Burger flipping. It has become a reference that we all understand.
A low-paying job. A place you might end up if you ignore education. A last resort.
I learned a lesson early in life about the dignity of work. Any kind of work.
Dad was a union steelworker. It was the opportunity of choice in my industrial home town. It paid the best wages, had the best benefits. It was something to aspire to for so many, particularly in the post WW II economy.
We didn’t know the details of his job. We just know he supported a family of 8.
One day at dinner, my older sister was discussing the fate of a proud young man that we all knew growing up, the kind who boasted of big dreams, ambitious plans. Francis was going to be “Somebody”. He looked down on his peers, couldn’t wait to get out of town.
He was spotted pushing a broom outside of a local McDonald’s. We laughed at the irony. But, my father saw it another way.
He saw us laughing about a man pushing a broom.
Our normally very even-tempered father went into a tirade, and a lecture for which we were never prepared. It was about the dignity of all work, our attitude of superiority, our lack of knowledge of real-world issues.
He was furious, frustrated, ashamed. We slipped away from that dinner table, both embarrassed and confused.
A few days later. We understood.
The mill was a mere block away from our home.
On this particular day, we passed the mill yard where the steel plates were loaded into railroad cars. My sister was driving. I looked on in surprise, and understanding.
Dad was pushing steel shavings across the pavement with a very large broom.
I cried when we got home.
It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.