What I learned from my father

Me and my Dad, 1982
My father is a self taught, self employed optician.  I’ve never known for my father to work for anyone else in his life but himself.  He’s owned his own optical business since around 1983-1985 (forgive me for not knowing the exact year) and since the mid 90’s he’s worked out of the basement in the houses that me and my brother grew up in.  In other words, my father (and mother, who helps him out with both making glasses and anything related to business paperwork/billing) made glasses in our basement.  It was interesting growing up in this environment.  Both my brother and I can make glasses if we wanted to (although I’d need a bit of a refresher at this point).

One of the things that I learned from the way my father conducts his business had nothing to do with money or investments, but instead how to put the people in your community above everything else.  I’m not sure if this was my father’s aim, but this is what he does and damn does he do it well.  Let me try to explain this through an example.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, Gus and Yia Yia’s was (and still is) the place to get the best iceball in the whole world.  I don’t ever recall never paid for an iceball in my life and it always made me wonder…how are we getting these delicious treats for free?  It had something to do with my father making glasses for Gus and Yia Yia.  It was one of those, “give us an ice ball or two and we’ll hook you up with some good glasses” kind of deal.

(Mom you may correct me on the specifics as you read this, but I still do recall these kinds of barters going on with Dad and other people in Pittsburgh ALL THE TIME).

That bartering type of system has influenced me as a person and as a librarian.  A lot of what I have tried to do for my libraries has followed this train of thought.  For example, when I first spoke with  teen author Keri Mikulski about collaborating on the Teen Tales Program at the Cape May County Library I sort of took the approach of “help me help these teens and I’ll pay you a small amount with what I have in my budget and also do my best to turn teens onto your book” approach. To me, this felt very like my father and his optical work.

Since March 23rd, 2010,  I’ve been working at a library in the state of Maine.  It’s a lot more urban and the approach to providing services to our community is a bit more structured than I have been used to in the past.  After being here for almost a year, I found that my inherited sense of bartering really didn’t work out that well here in Maine.  Was it a complete bust?  No, but I realized that I had to grow up and learn to work in the “big leagues” of libraries.  I had to be myself but at the same time grow and change my approach to make sure that I could give the teens in this community the service they deserve.

My old man in Maine, 2010.

I’ve called this approach punk rock librarianship in the past, but to me personally it’s a culmination of everything that I’ve learned from my father and his dealings in the optical business in Pittsburgh, PA over the past 30 years.  Thanks Dad.  By just being yourself, you have taught me how to be myself.  That’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever learned.


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