Teach Your Son to Have Dirty Fingers (Sometimes)

By Ronald E. Johnson, C.Ph.D.

Earning a college degree is admirable, but it is sometimes elusive for families who live on limited financial resources. Moreover, a college degree in hand does not guarantee landing a plum job with a high salary and ideal working conditions. By September, the large majority of university graduates in the spring will still be unemployed in a field related to the graduates’ major studies. Jobs are not a sure thing for college graduates.  Debt is another issue. College graduates who borrow funds to pay for college expenses face the daunting reality of monthly payments for half a dozen years. The consequence is that college graduates often return home to live with family while taking any jobs available in the home town to pay off school and car debts.

Because I was parentless when I enrolled in the University of Arizona, I made the choice to work at part time jobs rather than borrow to cover expenses. I was lean and hungry many days. In fact, I was so poor that I made arrangement with a local grocery store manager to pick up left-over vegetables and meat scraps so I could piece together supper.  One year, I basically subsisted on horse meat and grocery store scraps. But I stayed out of debt! I worked in a variety of jobs: citrus packing plant, junk yard, and gun store. I even baby sat and did yard maintenance in exchange for a room and two meals a day with a family in which both parents worked. I did what I had to do to graduate without debt. Somehow, I managed to complete a four-year program in three and a half years. By cutting one semester off my college time, I saved a chunk of money!

Another way I cut expenses during college days, was to get my fingers dirty by doing my own auto maintenance and repairs. My dad had taught me to be a “shade tree mechanic” when I was 17 years old. I learned how to change oil, replace spark plugs, fan belts, starters, batteries, and wheel bearings. That skill was like money in the bank. Later, I repaired our washing machines, hot water heaters, and vacuum cleaners.

Someone wisely stated, “People do not waste dollars; they waste nickels and dimes.”  Wise parents take time to help their sons get their fingers dirty with wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, and socket sets. When my two sons were pre-teens, I stopped buying toys, and bought each son a tool box, book shelf, and fishing tackle box. Each birthday and Christmas, the boys were given at least one tool, book, and fishing item. I brought home an old washing machine and lawnmower, and instructed the boys to use their tools to dismantle the washer and mower. Then, I asked the boys to explain how they used each tool. My sons have never been unemployed for extended periods of time. They were equipped mentally and physically to find work. Both have advanced degrees…paid for by honest labor with their hands that were often appropriately and admirably dirty.

Paradigm Accelerated Curriculum publishes a practical elective course, Character and Skills for Home and Careers, that every boy should complete in high school. This high school elective course is designed to build character and introduce teenagers to basic tools and skills involving electricity, plumbing, budgeting, carpentry, mechanics, and life management. Each of the 75 lessons begins with a narrative involving teenage role models who demonstrate character and skills while participating in home, shop or community projects. The authors have crafted the course not only to teach students how to use basic tools, but also to embrace courtesy, honesty, integrity and commitment. For more information, go to www.pacworks.com.

Dr. Johnson welcomes your comments or questions. You may email him at learn@ pacworks.com, phone 325-649-0976, P.O. Box 810, Zephyr, Texas 76890.

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