America’s first great novelist said, “When I was a boy of fourteen my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
At ten and twelve, I was getting tired of being lectured. The never ending bromides my father would hammer into me: “You must struggle.” “You must make it happen.” And his favorite story – The Twenty Dollar Man and the Forty Dollar Man.
In this scenario, one worker carries buckets of coal out of a coal mine one at a time and earns twenty dollars a week. (My father’s stories always featured manual laborers.) Another man carries buckets of coal out with one bucket in each hand. He earns forty dollars a week. At the end of the story my father would ask, “Do you want to be the twenty-dollar man or the forty-dollar man?” I’d dutifully answer, “I want to be the forty-dollar man.” My father would nod. “You become the forty-dollar man by doing more than is expected.”
I didn’t have a choice when it came to doing more than was expected. When I was fourteen, on Saturdays my dad dragged me to his clothing stores and put me to work in the gloomy, musty, dusty stockrooms while my friends were all out in the sunshine playing basketball and baseball and football.
I was surely “suffering”, but I couldn’t see my how working in a stockroom was going to “make” anything happen. I just didn’t get why my old man was putting me through all this. But then I was fourteen and my father, like Mark Twain’s before him, was still “ignorant”. Over time, that would change…