Growing up we weren’t poor, but we normally didn’t have money for more than the essential items such as food and clothing, and we always had equipment to play sports such as football, basketball and baseball. We also spent a lot of time fishing, either at nearby lakes, on the Rio Grande River or on the beach at the Gulf.
We owned our home thanks to our father who provided very well for his family. My father worked in the seafood industry most of his life starting in the oyster companies in Biloxi, Mississippi, and later working on fishing boats based out of the Port of Brownsville, Texas, and eventually reaching the position of boat captain leading other men.
I was six years old when my father passed away, and soon after my mother made a commitment to raise us by herself, my two older brothers, a younger sister, and me, and I admire her for that decision even though a lot of times we had to do without things our friends and neighbors had.
When I was eight, my mother accepted an invitation from a neighbor to join their family on a trip to Curtice, Ohio to work as migrant farm workers. The job required working in the fields picking cucumber, and then tomato later in the summer and early fall. Being that age I saw this more as a fun outing than work but later on found out what it meant.
Working in the fields in the summer time is hard, back-breaking work. Not only do you spend most of the time either on your knees or with back bent, most days for seven or eight hours, but you’re also battling the elements like a scorching sun, dirt when it’s windy, and an occasional rain. And in some cases coming up on snakes, scorpions, spiders, and some of Mother Nature’s other critters.
But it is this same strenuous work that instills character, value and a strong work ethic in a person. For those who have done this type of work, it becomes an anchor in your life, something that you can fall back on later when confronted with difficult situations.
Although I didn’t have to work that much myself, I tried to contribute to the family’s production by trying to keep up. But usually it was my mother and two older brothers who did most of the work.
We went back to Ohio the next year, and then a few years later when I was about 14, my mother and I worked in Coachella, California again as migrant workers in a tomato field, and later in the season at a vineyard picking grapes.
It was during these times that I realized I had to get an education so that I didn’t have to make this type of work a necessity to provide for myself or my family.
My work ethic comes from a sense of responsibility I have to my mother and to my father, knowing how hard they worked and that they both sacrificed and gave up many things to make sure we had a good childhood, food to eat, clothes to wear, and especially the opportunity to get a good education. For me, that is priceless, and worth more than anything money can buy.
And now after more than twenty five years in the technology field, the last eight or so as the department’s director, I can look back to that work ethic I learned as a young man and thank my parents for teaching me by example, and I refuse to let them down.
What about you? Where does your work ethic come from?