Here’s my latest column for Chicago’s Polish Daily News. Please leave a comment at the paper, linked below.
WHY I NEVER WORKED IN A FACTORY
The purpose of college is to keep from working. That’s the why I saw it, and that’s why I went to college in 1966.
My dad wasn’t happy with the idea. He was a hard-working Polish guy who had spent most of his life working harder than you or I can ever imagine. Like a lot of Poles, he had been a slave laborer for almost 5 years in Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany during World War II.
How hard was the work he did there? The slave laborers worked about twelve to fourteen hours a day without any kind of pay on about 600 calories of food per day. When my dad was liberated, he weighed about 75 pounds. He was one of the lucky workers. About 25% of workers there died each year.
When we came to Chicago from the DP camps in Germany in 1952, my dad didn’t stop working. In fact, one of the things that drew him to Chicago was that there was so much factory work here he could work double shifts and make some real money. My dad used to joke that he liked America better than the slave labor camps because at least here you could take a shower and get a cold Budweiser after a day of work.
When I graduated from high school in 1966, I told my dad I planned to go to college, and he tried to talk me out of it. He took me aside and gave me some advice. He said I was smart, and I could speak English like a true American and that if I got a job in a factory I would probably be a foreman in 10 years, and in twenty I would probably own the factory. I laughed.
I didn’t want to work like he did. I had looked around during my last year of high school for a job, and what I saw was that most of my friends with a high school education and no talent were working in factories. I even applied for some of those jobs – jobs making candy or unloading trucks or packing appliances into boxes. The funny thing was that I didn’t get called back for any of those factory jobs I applied for, and the more I filled out those applications the less I wanted to work in some factory.
So I ignored what my dad told me to do, and I went to college. I kept at it until I got a Ph.D. and was lucky enough to get a job teaching. Teaching beats making candy in a candy factory or doing what my dad did–pulling paper tubes out of a chemical bath for 30 years until his lungs got so eaten up by those chemicals that the owners of the factory fired my dad because he couldn’t stand up any more.
PS – I wasn’t the only one that my dad gave that advice to about going to work in the factory and being a foreman and then being the guy who owned the factory. He told my friend Dennis that, and Dennis took my dad’s advice and ended up the millionaire owner of a factory that made burger packaging for McDonalds!