Column Rewind: A Father’s Day Tribute

Here’s a Father’s Day column from 2008 that continues to generate interest from readers.

Happy Father’s Day to the many dads who play hurt

The television golf analysts were all a-dither.

They could barely find sufficient quantities of purple prose to describe the immense pain Tiger Woods must have been experiencing as he swung a golf club on a bum left knee. Imagine the strength of character it took to muster the courage to play without two good knees in the U.S. Open at San Diego’s breathtaking Torrey Pines South course.

Bang the drum slowly. Cue the theme from "Brian’s Song." The great Tiger Woods played in pain. To his credit, at least Woods had the actual strength of character not to complain about it or lament his fate.

On Father’s Day, let me tell you about another guy who played in pain.

He didn’t play, actually. He worked. Outside a sandbox, no one plays construction.

He awoke before dawn each morning like other competitors in his field. Not necessarily because he wanted to be the best or was seeking an early tee time, but because he’d be fired if he didn’t get to the job site on time. He was a sheetrock taper, the fellow responsible for making walls and ceilings appear smooth or textured.

There are a lot of hard jobs on a construction site. Taping is one of them. He didn’t complain about the work. He had a family to feed, and he needed his union job with good wages and benefits.

In his teens and early 20s, he seemed indestructible and gained a reputation for speed and efficiency. He could work long hours without appearing to suffer any ill effects. But no one stays a kid forever.

Then came his first hernia, followed by a back surgery. Then there was a knee surgery, and a surgery on one hand. There were stitches by the dozen. But injuries are a part of the construction trade, and he played hurt.

As the years wore on, he logged more hospital time. Another ruptured disk. Another blown out knee. Playing hurt became as much a part of his daily existence as a morning cup of coffee.

Then came the day he was hit by a truck on the job. He suffered a broken leg, busted ribs. He lost a big toe and nearly an eye. He was in physical rehabilitation for months. Slowly, he fought to regain his strength.

Then my brother Jim went back to work.

Construction is a young man’s game, but it was the only craft he knew that could generate enough income to care for his children and wife. So he soldiered on without the benefit of breathless TV analysts or a cheering section.

Granted, he wasn’t hitting golf balls 325 yards. I doubt he’s ever played golf in his life. But he was one of thousands of construction workers who helped build houses and businesses and resort high-rises in America’s greatest boomtown. And he played in pain every day to support his family.

A good dad does that. Most of them never make headlines on the sports pages, receive a fat endorsement deal, or enjoy a brush with celebrity. They work to support their families. And when necessary — and sooner or later it’s always necessary — they play hurt.

That’s what I respect most about my brother, who is now retired and still doesn’t play golf.

By the end of his construction career, he was held together with baling wire and borrowed tendons. Some mornings he’s so sore he can barely tie his shoes. But he did his job. He answered the bell. He took care of his family. And, boy, did he play hurt.

That’s what I remember most fondly about my father, who has been gone a dozen years but remains in my thoughts each morning before sunrise, about the time I’d first hear him making coffee as he started another workday. Nobody gave him an ovation for playing hurt; nor did he expect one. Through all his life’s challenges, and there were many, he tried his best to take care of his family.

I am writing about my brother and father, but I’m telling the story of almost every veteran construction worker I’ve ever known.

Each morning to no fanfare, thousands of ironworkers, cement finishers, carpenters, painters and workers in other trades build this astounding boomtown right before our eyes.

And they play hurt.

Good fathers do it every day.

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