Kennedy: That feeling when your kids start earning a paycheck

Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo

My father was my first boss. Or perhaps more aptly, he was my sergeant and I was his private.

When I was a kid, Dad would issue me orders -- "clean the gutters," "paint the porch," "dig up rocks" -- and I would execute them.

The fact that he could assign a half day's work in a mere three words always irked me. He could literally keep me busy while only expending half a breath.

And it wasn't enough for him that I simply completed the task. Afterward, my work had to pass his inspection. A former master sergeant in the U.S. Army, Dad would circle the job looking for imperfections. Then he would often render his judgment in the form of a rhetorical question.

"Does this look clean to you?" he would ask, while ominously raising an eyebrow.

"Yes," might have been my honest answer, but it wasn't the one he wanted. Silence and energetic reengagement was the right response.

As much as I disliked this, I realize now that this was a form of basic training for life. Perhaps my dad knew that some day I would feel compelled to pass the family work ethic to the next generation.

For the first time our two sons are earning real paychecks, and I'll have to admit that it has triggered some personal satisfaction. I have the same respect for "lifetime working" that some people have for "lifetime learning" -- both are important, of course, but working seems more inevitable and therefore more laudable.

Our older son, who is 21, gets a small hourly wage photographing sports events 10-20 hours a week at his university. Any time you can turn a hobby into a paycheck, it's win-win.

While he was home here for the holidays, he drove back to his Alabama school one day to shoot an ice-skating competition -- a first for him. It barely paid for his gas and lunch, but I told him that the experience and resume-building photos were 100% worth the effort.

Meanwhile, our younger son, who is 16 years old, recently got hired as a trainee at a neighborhood hardware store. An avid "do-it-yourselfer," he was already spending hours a week there shopping, so it was a nice progression.

The fact that both boys have found jobs that require showing up and using their hands -- whether pushing a shutter button or lifting sacks of concrete -- is especially promising.

I believe the story of the 21st century will be how much of the thinking, word-based economy will be replaced by artificial intelligence. There are already AI applications that can write a serviceable news story or college-level essay. With improvements on the way, the days of lawyers and writers and teachers may be numbered.

Meanwhile, there is honor in honest, physical work, work that can never be fully automated. There is also satisfaction in seeing a link between manual labor and your daily bread.

Our younger son came home from an eight-hour shift at the hardware store the other night and ate an enormous plate of grilled chicken and corn cut from the cob. He looked tired, but satisfied.

Suddenly I felt a rush of warm energy spread across my body, like ripples of euphoria. I realized that it was some strange, primitive satisfaction that comes from knowing that your offspring can potentially feed him- or herself.

Twenty years in, parenting still surprises me with these little Easter eggs of unexpected emotions.

Such is the mystery, and delight, of the parenting life.

The Family Life column appears in print on Sundays in Life. Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.