Eric Van Fossen

I was less than sixteen years old when one of the most fortunate things that ever happened to me occurred.

I got a job.

Not just any job, but a job working for my dad. Dad was the manager of a small shop that made industrial nameplates. Some of these were thin metal plates that would be attached to a piece of equipment to mark its brand.  Other types of name plates would be fitted around the controls of machinery to label buttons and switches.

At the time I started the job there were maybe twelve men working there. These guys had accepted my older brother that preceded me; as well as my younger sister that followed. I typically worked after school for a few hours, Saturday mornings and during all school breaks. This included stints on second shift during the summer months. As the boss’s kid I never felt that I received any different treatment than any other employee. It was a wonderful exposure to the adult working world. I remember it as a generally joyful place, full of hard work, camaraderie and practical jokes.

In hindsight, the best part was the opportunity to enter my Dad’s world from a perspective not typically given to a teenage son. It was obvious that dad was immensely liked and respected by the employees. As I became just another employee, it became obvious to me why this was.

My boss was a man without a college education. He had been in the trenches and worked hard. The benefits of his hard work had paid off. Eventually, this small division of a company grew larger and this man without a college education became its vice-president.

Dad never hesitated to come out of his office and get his hands dirty. He also never hesitated to come out to the shop floor, toss some cash at the supervisor and ask him to go buy a couple of buckets of chicken for everybody’s lunch. I have been told stories of how he always looked after his employees. I believe that one guy with an alcohol problem was dealt with patiently and probably bailed out a few times. Many years later I ran into this man.  With a tear in his eye he told me how good my dad had been to him. He had been not only sober for many years, but had gone to college and become a drug and alcohol counselor.  I have no doubt there are many more similar stories that have been un-told.

Entering dad’s world carried over to home as well. I have fond memories of supper time discussions and debates about work. At a time when a father and teenage son typically have difficulty communicating, dad and I were able to stay more fully immersed in each other’s lives. Like many teenage boys, I likely went through the stages of declaring more independence and teenage angst. My parents may not agree with me, but I think that working for dad prevented me from becoming overly angst ridden. Working for dad and being directly exposed to the men that worked with him, provided me a layer of understanding and respect for my father that most teenage boys never have the opportunity to experience.

I learned so very much in that shop. I learned how to make nameplates. I learned how to interact in the adult world before I was fully forced into it. I learned that my dad had many wonderful layers which I had been previously ignorant of. I watched how to be a good boss and friend. I understood how everyone you encounter in your life deserves respect. I like to think I became a good worker. I walked away knowing that we are all capable of touching people’s lives in positive ways; especially when they weren’t expecting it.

I worked for dad for a few years then went off to college and the Navy. I stopped working for dad. Those days in the shop and all of the lessons learned were over thirty years ago. Dad never stopped working for me.

The incessant march of time has changed us all. Dad is still a wonderful and hardworking man. But no matter how gracefully we age comes the need for some assistance. If needed I will be happy to work for dad again. It served me quite well the first time.