Several years ago, I sat in a job interview. The interviewer had already covered the standard interview questions (strengths, weakness, etc.) when he asked me something I had never been asked before, “Who’s your hero?”
Without hesitation, I replied, “My dad.”
“Really?” He seemed legitimately surprised. “What did your dad do?”
Well now, that was an interesting question…
Years ago, when I was but a toddler, my family moved from Utah to what would be considered home for the next three decades, Omaha, Nebraska. My dad had taken a job as a district manager for So-Fro Fabrics (later House of Fabrics, now Jo-Ann Fabric). The job was good though it was still difficult at times to provide for us seven kids, especially when those seven kids eventually became ten. The best part of my dad’s job was business trips. As my dad traveled to the various stores in his district, he was able to take one or two of us kids with him. I know it sounds crazy, but trips to Kearney and Hastings, Nebraska along with St. Joseph, Missouri were some of the best times I can remember as a small child. St Joseph was especially enjoyable as Kansas City was near enough for us to catch a baseball game if the Royals were in town.
Fast-forward a few years later, now in the mid-eighties, and my dad loses his job causing him to enter the job market at a time when jobs were tough to come by. Thus my dad took his degree in Archaeology* from BYU (HUGE Indiana Jones fan, my dad**) and went to work in sales.
* Sitting at the dinner table one evening, I asked my dad why he never went into archaeology. He replied, “Well kids, because when I met your mother, I figured those would be the oldest bones I’d ever see!” Still makes me laugh. (Sorry, Mom).
** I’ve often said that if my dad didn’t die from his second heart attack, “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls” would have certainly finished the job.
My Dad tried his best to sell just about anything. He once sold these. He also sold these. He started a business selling advertising to restaurants and other small businesses by distributing their coupons directly to people’s homes (a sort of pre-internet Groupon). I seem to remember something with stuffed animals and another time when our garage was filled with candy and candy machines (my personal favorite). He sold insurance for a while until his first heart attack when I was in seventh grade. Ultimately, the job that stuck the longest was selling overpriced meat products over the phone to people who had way too much money.
While my dad went from job to job, there was one that persisted throughout. When my dad was still working with So-Fro, my mom had found a part-time job as a delivery supervisor for the Omaha World Herald*. My mom would supervise several paper routes, haul bundles to the paperboys’ houses, and help with collections. This was the start of the newspaper delivery service as our family business. And like another family business, the only way out was death or shame. (Okay, maybe not death. Or shame really…).
*The Omaha World Herald (OWH) is the only major metropolitan newspaper with both morning and afternoon delivery and the vast majority (especially residential) get the paper on their porch by the time they come home from work at 5pm. Not only did this allow my mother a part-time afternoon job, it also allowed each one of us kids to have a paper route and help pay our own way.
It didn’t take my dad long to figure out that on an hourly rate, delivering papers was a pretty good gig. It also didn’t take long for my dad to figure out that with the right route, with the right number of papers, with the right delivery (thrown on driveway from car vs. walking and throwing on a porch), one could actually make out ok.* Thus, our family delivered a LOT of newspapers. If you lived in southwest Omaha in the late eighties and early nineties and received the OWH, chances are it was put there by a Jacob. Having a paper route was a sort of rite of passage for a Jacob kid. I clearly remember at the age of 8 or 9 having to wake up well before dawn on Sunday Mornings to help mom and dad with the routes.
*It was all about efficiency as the earliest you could get your papers was at 3pm and you had to have them delivered by 5pm.
The difference between delivering papers with my mom or my dad was night and day. Heaven and hell might be a better comparison. If you went with my mom, you got to ride in the nice station wagon and she only had a fraction of the papers that my dad did. It was also quick, as her route was all tube. No rubber-banding. No throwing. Quick and easy.
Going with my dad, however, was not as simple. At the time, my dad drove an orange VW Bug. I’m not sure where the orange paint ended and the rust began, but it seemed to run ok. If you went with my dad, you did one thing and one thing only. Squeezed into the backseat with a large stack of news (main) sections on your left and another large stack of “Home” sections on your right (Home sections had the ads, inserts, and Sunday mag), your job was to take one of each roll it up and place on my father’s hand as he reached between the front seats and back. My dad would then quickly rubber-band the paper and launch it with incredible precision to its appropriate destination.
This is all being done over the course of four hours. In the dark. With the car making frequent stop and start motions. Stop and start. Back and forth. With the lovely scent of newsprint and exhaust. With the heat cranked up and on full blast because my dad’s window had to be open to throw papers. This is why we have child labor laws.
After a couple of hours crammed in the back seat, I would eventually fall victim to the combination of the heat, the stop-and-go motion, and the fumes and would need to hurry out of the car to throw up some stomach acid on a random street corner. You would think that this repeated event would incur some sympathy, but you probably don’t know my dad. My dad quickly diagnosed this as just a problem of an empty stomach*. My dad assured me that simply eating a piece of toast would solve this dilemma and of course I obliged. Well, sure enough, that half-digested piece of toast would end up on the same street corner as my stomach acid from the previous week.
*Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, “My Dad the Pediatrician.”
Life continued as such for the next several years. My dad would go to one job in the morning, come home around three to do his papers, and then often shower and go back to work for another shift in the evening. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but I’m not even sure what ideal is.
On one occasion in October of 1997, my parents were out of town which left newspaper delivery to me and my three younger siblings. I was at the age where I had moved on from the newspaper business (again, shamefully so) so I was less than enthusiastic about having to deliver several hundred papers on a Sunday morning.
That Saturday night, Omaha was hit by one of the most devastating snowstorms in its history. The fact that it hit in October when most of the trees still had all of their leaves, exacerbated the damage. I woke up that morning in complete panic. We had lost power due to the storm thus my alarm clock failed to go off. I’m not sure what time it was when I awoke, but it was light out which meant getting the papers out by 7am was going to be impossible. After waking my younger two brothers and sister, we hurried outside and found more snow than I had ever seen as well as many broken tree limbs, downed power-lines, and all in all just a huge mess. Once I made it to the garage, I pulled the garage door up to find out that the bundle hauler had not been able to make it to the house. There were no papers to be delivered. And there was much rejoicing. Seriously, high-fives all around. It was going to be one of the best days of our lives thinking that we wouldn’t have to do papers that morning.
Once the celebration ended, we made it back inside and I called my dad to let him know about the storm. My dad was puzzled as to why I would be calling that morning (we were a very low-maintenance family). I started to explain what was happening. The snow, the damage, the power outage, church being cancelled. He quickly interrupted me, “So did you get the papers done?”
“No dad, they didn’t make it here. Oh, and we’re ok, thanks for asking.” I replied with a heavy dose of sarcasm*.
*It should be noted that I wasn’t upset at all about his concern for the papers and lack of concern for us, it was actually expected at this point. I mean, he had 10 kids! If something were to happen to four of them, that’s still less than half.
A fraction of the newspapers finally made it to the house later that day and we tried our best to get out as many as we could. My parents got home that night and the next day the remaining Sunday papers made their way. I then watched as my faithful father delivered the huge Sunday edition along with the standard daily paper at the same time. I’m sure very few of his customers would have complained about not receiving their Sunday paper but my dad did it anyway. That’s just who he was.
For those several years, those newspapers put food on our table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads. They helped pay for weddings, vacations, and an occasional movie or night out. There were frequent periods appropriately called “poor week”* where we’d have to especially cut back and be extra meager as we prepared for a costly event. Dinners would be a little more simple, the thermostat would go a little lower at night, and we’d generally watch closely what we spent.
*Somehow “poor week” always seemed to coincide with my dad bringing home pies from Village Inn. I don’t get it either but it is still a running joke in my family to this day.
Fast forward again to a few years later. I am recently married we’ve now got a baby on the way. During this time, money was extremely tight. My wife was in the final year of Pharmacy school and I was also trying to work around my schooling to try and provide for us. Things never seemed to add up which caused quite a bit of stress early on in our marriage. There was a definite struggle to find a job that provided enough balance for school, work, church, and family, but one that also put food on the table. I’m not sure what took me so long but the answer was right there in front of me the whole time. Well, actually, it was in my past…
As luck would have it, there was a large open route near where I lived. A couple hours in the afternoon and early weekend morning fit easily around my schedule and still allowed for plenty of time for the things I wanted and needed to do. So one fall day, I pulled into the OWH distribution garage to grab my bundle of papers and get on with my new job. Pulling right up next to me was Dad. By this time he was pushing sixty but he was still doing papers after all of these years. Instead of an orange VW bug, he drove an old Isuzu pickup which the only thing it was good for at this point, was delivering papers.
My dad and I shared a lot of experiences. He was my little league coach all throughout my childhood. I was his home teaching companion as a youth. I followed in his footsteps and served a two-year mission for my Church. But for some reason, I was never more proud to be my father’s son than pulling up next to him that day.
My dad never had any shame about his jobs. He was perfectly open when asked what he did and never made excuses for his current situation. Could he have worked a little harder to find a better job? I don’t know and quite frankly don’t care. My dad wasn’t one to live with any regrets and neither am I. Instead, I’m grateful for my dad and who he was. And he was a paperboy who believed in things that were far more important than money or status. And his legacy is now plain for all to see.
In case you were wondering, I didn’t get the job.