Dear Dad: Blue Collar Pop Taught Son How Work Gets Done

Filed under: Holidays, Opinions

Paddy Loughran was a proud union man. Courtesy of Rob Loughran

Before "blue collar" became synonymous with a comedy tour or an adjective for ESPN announcers to describe how hard pampered millionaires play professional sports, it meant something specific. It was the color of the shirt you wore to work.

To work as a ditch digger, farmhand or hod carrier.

My father was all of the above until he worked his way into the building trades and found a position as a plumber's apprentice (this was after years of "menial" labor and a hitch in World War II as a Seabee) with Local U.A. 38 in San Francisco.

Paddy Loughran, immigrant from Cookstown, County Tyrone, North Ireland, lived to work. He worked for the city and county of San Francisco and was a proud union man. On "vacations" as a child, we'd drive up to my aunt's in Placerville, Calif., where he'd work on plumbing for a new cabin or a septic system for two weeks while we kids fished and swam and frolicked.

But what I remember most about my father's blue collar work ethic were his side jobs. Every weekend he'd be at a neighbor's or relative's, fixing a pipe or installing a commode. These jobs would be leisurely cash-under-the-table affairs with lots of chat and several seemingly scheduled breaks for "a wee snort of something or other."

And I remember them because usually I went with my dad.

My brothers are nine and 10 years older than me and were in high school when I was 7 or 8. If they had ventured along on a side job they'd have been put to work. I had the proper lack of stature and experience that made these trips an adventure. So, I would watch, and observe and listen, assisting with the occasional request for a wrench or screwdriver.

I was always amazed that at the end of two hours or a half-day that my dad had done so much. Unhurried but unceasing, puzzling out solutions as problems arose as the sinks and faucets and showerheads and toilets would be installed.

Those side jobs taught me not how to be a plumber, but how to work.

When I began college in the 1970s, the buzz-phrase for writing teachers was Joseph Campbell's mantra, "Follow your bliss," and I was immediately suspicious. I saw, thanks to Paddy Loughran, that's not how work gets done. The job gets done by using the proper tools, the correct materials and measuring twice before cutting once.

Maybe I missed out on a few things, but when I wanted to write my first book I didn't go to Mexico to eat peyote buttons, wander in the desert and find the meaning of life. I went to my typewriter and rolled in a blank sheet of paper.

Dad never encouraged or discouraged me in anything. When I needed a ride to football practice he'd be there. He didn't attend every game I played (I didn't expect him to), but he made it to most of them. The only time this hard-working man (and I'm not idealizing dad's blue collar life: He had broken toes and fingers and a bad back) said anything to me about any profession was when I was in high school. Dad had arrived home with a load of lumber for one of his projects. (Did I mention he added on to the house, built a deck, drilled a well during a drought and had an annual garden that fed the neighborhood?) I was reading at the dining room table and Mom told me to go help Dad unload. So I did. I walked outside, reached to help and he asked, "What do you think you're doing out here?"

"Helping you unload the wood?"

He smiled. "Go back in and study. The heaviest piece of lumber you'll ever be liftin' is a pencil."

Thanks, Pops.

Rob Loughran has 19 books in print and had published 200+ articles in national magazines. His latest mystery novel "Tantric Zoo" will soon be available in digital format. Check out his books at and read his blog on Red Room.


Flickr RSS



AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.