Earlier this year in an article I wrote entitled Ambushed By My Cousin, I told you I was going to write 3 articles about how to raise boys into responsible Catholic men. The articles were going to be entitled: (1) Hammerheads, Bricks & Challengers; (2) A Prowler In The House; and (3) Religion On A Sleeve.
My plan for the first article was to discuss how most boys have a tendency toward laziness and how critically important is to get them working at an early age. After I started writing the first article, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to cover what needed to be said in only one article, so I ended up writing 5 separate articles: (1) Hammerheads, Bricks & Challengers; (2) Transforming Boys Into Men; (3) Walk Like A Matador; (4) Lombardi Time; and (5) A Replaceable Commodity.
If I would have been around and written those same (or similar) articles 90 or 100 years ago, most people would have been insulted and wondered why I was wasting my time telling them something they already knew (and practiced). One hundred years ago it was a necessity (and a way of life) for children to start working at an early age – either on the family farm, a neighbor’s farm, or for a local business. Children were expected to start working at a young age and were often required to turn over their wages to their parents to help pay for the household expenses.
A week after I wrote Walk Like A Matador, my uncle Harry LaHood called me on the telephone and told me he had read the article. Although he didn’t specifically remember the incident I described in the article, he had a very clear memory of when he first realized the importance of walking fast while working. He said it happened when he was 6 years old, after he started working at a grocery store that was owned by his mom’s brother, Tony Couri.
Uncle Harry told me that after he started working at the grocery store, he would sometimes run out of work to do, so he would stand around until he was told what to do next. After he was told on a couple of different occasions (by his Uncle Tony) to “Get to work and keep busy!” he figured out for himself that if he walked fast, his uncle would think he was working hard and would leave him alone. He was right. At the age of 6 years old, he learned a lesson that would benefit him for the rest of his life.
When Uncle Harry told me about working at the grocery store at the age of 6, I remembered that my mom had once told me that she started working at the same grocery store when she was a young girl. I asked my mom about it and she told me she started working when she was 9 years old. She also told me that whenever a government official came into the store, her Uncle Tony would send all of the working children to the upstairs apartment where his mother lived (because he was violating the child labor laws). She said she started out by working 20 hours a week during the school year and was paid at the rate of 20 cents an hour.
After talking to my uncle and my mom, it occurred to me that Tony Couri’s 6 sons and 2 daughters (all of whom are now in their 40’s and 50’s) have always been hard workers and have never had any problems finding work. All of them started working at their dad’s grocery store when they were in grade school.
In my article, Transforming Boys Into Men, I gave you the ground rules that were set by the Williams and LaHood men for their sons: (1) when a boy is old enough to play sports (6 years old), he’s old enough to work at home (for no pay and no “allowance”); (2) when he’s 13 or 14 years old, he needs to start behaving like a man, which means it’s time to start working outside of the home for wages; and (3) when he’s 16 years old, he needs to start buying his own clothes and personal care items.
These ground rules also applied to the daughters of the Williams and LaHood men, but I’ve emphasized the importance of applying them to boys because of the inherent tendency of boys (and men) to avoid responsibility and commitments. By establishing guidelines and expectations for their sons, and then enforcing those guidelines, the Williams and LaHood men forced their sons to learn to become responsible for themselves.
A boy who starts earning income while he is in his early teens, not only gains important experience, knowledge and skills, but also develops a great sense of self-worth and confidence. It’s impossible for a boy to develop confidence in his ability to work and earn money unless he actually goes through the motions of working and earning money.
You know from your own experience that a young man can (and often does) develop confidence in his ability to play a sport or a musical instrument. Unfortunately, just because he develops confidence in sports or music doesn’t mean that the confidence he has developed will transfer over into the workplace. It won’t. Just as he had to dedicate years of sacrifice and practice to sports or music to develop the knowledge and skills of a winner, he has to also dedicate years of sacrifice and practice to developing the knowledge and skills that are necessary to make him a valuable employee or business owner.
You cannot underestimate the critical importance of getting your son into a paying job by the time he’s 14 years old. I know we are told (by our government and educators) that our “children” shouldn’t work until they’re at least 16 years old. Following this one rule can be fatal to a boy’s financial future. By the time a boy is 16, he is focused on getting his drivers’ license, going out with girls, and hanging out with his friends. He needs to be forced into the workplace at least 2 years before he is given the “freedom” to drive and to start dating girls.
When my children were young, I repeatedly told them that they all had to start working for wages by the time they were 14 years old. Just as I expected them to graduate from grade school, high school, and college, I expected them to start working by the time they were 14. I made it clear to them that they were different than everyone else. They weren’t like most Americans who wait until they’re 16, 18 or older before they learn how to work and earn money for themselves. They were going to have to learn the value of work at an early age. Once learned, they would benefit from the experience for the rest of their lives. Working and earning income at an early age would provide them with a great sense of pride, self-respect and self-confidence.
I was simply passing on to my children the lessons I learned as a boy from the men in my life. I got my first paying job (outside the home) when I was 12 years old, delivering newspapers for the Peoria Journal Star. My cousin, Harry LaHood (Uncle Harry’s son), started working for a local restaurant when he was 12 years old. Prior to that, he earned money by helping out in his dad’s Laundromat.
My cousin, Danny Williams, started working as a busboy at a local restaurant when he was 14 years old. His dad (Bill “Hammerhead” Williams) called a friend of his who owned a restaurant and asked him if he would give Danny a job. Uncle Bill then threatened Danny by telling him: “You’re going to work twice as hard as any of the other busboys and I’m going to know how hard you’re working because I’m going to be checking up on you. My friend trusted me enough to give you this job and the last thing I want you to do is let me and my friend down. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Of course, Danny had no choice but to give the Hammerhead the answer he wanted to hear and to live up to his expectations.
You simply cannot leave your son’s ability to learn how make a living up to chance or circumstance. You have got to be willing to exercise the leadership and courage it takes to force him to make the commitment to work at an early age.
Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said: “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” There have been times when I’ve wanted to surrender, but I just couldn’t bring myself to give up and throw in the towel. My dad never surrendered. My grandfathers never surrendered. My uncles never surrendered. What helped them fight-off the temptation to surrender was not only their ability to work, but also the skills and self-confidence they developed early in life from their experience in the workplace.
Do you want to raise your son to have the tools that are necessary to resist (and fight-off) the temptation to surrender when life gets rough? You can start by teaching him the lessons I’ve outlined in these articles.
Next week: A Prowler In The House.