N 1.7b from Jim Magnuson
My father never finished high school, but if he did, I may not have been born. He’d likely have had kids, still – most people of his generation do – but the absence of my mother, who was met at a low-skill manual-labour-type job, would have left a part of me missing, and thus whomever “I” am could well have been very different.
He might have gone on to college, or to a trades school. Carpentry, perhaps, or plumbing. He is a very handy sort of guy, has learned a lot from reading old manuals, printed books with line-art instructions on fitting gaskets together, or constructing dove-tail joints. He could have freelanced, in a sense, by taking on jobs as needed, visiting the homes of lonely widows and repairing their hot water heaters. As it is, he spent many productive hours in renovating my childhood home, but perhaps he could have applied that know-how to the broader population. He might have stayed in Toronto, out in the east end where he grew up, or moved downtown to find higher-paying clients. He could have started a small business of his own, put his name on the side of a powerful van that he kept in good condition with regular maintenance, another skill learned from a vocational school or instruction manual. Perhaps he would have been happier in being his own boss, logging his own hours, hiring an assistant or secretary to make schedules for his subcontractors, employees, taking vacation when he wanted to. He’d have been out of a job with a strong union, such as he has now, but with unions weakening across the continent perhaps that would not have been such a bad thing.
He may have volunteered, too, with Habitats for Humanity, constructing wooden frame buildings with other hard-working folks, to give back a bit to the community. Maybe we don’t have such an outfit in Canada but surely there’s some local alternative, similar in function if not branding. He might have lent his skill and craftsmanship to an enterprise not ruled by the clock, by the obsessive wait at the timecard machine for the click over to the minute when punching out would record the full hour’s pay. He might have met another educated person, some brilliant artist or bank teller who would appreciate his skill with his hands, which always seemed meant to wield tools; strong, blunt fingers and a steady grip. When he worked the renos in my childhood home he was always perfectly certain with a hammer, could drive a nail in a few short bursts without nervousness such that I would feel, without any hesitation or fear.
He would have his diploma, secondary school completed, framed but put away in the basement somewhere, in a box of keepsakes that didn’t bear any particular value to him, but might be chanced upon during a move, and earned a small smile of nostalgic indulgence.
He might have passed his small business on to one of his kids, taught him or her the basics of the trade at a young age, such that the crafting of wood or the building of engines would seem natural, inherent to the human experience. The name on the van would be kept, the ownership papers transferred to the next generation, as my father retired to a small cottage north of the city. The skills he had earned, worked for, given over to the future, to be shared and spread. Capability in meiosis.