Work is Good

by Dewayne Noel
January 2008


We have a generation of young people today that can’t or won’t work. Or, if they do work, they want a ridiculous wage for it. A good work ethic is something few people are just naturally born with. It has to be taught and developed. Yet, many parents that do try to get their children to work either use it as a punishment for wrong doing or bribe them with money to do chores around the house they should just be doing as a matter of course. Being a good worker is an acquired trait.

To be honest, I grew up in an environment that was not conducive to learning to appreciate hard work. Although my dad had grown up on a farm in Kentucky and had always known what is was to labor, he was in the ministry by the time I came along and we were living in towns, not on farms. There was no livestock, no firewood and only a hobby garden from time to time to help him keep his “feet in the soil”. He tried to do what he could to keep me busy when he was home from preaching engagements, but there are only so many times you can mow the yard, take out the trash and shovel snow. Fortunately, the opportunity arose for me to get my first after-school job at twelve years old. I entered the world of work at a young enough age and, with enough encouragement from home, that I was able to eventually develop enough of a will to work to not shame my parents or myself. But it wasn’t easy.

I decided early on that my children, if I was given the opportunity, would be taught the value of work at an early age. That way, when they were grown and had to work it would be a normal fact of life to them and not an abhorred end result of adulthood to be shirked at every opportunity.

I’ll give you an example of how it works, at least for me. Winter in Colorado is cold. Winter on an 8,ooo foot mountain pass in Colorado can be downright brutal. That’s exactly where my wife and I found ourselves during the winter of ’96, living on the old Angel Ranch on top of Poncha Pass just south of Salida, Colorado. We had three children by that time, the oldest being almost 4 and the youngest just an infant less than 1 year old.

The house that we lived in was old, but solid. The only heat was a large wood stove in the living room and a small coal stove in the kitchen. We could keep it warm enough to live comfortably and not worry about the children, but it took a lot of wood.

There was a door that led to the outside from the kitchen off of the back of the house and it was a short walk from there to a carport that stood just beside the house. I usually stacked the firewood under the carport to keep from having to dig it out from under the snow when I needed it.

I had gotten a load of wood from a man in town because I was running low and didn’t have a working chainsaw at the time. He had brought it and dumped it in a big pile in the yard next to the shelter. Weather was coming, and I needed to get it split under cover; so I went inside and fetched my help.

He wasn’t very big, my help, about 3 feet tall as I recall. And he didn’t seem to be very flexible either. Of course, that might have been due to the layer upon layer of clothing he wore to keep him warm in the 20° temperatures outside. He looked kind of like a Michelin Man zombie, all round, puffy rolls walking at a shuffle with his arms out in front of him. A knit scarf covered his face to his eyes, and the hood of his snowsuit was tied securely under his chin. If he fell, he wasn’t getting up without help, but Ben was ready… and he surely was all excited about helping Daddy.

I took him outside to the carport and gave him a quick lesson on the proper method of stacking firewood, for I do hate a stack of firewood that is just thrown together all sloppy and jumbled up. Then I gave him his instructions. As I split the wood, I would toss it in a pile at the edge of the carport, and he was to pick up the pieces and carry them to the stack along the back wall and place them neatly on the pile. I asked him if he understood and he assured me that he did; so we went to work.

That was twelve years ago, and it began a working relationship with my sons that continues to this day. I didn’t have to fuss at him that day to stay at it because I stayed at it, providing an example. I didn’t try to chat with him and “be his buddy”, and I didn’t condescend to his level as a toddler. I brought him up to my level as a man doing a job taking care of the house. It was important work, and we approached it as such. To this day, he works better than most men I often work with, and he is able to keep his mouth shut while doing it.

We worked steady for an hour or two that day, not fellowshipping or nagging, just two men getting the job done. Then, as I swung the ax and watched with satisfaction as another piece of firewood busted apart, I heard a plaintive little voice come floating up from somewhere deep behind the muffled face of the diminutive Michelin Man. “Daddy? I’m c-c-cooold.”

Well, he had done a great job, and I was extremely proud of him and more than satisfied. However, I needed the lesson to end on the right note, or all would be wasted. There were about eight pieces of firewood lying on the ground between us. I pointed to those eight pieces. “OK. You finish stacking those eight pieces, and the job will be finished. When you finish the job, you can go inside. All right?” “OK”, he nodded. As he bent to pick up the first piece, I went back to splitting wood, but was careful to toss them to the side and begin a new pile, not wanting to be a cheat and add to his job. When he finished those eight pieces he came back and stood in front of me. “Daddy? I’m done.”

I stuck the ax in the top of a block of wood, stepped around the pile of wood and took him by his cold, little mittened hand. I led him to the back door that led to the kitchen, and stepped inside with him. Deanna, my wife, was in the kitchen. As she came over to collect him, I told her to take good care of him.

“Mamma, he’s worked like a man, so I reckon he deserves the rewards of a man. What ever he wants to help him warm up, let him have it. If he wants a cup of coffee, a cup of hot chocolate or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, he’s earned it. Let him have it.”

She said she would take care of it, and I went back outside to finish the firewood.

Work should never be used as a discipline or punishment for infractions. If the only time that work is brought out is as a whip or a hammer, that is how the child will always see it when he is grown. It will just be something hateful and mean to be avoided at all costs. You will raise another burden to society, someone who cannot bring himself to pull his weight in life, to get in and shoulder the load with everyone else. His house will often be a mess, his property a pigsty and he will be a shame and embarrassment to his parents and his neighbors.

Thus, payment for services rendered around the house will often generate the same sort of problem. If your daughter grows up expecting to get paid by you for washing dishes, doing laundry or vacuuming she will likely have trouble at times being satisfied as a housewife once she gets married, as she surely will not get wages for such work then. If she and her husband decide she is to be a working mom, that is their decision to make; but how much of that decision will be based on a secret feeling of entitlement that she brings with her? Will she want to go to work at a public job based on a feeling that if she is not getting cash money for the work done then the work somehow does not have intrinsic value?

Do you want to give your children a good work ethic? Then give them three things:

First, give them respect. A boy will never strive to be a real man if he is never given a taste of what it means to be that man. If all he does is work like a man but is constantly treated like a boy, he will see no value in manhood outside of freedom, and what a sad, distorted view of true freedom that will be. My oldest boys, ages 16 and 14, work like men and thus they do not do house work outside of their own room (they have four sisters). They drink coffee as free as I do, own their own horses and have a certain level of privilege and respect not afforded their siblings.

When we are building a new fence on the property or developing a sight for a riding arena or cutting firewood I often ask their advice and we plan it out together. I make the final decisions, but I surely get their input and often use that input. After all, they will be doing as much of the work as I will, and they live here too. Make no mistake. They are still under my rules. I am still Dad, Boss and Sir. Mom is still honored, respected and obeyed and they still have to do school. They are not men, but they are getting a taste of the privileges that work and responsibility can give, and they like that taste. It is all paid for with sweat, calluses, blisters and sore backs, but it is a price they have decided is not too high for the rewards earned. And those rewards have nothing to do with money.

Second, give them an example. Slaves and servants are sent to do a job we do not want to do. Friends, family and colleagues are brought along to work beside us as equals. It gives children a whole new outlook on what work is all about. Set the pace, tone and attitude appropriate for the work being done, and help them rise to that level. Are you learning to work yourself? Then decide who you admire and enjoy working with the most. What are the attributes that those persons most personifies while working? What makes them a good worker? Emulate them, and then help your children emulate them.

Lastly, give them an appreciation for the finished job that has been done well. If you stop before going back to the house, turn around and admire a long, neat stack of firewood that you and your boys have just finished. They will stop and look to see what in the world you are admiring. They will then likely start to look at their pile of firewood with new eyes. Stop and look down that long stretch of fence you just put up, and comment on how straight, true and strong it looks. Teach them to see the finished work for what has been accomplished, not simply as an end of the physical labor. Momma, is the kitchen sparkling clean? Does the laundry smell fresh and clean? Is the aroma of fresh baked bread wafting through the house? Stop and admire the work you and your girls have done, and teach them to appreciate the end result of their labors, not just the end of labor.

If they are not going to wind up bankrupt or in jail, it is likely your children will eventually have to do some type of work. Perhaps the greatest kindness you can show them is to teach them to approach that inescapable work with a spirit of rightness. You can be getting them to the point where they are profitable adults that can at least calmly accept the work before them, and often are even able to embrace and enjoy the opportunity to build, change and make things better by the sweat of their brow.

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