Today we talk about Life-Stuff
What image do you conjure when you think of the house you grew up in? When you think of childhood and formative years, do you think of hide-and-seek? Where your brother climbed up high (really high) into the storage racks and hid between boxes of product, so he always won…Do you think of rolling on office chairs, pretending they were boats, between skids of flat printed sheets that served as “islands,” and the new 4-color press was the home ship? Do you remember doing your homework on the light table and using the receptionist’s typewriter to compose your first book of poetry?
Oh wait…maybe not, if you didn’t grow up in a print shop.
My brother and I were “tucked in” many nights onto blankets on the floor of our grandpa’s office. My dad worked 12 and 16-hours every day “that ended in y” and so my childhood home was predominately the printshop.
In 1980 when I was sent “home” from school with a fever, I joined the shop’s 12 employees at their potluck lunch. However, like many kids from a family business, I was never, ever, going to work “for my dad.” In high school I remember having heated discussions about the future and work and vocation choices and he said to me, “You do not choose your career, it chooses you.”
To which I replied, “I know! Do you think I would willfully choose to be a writer? With a nearly impossible rate of ‘success’ – Who would choose that?”
When I started working for Wright Printing in 1994, it was with the very specific ground rule – five years. Tops. By that time, we had about 60 employees. In the family, we often joked that we worked “only half days” in reference to the frequent 12-hour workdays. I inherited the passion of my father and grandfathers to grow the company and my son, in turn, slept on the floor next to my desk.
Marcus’ imagination served him well during those years of long hours as he sat in a desk near me and drew or told stories to himself. We became the “work club.” Sometimes he’d take over someone else’s desk and talk on the phones and do his own, imaginary, work in those long hours after all of the rest of the office was quiet. Five years turned to ten. Ten years turned to…more. In the spring of 2008 I reflected on “What I learned while Sleeping on the Shop Floor,” which printed as a final thoughts page in small print publication, Partners.
Later that year, after the business had split into two companies and two locations, I became company president of Wright Printing with about 150 employees under my wing. Words fail for how much I wanted to facilitate a positive work culture, and appreciated those who joined our family in the name of business. Words may not even be believed for how much I appreciated the trust our customers gave us to help them sell print, to help their businesses grow, and how much I preached that every order was a supreme act of faith.
Still, there was this other voice, this other me, tugging at my heart. The passion I did not choose. In 2011, with well wishes from all, I claimed a new path, and left the family business to its own.
Almost exactly two years ago, the part of the business that was like a child to me, sold. It was an emotional day for all and I shared it here. I cried a lot while typing in the library that day, but I also had high hopes for the new era the buying company promised. Since then, my business-heart has broken over and again, but – that’s my own fault because, well, I walked away and all of my speculation of what-ifs is just that: speculation.
Yesterday, I stood behind about 300 employees of the second division of the family business as my father explained the final sale of the company to another, large, and growing company. The company began by my great-grandfather in 1927 saw its hand-off from our family to one of the largest printers in the world.
Marsha, my other-mother, asked, “What will we talk about at holiday dinners?” It’s been all business and print discussions for…always.
“Well,” I assured her, “I guess we’ll talk about books, and photos, and maybe houses.” As my brothers are each keen on starting their own businesses now, and success can only come where there is passion.
I am ever grateful to all of those who trusted, helped, and taught me during my life in print. I am beholden to my family of printers who worked long hours, have ink in their blood, and appreciate the smell of coatings as the smell of home. Let me just say I know every business owner makes his share of friends and enemies, every manager has those who love him and those who despise him and his decisions, I’m sure (very sure) I am and have been included as the subject of those reactions.
My father, the hard-won and hard-working 3rd generation leader of Wright Printing has been through it all, including the typical metaphor of hell and back again, and maybe hell and back…again. He worked, and learned, and gave, and fought, and loved – truly loved – all that being a family business implies: community, sharing, giving, relying, fighting, and giving back. He gave opportunities to those who were at a dead-end, he forgave those who no one else would, and he pushed his leaders and expected responsibility from everyone. Every. One.
Most importantly, he made sure the ship stayed floating. He made hard decisions to keep bread on the tables of his people, he saw families instead of just names/numbers, and even though he has no idea what to do next for himself – he recognized that the options now were to drive this ship into the dock, or make it possible for these families to go further…further on and out.
So, this is my blog, people. This is my life-stuff. I have felt my share of doubt and, is there a word that’s heavier than doubt but not quite regret? I’ve experienced that a lot these last few years.
Yesterday morning I asked the universe, “Please, give me a sign, am I on the right path? Tell me it’s going to be OK.” The universe responded with an early morning email from the publisher of the book The Parent’s Guide to Down Syndrome: Advice, Information, Inspiration, and Support for Raising Your Child from Diagnosis through Adulthood. I am proud to have coauthored this book, and it’s now available for pre-sale. It’s a very different path. There is so much to do, so many families to help, so much yet to learn, to talk about, to fight for… and yes, it is a different path.
the Your World Wednesday, it’s a good time to remember: “We cannot do great things in this world, only small things with great love.”
So on I go…
A bittersweet goodbye to my childhood home-sweet-home: