In the summer of 1976, my parents decided to move to Los Angeles after living in Detroit for 10 years. I was already finishing my second year at seminary and so I volunteered to drive their car across the US and then find a job in Los Angeles. We settled in, and I went to find a summer job along with thousands of other students and immigrants. I was hired by a bottle company to put caps on filled bottles. It was a very simple job—we had to turn the cap a couple of times and make sure that it was fully closed. I did that job for two days. At the dinner table, my father asked me why I looked so depressed. I explained the monotony of the job and declared it was one of the most senseless jobs I have ever done. (I am not snobbish when it comes to work. I had previously worked the third shift at a pharmaceutical company, as a dishwasher in a cafeteria, as a night custodian, at a furniture factory, at a tank factory, and in a meat factory. None of those affected me like the bottle job.)
I was willing to stay at the job, but my family agreed I should take that summer off and do whatever I wanted with my summer vacation. So that summer I read some of the largest theological treatises, some of the great philosophers, and some of the best international literature. I had a grand time with my parents, my three sisters, and the members of the church that summer. It was a rare gift to spend that kind of time with my family.
Years later, something similar is taking place on a smaller scale between my youngest daughter and me. This is the summer between her junior and senior years of college. She is working as a lifeguard at a nearby beach club and gets up every morning at 8 a.m. Somehow, I have become her alarm clock. She could set her electronic alarm clock or her mother could call her cell phone to make sure she is up, but I prefer to leave the kitchen table and go to the third floor to wake her up. Sometimes I wake her up by reminding her that she is a part of the proletariat and needs to go to work, sometimes I make up verses about the world needing to see her beauty, sometimes I extol her job and remind her that the safety of the beach rests on her diligence, and other times I tell her that the sun is waiting to bless or burn her skin. When there are clouds in the sky, I encourage her to go to work even though there is a good possibility she will be sent back home in a few hours.
This week, we packed the van with all of our daughter’s stuff and her mother and I took her back to school. I don’t know if she will spend next summer at home or if she will find an internship or job far from home. But wherever she wakes up in the future, I hope that she will recall with great joy the summer that she had the best alarm clock to wake her up—the voice and presence of her father.