I learned my work ethic by example. Or maybe it is in my genes. My dad is and always has been the hardest working person I know. Now at age 88, deep into a well earned retirement, he is, as I like to say, a bug in a jar. He really doesn’t like when anything slows him down. He runs a tight ship in the kitchen – formerly my Moms domain until she happily handed the reins to him. He has a perfect lawn that is the envy of the neighbors. He is always willing to help friends, neighbors or family solve problems or figure out issues, but never offers unsolicited advice. He’ll bring your garbage cans in, put out your sprinkler, or meet a contractor if you can’t do it. He is the next door neighbor everyone wishes they had.
When I was a kid, I thought it was perfectly normal for my dad to work 6 days a week, including 2 long days – Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. After work on Saturdays, he ushered at church. His only day off was Sunday, and instead of ‘me time’ or watching the game, he took us boating. Just about every Summer Sunday of my childhood was spent at at the lake and having a blast. He taught most of Sylvania, OH how to water ski with the utmost patience (especially with me). Friends, Amiright?
My brothers and I always had jobs when we were old enough. I spent countless hours babysitting – for a whopping 50 cents to $1 per hour – because I knew I could not turn down the chance to earn money if it was offered to me. Dad had lots of connections, and we all had jobs at the local ice rink or at his dealerships. He even hooked me up with a job with one of his clients and I did accounts payable at a nuclear pharmacy one summer when I was in college. Jobs were not always easy to come by in the 70’s & 80’s and we were thankful to have an ‘in.’ Work was our family ethos.
My dad obviously had little tolerance for idle hands. If I was sitting around when he was home, that never lasted for long. He just might give the louver doors on my closet the ‘white glove test’ and I would spend the next hour dusting. Or washing windows. Or sweeping the patio. Or raking the shag rug. Don’t even bother arguing with him. It doesn’t work. Did I mention that he was in the military?
Like most Dads of my era, he did a stint in the armed forces. He enrolled in the Air Force just out of high school and served in the Korean War as an air traffic controller in remote Alaska. His unit was considered expendable, and although he never saw combat, he was in danger of both enemy invasions and the elements. He came back and immediately went to work, not taking the time to go to college. He met my mom at a new year’s eve party and they were married the following September. The next July my brother was born. That fateful meeting has resulted in nearly 63 years of the most caring and devoted marriage I can imagine. They truly are best friends who drive each other crazy, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
He never talked much about his days in the Air Force when I was a kid. Men back then were told to suck it up and move on. Or maybe they weren’t told that, but that’s exactly what they did. I think that as they age it all rises back to the surface. I love hearing his stories and seeing photos of his days in Alaska. Back in a time when people did not travel much, it must have seemed like going to Mars for a kid from Detroit to end up in basic training in the deep south and an assignment in a US territory that was not yet a state. It’s a kind of education that most of us will never know.
For most of my childhood, he was in the car business. My earliest memories are when he worked for Will Dennis Volkswagen in the early 1960’s, and riding in the ‘bunny hutch’ in the back of a VW bug. I loved spending time in his dealerships, and going back to see ‘the girls’ in the business office and playing with their credit card machine. Or going out in the shop and getting a coke from the vending machine with the glass bottles. I still love the smell of new cars and rubber. And no one can write backwards on windows to tally the car sales like my dad. And maybe 1970’s weathermen.
Even though my dad sold cars, he was never a salesman. He was an expert who educated his clients. A trait that must have unknowingly worn off on me, because that’s exactly how I sell real estate. His customers would follow him when he moved from Chrysler to Chevy to BMW/Audi and finally to Ford because Wally was the only one they trusted to buy a car from. If Wally said it, it must be true. Still is. I guess I was a bit spoiled because we always had brand new cars. I learned to drive in a bright yellow 1978 Camaro complete with T-tops and spoiler. It was also almost 100% blind spots, and spun out like crazy in the snow and ice that was so prevalent in Toledo winters, especially in 1978. But it was SO cool! Imagine my horror when he presented me with a 1967 ‘little old lady’s’ Chevy Impala 4 door with light blue brocade upholstery to buy with my hard earned babysitting money. Turns out 16 year olds are not insured to drive dealership cars without their parents in them, so my lifelong tradition of only riding in new cars was officially over.
He sold new cars to most of my school principals, teachers, friends’ parents, all the nuns at the convent (that’s a story for another time), and used cars to pretty much every new driver in Sylvania. I still feel bad my friend Marian got stuck driving an ugly Chevy Nova for a few years because it was a safe, sturdy and affordable car. Sorry, Mar!
When I was really young, we had a travel trailer for adventures. I find out now that my mom hated it, but we kids thought it was great. When we segued into boating, we really found our family groove. And this is where I ultimately learned the mantra to work hard, and play harder. Even with his crazy work schedule and being the best fix-it guy ever around the house, he made time to have fun. He played basketball with other guys one night a week. He played in a dad’s hockey league and a broom ball league at the local ice rink. When I was really little, I remember going to watch him play softball. Looking back, he must have been horrified at my lack of athletic ability. The only time I remember him getting frustrated trying to teach me something was my reluctance to learn to dive. I’m sure I was a pain in the ass. When reasoning with me didn’t work, they enrolled me in diving lessons at the JCC. I was never good at it, but I finally learned to dive. When my little brother came along and was reluctant to learn to swim, Dad just threw him in the pool and Craig rose to the surface and started swimming. I have to give it to him. The guy knows how to get results.
It was fun to watch as my dad became ‘Papa’ with the birth of his grandchildren, and a more relaxed Wally emerged. He has always loved fishing with Trent – a pastime from his own childhood that was frankly lost on me and my brothers. The grandkids also brought out the spectator in him as he subsequently spent countless hours at orchestra concerts, violin performances, and swim meets. His pride for his 4 grandkids is palpable, and we feel so fortunate that all that hard work really did pay off, and he has had the time to relax and spend more time with them AND perfect his golf game in his retirement.
He has always rooted for my brothers and me to succeed and has always been our champion, but we also had to be the ones to help ourselves. We never had a sense of entitlement. He gave us the tools, but we had to use them, and we knew this without being told. I have always felt the need to make my parents proud, and do my best to work as hard as they did (which isn’t even possible) to make a great life for my kids. My dad is a first generation American, who had a pretty atypical and sometimes hard childhood. My parents’ generation always strived to give their kids a better life than they had. For me, this is not even possible.
Happy Fathers Day to my one of a kind Dad, Wally Barber, from his eternally grateful daughter 💚