As difficult as it is to say goodbye to a near perfect time of life, I feel anxious to start anew. Over is the time I spend with my son. My time of being able to write freely and without interruption has come to an end. Now, looking back over the last years, I wish I’d have done more, especially with Nick. I should have gotten over myself and written that other book. But if my experience indicates anything, the future holds miracles.
Finances and careers demand changes. Over the last year—and especially the last four or five months—I’ve applied to literally hundreds positions you might think a smart editor/writer/educator would be able to do and do well—learning and development partner, teacher, copywriter, marketing specialist, public relations account executive, corporate trainer, learning management systems specialist, and so on. Cover letters, resumes, references, job histories all told a story of me, a man who’s done a great deal and is ready to take on more.
I learned that only I and my friends valorized my attainments. A Ph.D. and wide life experience are not worth much on the open market. Being flexible and teachable, being a person who excels at whatever I put my hand to didn’t matter. This was perhaps my greatest disappointment. I went into the job search naively thinking that I had something to offer and that people would pay me for it. I discovered that I would have to start all over, at the bottom.
For all my efforts, I landed only two interviews. One was in retail and even they wouldn’t hire me.
Fortunately, this was easy to swallow. A writer’s life is one of rejection and I’ve become inured to it. I’ve begun new careers no less than four times. Hard work and cobbling together a new living put me in competition with the youngsters for job advancement opportunities. I’ve done it before.
Need allowed no quarter for pride. I’ve accepted a job with the United States Postal Service as a city carrier assistant (CCA), the very bottom of the postal barrel. The CCA is, essentially, an apprentice who must walk through fire to attain the status of career carrier, that friendly neighborhood mail professional. A CCA works six-day, 50- to 60-hour weeks, each day walking a different route and putting shoe leather to 14 to 16 miles of pavement and sidewalk. These apprentices work Sundays and holidays. They never know from one week to the next what their day off will be.
The pay is crummy, but overtime and health insurance pay the bills. The reward at the end of the apprenticeship, which lasts up to two years, is the promise of advancing to neighborhood letter carrier job that so many people admire. This comes with a five-day week, pension credits, three weeks off in a year, and freedom to take days off for sickness, doctor visits, and the like.
I start two weeks of orientation and training on December 9. Until that time, I feel like I’m living the final days of an era, much like the Edward Norton character Marty Brogan in the classic Spike Lee movie, 25th Hour. In that film, Marty has one day before he must report for a seven-year prison sentence. He has to squeeze it all in—a last hoorah with friends, putting person affairs in order, saying goodbye to his girlfriend, and making things right with his father.
I have only a couple of weeks to spend time with the kids, Nick especially. Our time of riding bikes, going camping, backpacking in south-central Missouri, and goofing off in the afternoons will soon be behind us. For many years now, I’ve had the luxury of being a dad to Nick. We have ridden bikes all over downtown and Kansas City, Kansas. Our aimless drives took us all over the countryside. River trips and journeys to visit families in distant cities . . .
I say goodbye to these opportunities with sadness and grief. I lament the weekends we did nothing but treasure them all the same. It was a dream to sit Sunday mornings watching the news with Nick. We often didn’t talk. We were together and that was enough. As I reflect, father-son projects come back to me with great fondness. We sweat as we repaired the picket fence. We built a headboard for the bed. Our efforts together fill the basement. A model of the Titanic we assembled. Crystal radios. A robot we painstakingly put together from 4,500 parts.
When I received the postal job offer, I wandered around the basement, laying hands on these manifestations of father-son time together as if they were sacred objects. In a sense they are. Each captured time and emotion in a physical thing. I take pride in these them, as I did for Nick what my father so often couldn’t do for me. I treasure the moments my father showed his softer side to me. I hope I’ve adequately shared that side of myself with Nick.
I walked with Nick last night. We hitched up the dogs and headed out the door.
“You know, I’ve been in a funny mood all day,” I said.
“Yes, you have,” he said. We walked beneath the giant cottonwood whose frost-killed leaves rattled in the wind. We could smell the woodsmoke from the homeless’ fire on the bluff below us.
“I’ve been thinking about us.”
“Your new job?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s the end of our time together.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that our weekends together are going to end. By the time the CCA apprenticeship is over, you’ll be almost 20. By then, you will no longer be a kid. You’ll be all grown up and won’t have interest in doing things with me. I always realized these last 10 years were finite, that you would grow up. But I’ll miss the transition. We end here.”
“It’s not so bad, dad,” he said. “You will still be around.”
“I know, but I’m 57 now. I’ll have to work the next ten years at the post office. You will only see me once or twice a week. And I’ll be tired and worried about getting time to write.”
“It’s all OK. You’ve done a great job so far. It’ll just be different.”
How right he was. I’ll enjoy the work, though I’ll struggle at the beginning. It’ll take time to acclimate to the physical and mental aspects of the job, the time pressures, the weather. I walk a lot now, but it’s been years since I walked 16 miles in a day. I’ve heard that if a CCA can make it through the first six weeks, they can do the job for a lifetime.
I hope I’m one of them. I’m nervous about being able to do the job right and putting myself in a position to qualify for one of those career jobs. I’m used to hard work. I started my career as an ironworker at the age of 46. Certainly, this can’t be as physically taxing as putting on a bridge deck.
I don’t have the luxury of failure. Despite the rigors of the job, I have to make this work. Our house and future depend on it. If I make the cut, everyone will benefit from my new career. We won’t know exactly how but this new beginning can only lead to good things.
It’s funny how things come around. When I was a kid, I wanted to be was a writer. For a long time, I also thought I wanted to be a postman. It’s ironic how these roads have led back to the beginning. After many fits and starts, I became a writer at the age of 34. Now, at 57, I get to carry the mail.
It makes me think of one of my favorite T.S. Eliot quotes. It’s from Little Gidding, and while I’ve always admired it, I never thought would become so relevant. “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”