Work and FamilyFeb 10th, 2013 | By Editorial Staff | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog
Went to my uncle’s funeral recently. He was 79, married to my mom’s twin sister. They lived close to us my whole life, but I can’t say that I knew him well. He wasn’t a recluse or anything – I remember him being at all extended family gatherings. He was 32 years older than me, and we didn’t have anything in common, and we never sat down and talked about anything.
My aunt I was closer to. Aunts are more communicative and they interact with nieces and nephews. Some uncles do as well, but this uncle did not. One reason I was closer to my aunt is that, for about a year and a half in my early twenties, I worked at the same company she worked for. She worked in the shipping department and I worked in parts and maintenance, and although we didn’t work much together, I saw her every day.
Back in the 90s, when I drove swing shift, I used to listen to a radio show called Loveline. Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew. They got me through many boring evenings. I recently discovered that many of the shows are available online, and I’ve been listening to them here and there. In one of the shows from 1997, Adam talks about his theory that, after you finish school, you don’t really have friends anymore. What you have is family and the a*%holes from work. It’s meant to be funny, of course, and he says that he doesn’t dislike the people he’s worked with – it’s just meant to be a commentary on the condition of not being able to choose who you work with. When I managed a tow company, every day I distributed a memo called the Daily Information Sheet, with notices and account info and whatnot, one day I jokingly referred to the “a*%holes from work.” That did not go over well. Very few saw the humor and the true meaning behind the statement (those few were my favorites from that point forward.)
As I sat at my uncle’s funeral, I realized that until then, I had no idea what kind of work he did. He lied about his age and joined the National Guard at age 15. By age 17, they had figured it out, and since he wasn’t yet 18, they honorably discharged him. He worked in logging until he had an accident and broke his back. After recovering, he got a job in a cannery and worked in the food industry for the rest of his working life until retiring at age 67 as a maintenance supervisor.
Isn’t it ironic, I thought, that there were probably hundreds of people maybe thousands who he worked with, and those people knew him better than I did? This is true for all of us. There are people at your work whom you spend more time with than your spouse or your children (unless you work with your spouse or children, in which case you are certifiably insane). Some of them are good enough friends that you see them outside of work, and when you do, you probably talk about work. There were probably people my uncle worked with who knew what his political opinions were, what sports teams he liked, when he broke the law and got away with it, who he flirted with, and what he got from his kids on Father’s Day. And the thing about a*&holes from work is that you don’t have to like them, or agree with them, or respect them, yet you still spend a great deal of time with them. Heck, if you work with them long enough, you might see them transform into a person you do like and agree with and respect, and you might even contribute to that or the other way around.
A lot of people regard the people they work with as family. I would say it’s not exactly family, but it’s pretty close. I’m not going to idealize family. Family can drive you crazy. But you would sacrifice your life without a blink of an eye for your child, or your spouse, or your parent, or your sibling, in most cases. You might blink your eye before doing it for a co-worker. But because we’re not idealizing family – we all admit that there is a lot of arguing and manipulating and drama that goes on even in the closest families, but you stick together – we can see the similarities.
I don’t regret not getting to know my uncle better. I don’t think we would have had enough in common to keep a conversation going. But I feel better knowing how many a*&holes at work were his friends and helped him through every workday.
Have a safe and profitable week.