The Duncan Banner

September 2, 2012

Like it or not, I developed a work ethic

Jeff Kaley
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Americans love to designate holidays as an excuse to show appreciation to one another. I mean, how many other societies have something like Labor Day, which celebrates pregnant women.

Labor Day? Pregnant women? Get it?

Ha, ha! hee, hee! Snork, snork! Oh, Kaley, you crack me up!

(OK, to be fair and balanced, when I come up with a quip that lame, Karen melts in mortification. “You’re such a doofus,” the wife will say. “You’re the only one who thinks that’s funny.”)

Karen’s sarcasm aside, on Labor Day we honor America’s working men and women; people like you and me, who clock in every day, partly because we’ve got mortgages to meet, mouths to feed, credit card debt and a yen for a flatscreen TV. And partly because we’re motivated by work ethic.

Developing a strong work ethic is not a natural instinct — survival is a natural instinct, but work ethic has to be taught and nurtured. For many of us, evolving from young’uns who are self-centered slackers into productive citizens is problematic.

I had the, uh, fortune to be raised by hard-workin’ parents, who believed we all have a duty to contribute to society through our labor. They didn’t want to dump a couple lazy bums on humanity, so they set an example for my brother and me by working diligently all their lives, and wouldn’t let us weasel out of working.

I can’t speak for my brother, but building a work ethic was a laborious adventure. Early on, I was under the impression I lived on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, and having fun was the primary purpose of life.

As an adolescent, I resented work. When I looked around, it seemed like my brother and I were the only kids who had chores. On Saturday mornings, when ALL THE OTHER KIDS IN TOWN watched cartoons or dashed off to play, the Kaley brothers helped Mom clean house or work around the yard.

Oh, gentle readers, the unfairness of chores scarred me deeply. Therefore, you can imagine my reaction when I was 15 and Dad came home and said he’d gotten me a weekend job as a floor sweeper and delivery boy at a SWEATSHOP in our hometown called Boyd’s Appliances.

WEEKEND JOB! Mygawd, Dad, the Supreme Court would rule that cruel and unusual punishment.

Didn’t my parents understand working weekends cut into the quality time I needed to become an NFL quarterback; that my buddies depended on me to hang out; that I had raging hormones and a girlfriend; or that if I took a real job, even part-time, I’d be the ONLY 15-YEAR-OLD IN TOWN WHO HAD TO WORK?

Well, my parents may have realized all that, but they were heartless ogres and didn’t care. When I tried to rebel about working at Boyd’s, my father flared and said, “You know, you’re so lazy the stink won’t blow off you!”

(Note to modern fathers: As I discovered, don’t try to shame 21st century teenage boys into working by invoking the phrase, “You’re so lazy the stink won’t blow off you!” They will burst into guffaws and reply, “Leave us along or we’ll tell Mom.”)

Anyway, I dreaded the whole notion of having a part-time job, until something happened that never happened doing chores for the parents — I GOT PAID MONEY!

Oh, really? Money. All of a sudden, work took on a new meaning.

From then on, I always had a full- or part-time job: sorting bottles for a Pepsi distributor, cleaning kettles at a candy plant, bailing hay, gleaning corn, being a lifeguard, pulling rods from oil wells, working for the city sewer department (the worst job I ever had) and being on the grounds crew at a golf course.

Even while “discovering myself” in college and through my early 20s, I paid for the good times by making pallets at a lumber yard, doing light construction and working at a college bookstore. (I also kicked around in garage bands, which was the best job I ever had. But I’m sworn to secrecy and can’t write about that in a family newspaper.) Then came a stint driving a truck for a small salad dressing company and three years of being a radio dee-jay. At age 26, I stumbled into journalism, and 35 interesting, fulfilling years have flow past.

See, while I wasn’t looking, a strong work ethic became part of who I am. Whodathunkit?

Do you think my parents knew all along what would happen?

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