Just ask my son. He doesn’t know what I do. I go into my (home) office and do my computer programming, which is incomprehensible to him.
“Papa, show me the garbage trucks!” he shouts.
We watch youtube videos of garbage men picking up trash cans and dumping them into the trucks. He loves it. It’s real. Then we watch excavators dig huge scoops of dirt and drop them into dump trucks, while graders run in the background smoothing over the ground.
The work I do is all in my head. Abstractions. Things you can’t visualize easily. The great thing about it is I can work from home, since my products are all digitizable and transferrable over network connections via packets of data. And my job pays better than most construction jobs.
But I can’t help but think my son doesn’t see me do real work. Today we went out and watched the men–all Mexicans*–fixing the road. One was operating a mini-steamroller; one was in a bobcat with a front loader picking up the busted pieces of concrete and depositing them (with a bang!) into a dump truck. Meanwhile the other three guys were sweeping up bits of dust and concrete into piles and putting them into the bobcat’s loader. My son watched in fascination, and so did I. “They’re really doing something!”
I can’t explain to him that most of the “good” jobs are now all mental ones. Physical work isn’t valued and is even looked down upon, in spite of the absolute necessity of such trades and labor.
This is another reason I want some acreage and a small farm. Even if I keep my mental job until I’m seventy, I want my son to see me working in the fields, running the tractor, planting the crops, training the draft animals, building the barns. And I want him to be able to join me in it, something he can’t do with computer programming for a long, long time.
This is a conundrum facing our families and especially fathers today: how do we show our sons what true manly work is while still providing for our families? We don’t fight with swords anymore, or go on crusades. We don’t farm and ranch anymore. By and large, we don’t have trades anymore: carpenters, masons, cobblers, coopers, smiths. So our children don’t see us doing something that looks real, and that creates a disconnect between us and them.
My dad was a butcher, and I was proud that I knew what he did, and that he did something so self-evidently real. He didn’t make much money; matter of fact my first job out of school paid more than his did, in spite of the fact he had worked for thirty years in his line of work. But he provided for us and made it possible for me to have a “better” life. Now I’m trying to find a way to get back to a life more like his!
So I do real work–stuff that goes into computers and coffee makers and solar panels and car engines and satellites and airport baggage scanners–but it’s all invisible, so to my children it may as well not be real work.
Something I’m noodling. Feel free to share your thoughts on this.* When I say “Mexicans,” I mean “people from Mexico, typically first-generation.” It was brought to my attention that some people use the word “Mexican” in a derogatory sense. I don’t. My dad is Honduran, and by that I mean, from Honduras, so I don’t look at any person’s homeland as being something bad.