The picture below is not a remarkable one. Taken recently by my niece and posted to Facebook, it shows the bed of my father's work truck. You can see a hose, as well as a six-foot ladder. There is a box containing supplies of unknown origin, and just barely visible in the left of the picture, his stainless-steel tool box that straddles the bed of this 20-year-old pickup. These are the items he uses daily on the job, maintaining a multiple bay self-service car wash that he has owned for over 30 years. No, I am sure you are thinking that there is nothing special about this picture. Nothing at all.
Perhaps I should mention that my father is 97 years old.
That additional bit of information might change your perception just a bit; a paradigm shift of sorts. You might now even notice the purple walker right next to the ladder. He won't use the walker. He does, over the objection of his children, use the ladder.
My father has experienced increasing trouble walking ever since he broke his pelvis about 6 years ago. He was recently sent to physical therapy to help him improve his balance and stride. They provided him with that walker, and he only uses it when going in to and out of physical therapy. That strategy might be more familiar to us in a workers' comp fraud case, but in this situation, it is emblematic of who my father is. He is at times a stubborn man who lives the life he chooses to live.
I've thought about this picture a great deal in the weeks since it was posted. My niece made a humorous comment accompanying it that juxtaposed the reality of an assistive walking device riding shotgun with a six-foot ladder. My thoughts, however, focused on the man behind the work truck, and the nearly century long life he has lived. As I looked both at this picture and back across the span of his existence, one simple fact became clear to me. My father is a persistent soul. In fact, I am hard pressed to remember any time when my father quit – at anything.
As a young man my father fought in World War II. Serving in the Canadian Navy meant going the distance of the entire war. He entered the war against the Nazi's with his country in 1939, nearly two years before the US would be thrust into the effort. He spent much of his time during the last half of the war serving as Gunnery Officer on the HMCS Woodstock, a Corvette used in guarding convoys that routinely crossed the Atlantic. He was on the west coast when the war ended, preparing for a tour of duty in the Pacific theater. Coming from a very poor family, he, with the help of my mother, worked his way through college after the war, earning an Electrical Engineering degree from Queens University. He had a successful career with both General Electric and RCA, before deciding, in 1971, that he wanted more out of his life.
In that year, at the age of 51 with two kids in college and two more following behind, my parents cashed in my father's pension, sold their home, and bought a motel, restaurant and lounge in Colorado.
They had never run a business in their life.
It was hard, but they made it work, and were successful as a result. That business was eventually sold, and others purchased in its place. Persistence and hard work saw them through. Even today, the mobility problems my father is experiencing can be traced to this “never quit” attitude; when he fell and broke his pelvis, he refused traditional therapy that would have kept him in a medical center for weeks. He insisted on an aggressive rehab regimen that returned him home within days of the accident. The reason? He was, at the time, the primary caregiver for my Alzheimers afflicted mother, and was determined to return home and “do his job” of caring for her.
Yes, my father is a good and persistent man who, even at the age of 97, simply does not quit. It is a lesson I will try to remember as we enter a new year and the many challenges we face in our industry.
I have been fortunate to be involved in specific efforts to improve the workers' compensation system this past year via the “National Conversation”, and I recognize that an endeavor such as that will have huge challenges inherent in the system. There will be small gains and large disappointments. There will be days where it seems as if we are simply spinning our wheels. There might be days when I would rather quit than deal with the “nattering nabobs of negativity” that seem to be drawn to the effort if only for the opportunity to criticize it.
It is those days where I will remember the life example of my father.
Change never comes easily. Yet, we must continue to strive to become the best at what we do. 2017 will see ample opportunity to affect change, yet many of those opportunities may likely be missed. Such is the nature of the legislative process. At the moment, Florida is leading the news when it comes to workers' compensation reforms. We've had the opportunity to suggest ideas generated during the “National Conversation” meetings to Florida's Legislative leaders. So far, proposed solutions don't seem to include any of the concepts presented. It is early yet, but it is entirely likely that, for this round of reforms, none of these industry borne concepts will be adopted. But that is OK – if Florida implements, as it has in the past, traditional and predictable “reforms” to patch an ailing system, we will have the opportunity to try again in 5 or 6 years, when legislators return to the issue to fix it once again.
There is a lesson in that near century's worth of persistence and grit. If I am half the man my father is, then I will be prepared to carry the effort forward until we've seen it to a successful conclusion; even if, by that time, I need the walker that he steadfastly refuses to use.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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