it out as you pass by for years to come is unmatched. The feeling of working with your hands, problem solving every step of the way, creating something out of nothing and handing it over to your client to have as their “own” is like no other. Flying in to the rescue when either there is a disaster or someone else simply didn’t do the job right the first time makes you feel like a superhero.
It is back breaking. You use muscles some people have never heard of and some days you feel every one of them when you try and get out of bed. You start before the sun comes up on most days, including weekends. The real good ones stay later to make sure to get the job done on time. And for some, don’t forget the paperwork and job estimates that go on long after the kids go to bed or in the wee hours of the morning before they wake up. Often times, weather doesn’t matter. You layer up in the winter and sweat it out in the summer. Your hands are your livelihood. Your trade is your passion. Your family and putting your name on the work is why you work so hard. The life of a trades person is about all these things and I learned that from my Dad and have applied that in my work, today.
I didn’t follow in my Dad’s or my grandfathers or great grandfathers exact footsteps. You see, I headed toward technology after getting out of school, but that was about the time of the dot com bust in the early 2000s. I was lucky, though, because one of my clients at the time was one of the major power tool manufacturing brands. Tools and construction was in my blood. I spent the next 15 years educating tradesmen and women all across the world about our power tool solutions and eventually worked with engineers to design new tools that allowed tradespeople to be more productive and help them solve problems. I always felt that this would eventually lead them to their bragging rights and at a higher level make their lives better for their families. Today I find myself working for OLFA, the premier professional snap-blade utility knife brand. And again, I find myself speaking with tradespeople every day. And in some ways, even today, it is like speaking with my Dad, the best one of them all. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
Memories from growing up in a construction family:
Before all these fancy plastic tool cases, my dad had a steel tool box on wheels he pulled with a rope. As a little kid, I used to ride on top of it as my dad rolled it out to his car before he headed to work. That tool box seemed giant back then…fits in a coat closet, today.
I spent more Saturday mornings on job sites with my dad than I can remember. He would be checking jobs for work and I was a kid exploring a whole different world. I walked wood planks over what seemed like lakes of water, collected metal slugs from electrical boxes and peaked through walls that were only framed. I am sure I complained back then, but looking back on it now it was a whole different world.
When I was working with my tools, we had a job in Navy Pier in Chicago, literally fixing the work another contractor had messed up. It was actually Father’s Day itself, a Sunday and we were putting in overtime. I spent that day working and eventually drove afterward to meet my family to celebrate the holiday with my dad and grandfather. I’ll never forget the look of pride on their faces when they saw me roll in, sweaty and all dirty from work. They asked me if it felt good making overtime…yes, yes it did.
My dad was one of our cub scout troop leaders and as part of one of our badges, he took our group on a tour of one of his job sites. We all got hard hats. Touring job sites happened a lot when I was a kid, but to do it with my friends was a lot of fun.
I’ll never forget how hard my dad worked. When the economy was down, some of those years were really rough for contractors. I’ll never forget my dad up way late or super early sitting at the table estimating all the new jobs he could find. His meticulous color coding system, architectural handwriting and comprehensive summaries, line-by-line. Remember this is before computers and he did it all by hand.