When I was little, I was an early riser. I’d wake up while it was still dark, find my Mom up and about, getting ready to see Dad off to work. I’d take my little self into the kitchen where she’d pour me a cup of watered down, sweetened coffee to have while Dad drank a cup – his was full strength, black.
I felt so grown with my little mug of Folgers. It was a ritual that made me feel close to him.
I got older, more prone to loving sleep, and pretty soon, outgrew my need to feel “adultish”…at least before the sun had risen.
This morning as I drank my coffee, (still sweetened), I reflected on my Dad’s long career in the oil industry. A career that began over 40 years ago and one that he retires from tomorrow.
The oil field has become a bit….trendy. A lot of guys my age went offshore to make good money so their wives could stay home and spend it. Then it went bust so many of them had to come home and figure out a new plan. People talk about their pride in being “oil field trash” and put cute little t-shirts on their kids and bumper stickers on their cars.
Nothing wrong with that. But it’s not the oil field I know. My dad’s job wasn’t trendy. It wasn’t cutesy. We didn’t grow up in a $300,000 house that we could lose if work got slow and my mom didn’t drive a brand new luxury vehicle.
No, the oil field I grew up in was offices set up in mobile trailers, thick with the smell of oil, grease, coffee, and cigarette or cigar smoke. It was loud drilling rig locations that have made many a man my Dad’s age and older develop some serious hearing loss. It was dangerous, dirty, burning hot or freezing cold working conditions. It was being away from his family more than he was able to be with them. It was being awakened in the middle of the night to problems, emergencies that couldn’t wait until the next day. It was missing some holidays, some birthdays, some family events. It was demanding bosses, lazy rig hands, and “experts” who had a ton of academia, but no real-world oil field experience. It was barely having said the blessing over dinner, only to be interrupted by a work-related phone call. It was sacrifice, and it was exhaustion. I saw some of this and more as a kid. And as I got older, I realized more and more just how hard my dad worked, every day of his life.
But there were some amazing parts of being an “oil field family”. It meant growing up somewhere other than the little town where I was born, getting to see, at a young age, that the world is so much bigger than Mississippi. It meant learning that family doesn’t just mean the ones that share your DNA – it means the ones that you share your lives with, your sweat with, and those people can become brothers and sisters and cousins when your blood family is hundreds of miles away. It meant understanding that home is where your family gathers. That might be a mobile home parked on a location or a hotel room where you’re staying so you can spend time with your dad because he’s taking a training class or a safety seminar – what matters is not where you are, but who you’re with. It meant tagging along with my Dad sometimes for work. Getting to ride in a big truck. Watch him talk on the CB radio. Put on a hard hat and go up on the rig floor. Getting to shake hands with all the guys who would ask if you were your Dad’s helper. Having lunch with him in some of the most delicious, run down dives in the most rural of towns. And ice cream. We almost always got ice cream.
A few weeks ago, I got to attend a retirement luncheon that Dad’s office hosted for him. What was said about him there is what I have heard and seen for the last 30+ years – admiration and respect. My dad can be an opinionated, stubborn man. And you may not always agree with him, but you’re gonna respect him. And people do. I do.
There is a song that says, “She used to tie her hair up in ribbons and bows, sign her letters with x’s and o’s. Got a picture of her mama in heels and pearls, she’s tryin’ to make it in her Daddy’s world….”
So I rise before dawn. I drink my coffee. I tackle my day, fielding phone calls and emails and murky financial waters. I answer the phone calls that always come in after hours and on my “days off” and on my sick days because this is what I learned by watching my father. That you give 100% at the job you accepted and while everybody might not like you, might not agree with you, you will earn their respect. And you will earn your paycheck, which is the only reason most of us work to begin with. And if you’re smart, and a little bit lucky, you might can have that morning where you set the alarm for work for the last time. Where you answer that last aggravating phone call. Where you drive that last weary mile.
For as long as I can remember, my Dad’s dream has been to be on his farm. Growing cows, growing trees, tending his land. Several years ago, I really thought he might not ever retire from the oil field. But then he had grandkids, he got very, very sick, and took care of his father through a long illness until BigDaddy’s death last summer. I think all of those things brought my dad a new perspective. He started talking more and more about retirement. Then he set a date for it. And tomorrow, the countdown is over. His days will still be busy, I have no doubt. But they will be HIS. I’m sure he’ll work as hard as ever, but I know the precise difference in doing something you have to do and doing something that you love to do. It’s why I started my writing business. I’m still emulating Dad, trying to build something now that I can use later. And he’s been a huge supporter.
Dad has given me some great advice with my jobs over the years. And he’s given me some that I absolutely disagree with. But mostly, he’s looked at me with an understanding pair of eyes whenever he sees me at the end of a long day. He’s told me how proud he is of me – which is something you never get too old to hear, especially from your dad.
So, I just want to say today, on the eve of his retirement, how proud I am of HIM. You have worked so hard for so long, you gave me and Mom and Jana so much, and you gave us a life and a childhood that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. And you gave me a tried and true example of a work ethic that has gained me respect and good, steady employment for the last 19 years. So thank you. Thank you for all the long, crazy hours. For all the early mornings and late nights. For all the miles you’ve driven. All the phone calls you’ve taken. All the bosses you’ve put up with. All the elements in which you’ve sweated and frozen. Thanks for the rich life you raised me in and for providing a way to have Mom at home with us. Thank you for teaching me about hard work, and dedication, and gritting my teeth and remembering that a job is just a job and it doesn’t have to define me.
I hope your retirement is full of making new memories with your wife. I hope it’s lots of baby calves and strong timber. I hope it’s watching the sun set with the peace in knowing the next day doesn’t involve the DEQ, the MSOGB, or any of the typical work-related BS.
I hope we can have coffee again soon. A little familiar ritual celebrating a new and exciting journey for you.
I’m proud of you, Dad. I love you. And I couldn’t be happier for you. May God richly bless you and keep you, today, tomorrow, and always.