Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Coal Miner's Daughter

It's easy in life to forget where we came from. It's not uncommon to push so hard to get where we're going that we forget to look back at where it all started.

I grew up in the tiny town of Hundred, West Virginia (299 people in the 2010 census). My parents also grew up in Hundred and stayed there to raise their four children. I had a pretty charmed existence - a happy family, a good home, food on the table (great food - my mom is a rockstar cook). My family actually likes each other (even though we also can want to throttle one another at different times). I didn't really think about the work that it took to keep the family going. My life was great, and that's really all that mattered.

My parents are both extremely hardworking, and I didn't really appreciate it until I got older. My mom stayed at home while raising four children, and bless her heart that is probably the hardest job ever. My dad worked my entire life in the coal mines like so many West Virginians do. It's a hard career, and I'm not sure I ever really appreciated it.

When I was home last weekend I started thinking about the sacrifices my parents made to make sure my life is easy.  My dad worked afternoon shifts when I was growing up. He'd leave for work around one in the afternoon and get home around midnight. This meant we'd really only see him on Saturday and Sunday mornings and the occasional day off. Dad was a foreman and wasn't in the union, and this meant he'd have one maybe two regular days off a month.  When Dad was home he was working on something - mowing the yard, painting something, fixing something, washing the cars, keeping things working.  My dad is a restless person (in case you're wondering where I get it), and he never stopped. That's just how things were.
 
With my parents at my law school graduation in 2003

Ten years ago my dad had an unexpected heart attack that forced him to quit working at the young age of 55. I was living in Texas at the time, and when I got the call I packed up my car and drove back to West Virginia where I proceeded to monitor his salt intake and diet for weeks like a prison warden. I think that may be the one time where my dad couldn't wait until I left town again.

In the decade since my dad's heart attack, his health has gotten worse. I've never, not once, heard my dad complain. Just like when I was a kid and he spent his "free" time digging a ditch to stop flooding in the basement or whatever latest project needed his attention. I was spending time with Dad last weekend and marveling at how much work he's always done and how I don't know if he actually knows how much I appreciate it.

One of my fav pics with my Dad, Christmas 2005. Wow I was blonde.
Growing up I never thought about how difficult my dad's job was. It never occurred to me to appreciate it and him the way I should have. I had an easy childhood, and my adulthood is no different. My dad worked his tail off so that I wouldn't have to. On days where I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall on some policy issue, I often look at the Friends of Coal sticker in my office and think even this stressful day is easier than what Dad did every day.

Yes, I'm pro coal. Suck it.
I've accomplished a lot in my 35 years, and the basis of that is having hardworking parents to set that example. My dad is funny, he's inappropriate, he's smart, he soaks up information like a sponge, and he moves (and talks) at 100 miles a minute. I am just like him, and I'm proud of it.  As I move forward in this easy life of mine - whether I'm running a race, traveling, or working - I'm always mindful of the long days my dad spent working to ensure my life was easy.

Love, love, love this photo from my wedding
As we continue to wait to have children of our own I want to set the same example for our children.  In this world of entitled children who are indulged to no end I want our kids to know that you have to work hard for what you want.  My job isn't a physical one (unless you count running around Lansing in heels...which most people probably don't), but I work hard every day because that was my example.  I may never take the elevator ride into the coal mine, but I'm successful because my dad did.  And I am so grateful for it.  

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