My changing perspective of my father’s career.
Halfway through my tenth year in this mortal realm my father obtained employment as a software engineer at an automobile insurance company. At the time I didn’t think much about his work at all. It changed where we lived, which seemed big at the time, but as a very close-knit group of home-schooled siblings I now realize that that had less impact on us than you might expect. It also changed the characters in the stories that my father would tell my mother about his day every evening as she finished cooking supper; the old personalities were gone, to be replaced with new people, some of whom I still feel I know better through those now decades-old tales than I know many of the people I see day-to-day.
That job stayed. Or the employer did, anyway. He moved from project to project, but always in the same company. I was too young to think much about it at first and never had a reason to stop and do so thereafter.
Twelve years later I had a couple of miscellaneous associates degrees to my name, had just finished a two-year proselytizing mission, and was trying to decide what I wanted to pursue as a career. I was counseling with my father on this topic one day when I said something that dismissed many jobs, including the one he had, in some way that I don’t recall clearly now. I might have called them unimportant, uninteresting, or not “helping” people the way I wanted to; that the kind of short-sighted way I thought back then.
My father’s response has stayed with me ever after. I do not recall the words, but the message was this: if you do honest work, you make the world better. Somewhere, someone is benefited by what you do. Their life would have been worse without you. If you help a few people you might help them a lot, but you could also help millions of people in a small way and perhaps do more good than you ever could a few people at a time.
I once heard adolescence defined as the part of life where you don’t yet realize that other people exist. In a little way, I stopped being an adolescent that day. The world suddenly changed from people muddling along around myself, the man with big hopes and dreams, to a world full of people with the same hopes and dreams as myself. And wiser people too; people who had thought more about things than I and understood the world more clearly.
As I have begun my own career in recent months I have had occasion to pause and reflect on that perspective that my father gave me all those years ago. I’m a teacher by trade, and there is a direct and obvious connection between what I do and the lives of hundreds of students. I reach out and touch people in such a way that they know they’ve been touched. But I sometimes wonder, do I do as much good, day to day, as my father does?
An honest insurance company is in a surprisingly moral trade: they are trying to make the world fair. Their goal is to have you pay what your actions and choices would, on average, cost, if chance and luck didn’t make the world unfair. They make the reckless drivers pay for the danger they create and help the unlucky safe driver not pay so very much.
I’m not in such a clearly good profession. I mostly teach skills and knowledge, giving students power. I intend this to be power to do great things, to make the world a better place in whatever way they can. But academic teaching isn’t a moral, fair thing in and of itself. It can enable bad people to be efficiently bad as well as good people to be efficiently good.
There were times in my life when I thought my father, and many other people like him, had “sold out,” had settled for being a cog in the wheel of business instead of being a patriot on the frontier of… of… well the frontier of something important, no doubt. As I age and my perspective improves I cringe at my self-centered opinions of old.
My father is one of the greatest men I have ever known. I have never doubted that, nor have the many more widely acclaimed great men I have met given me any reason to think him not among the greatest. He has chosen, in his humble, steady way, to take one corner of the world and make it better. Not just to make driving fairer, though he has had direct impact on that; not just to make fair roads cost a hundred million drivers a few dollars a month less each, though he has done that to. He has also made the lives of thousands of other employees of the company as pleasant and easy as he can. There are many fathers and mothers that he has never met and who have never heard of him but who go home at the end of their work day happy, who are able to greet their children with a smile and not a grumble in part because his software prevented them from having a headache of a day.
I have set out on a career, a good honest career, a job in which I have great scope for doing good. As in so many aspects of my life, I hope that I can live up to my father’s example in how I use this opportunity.