Outside the Box: I learned about my dad, and his work, on one special day a year. Kids these days won’t get the same chance as parents work remotely

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“Want to go to work with me today?” my father asked. I had to be nine or 10 years old. He had never taken me to work with him before.  

“Yeah, you bet,” I said.

How could I have said no? I had no idea where my father worked, nor how he earned a living. All I knew, back around 1962, was that he left our suburban house every morning before we woke up and came home every night after we finished dinner.  

The lessons I learned from this adventure I hold dear to this day. But fewer and fewer kids today will ever get the same opportunity.

My dad drove us south on the Garden State Parkway in our Chevrolet station wagon to the city of Newark, where he was born. There, we entered a middle-class apartment building. As it turned out, my father managed the property along with several others nearby.  

He made the rounds doing chores for the next few hours with me tagging along. He checked the infrastructure — the incinerators, the boiler room, the elevators. He collected rents from tenants in arrears, or tried to. He lugged around a case of tools in case he needed pliers or a screwdriver to fix a broken doorknob or get a washing machine running again.  

He stopped in on the superintendent for a status update, too. In the process, he handed him a six-pack of beer, prompting a smile. As my dad later explained, winking at me, “The super likes his beer.” 

He took me to work with him a few times over the years. I always loved going. I got to see him in action, doing his job among other people, out in the wider world and looking important, even heroic. I felt proud of him, proud to be his son. I wish he had taken me more often. 

Years later, I followed in this tradition. I took our daughter Caroline with me to my office for a day. By then organizations had adopted Take Your Daughter to Work Day, established in 1993 only for girls but soon thereafter expanded for boys. An estimated 37 million children and 3.5 million workplaces participated in the event in 2018.  

Caroline avidly shadowed me around our mid-town Manhattan skyscraper. She saw me in a glassed-off conference room brainstorming with colleagues, on the phone consulting with clients and — no doubt the most riveting scenario of all — on my computer composing a memo. With any luck, my daughter felt the same pride I had felt with my own father. 

But given the persistence of the pandemic and the accelerating shift to working remotely in 2022 and beyond, what will happen to the practice of taking our kids to our jobs? If we work from home, will we treat our child to a tour of our spare bedroom or walk-in closet? Will we invite our son or daughter to join a Zoom call and watch us click “send” for an email? Will the biggest highlight be observing mom and dad manipulate information and scroll through a spreadsheet for the prospectus on an IPO?  

Will kids under such circumstances be denied an opportunity for an experience outside the home, sensory and three-dimensional? Will they ever get to feel quite the same pride I felt? 

Oh, hey, listen. I get it. How we work evolves. One century we’re farmers, the next we’re railroad engineers. We go from plying a trade with our hands to operating online, often alone, and living inside our heads. That’s progress. 

But in taking me to work with him, my dad taught me that work was a place to go, a place to be, whether a field in back of the barn, a grocery store on Main Street or the docks along the harbor. Work was a setting somewhere else, a place of business, a geographic destination down the highway and through the tunnel under a bridge. We got out and about and went shoulder to shoulder with the other people around.   

A child educated only at school is an uneducated child,” philosopher George Santayana said. 

My dad graduated college but worked blue-collar until he discovered his calling in technology later, at age 43, and founded a nonprofit organization that revolutionized communications among the American deaf community. Thanks mostly to him, I was introduced to hands-on, real-world, real-time work. It was an apprenticeship of sorts, an education without a classroom.  

Now, along with everything else I learned, at least I know how to keep a super happy. 

Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist, is author of the memoir “Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”  

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