Through the years, I’ve been working and learning as much as I can from my father — from how he handles customers to knowing when to take a job or stay away. I’ve always known my father to be a hard worker. He was out of the house early and many times, he wouldn’t get home until we were bathed, in our pajamas, sometimes even asleep in our beds.
During the year, we didn’t take any day trips or extended weekend trips away, but we managed to always sneak away for a quick trip to the beach once every summer. It was always the most exciting time because we were all together as a family and having fun — and Dad didn’t have to disappear off to work. From what I can remember, he would still disappear to the hotel phone to call customers periodically but hurried back to enjoy his time with the family.
As I became older, I started to notice this behavior more often. My dad constantly worked to provide for the family, even Saturday and Sunday when needed. I can remember several Christmas mornings when we were about to open our gifts and the office phone rang; Dad would run out to fix someone’s heat. As a child, I was so sad and disappointed that he had to leave during those times, but I knew he would try to make it back home as soon as he could.
When I started working for my father, I began to understand the urgency of customers’ needs and wants that my father was trying to fulfill to earn a decent buck. But was it all worth it? To scramble out of the house during precious time with family to attend to someone’s plumbing issues?
Those questions run through my mind constantly. We as plumbers want to make a decent living and keep our customers happy all the time because it puts food on the table and pays the bills. But is the work worth it if we miss special moments with our families?
“Good morning, Mrs. Osbourne!” I said as the front door swung open.
“Why, hello Sean. Come on in, it’s freezing out there!” she said as she folded her arms together to warm up.
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you,” I said.
“Why thank-you, Sean. It would be the perfect Valentine’s Day gift if you could get my heat up and going for me,” she joked. “Come, come this way and I’ll show you to the basement, where the boiler is located.”
So, we weaved in and out of the next few rooms and eventually to the basement door. Mrs. Osbourne switched on the light and opened the door.
“Well, she’s all yours,” she said. “Watch your head as you go down the stairs. I’ll be up here if you need anything.”
I always love to hear a customer say those words. I don’t know about you, but I tend to work and think a lot easier when I don’t have a customer looking over my shoulder. I made my way down the old rickety stairs and into the basement where I found the boiler. I eventually was able to find an outlet to plug my drop light in so I could get some light on the situation.
Right away, as I shined the light through all the spider webs near the boiler, I began to hear a ticking noise.
“Hmm, that’s strange,” I thought to myself. I leaned closer to the boiler and I was able to identify where the noise was coming from. The flue damper motor was trying to open and was getting stuck, which caused the motor to keep clicking.
“I’ve never seen this before,” I thought. “Usually the flu damper motor is either stuck in the fully open position or the fully closed position.”
Just as the thought crossed my mind, I noticed some liquid on the jacket of the boiler, which was located right below the jammed motor.
“What is this? It looks like blood,” I whispered. “I’m afraid to even look.”
I took the light and directed it up toward the flue damper. There it was — a bird had flown into the flue piping and eventually got jammed into the motor.
“Ugh, that is not a pretty sight at all,” I said.
Anyone who knows me well, knows I do not handle the sight of blood very well.
“OK. No big deal. I got this,” I told myself.
Off to the truck I went and grabbed my latex gloves, a bag and a new damper motor. It wasn’t the most difficult job in the world as I scooped the bird into the bag, cleaned up the blood and slapped in a new motor. I explained everything to Mrs. Osbourne as I was sitting at the kitchen table writing up an invoice for her.
“So, where are you taking your wife for Valentine’s Day?” she asked.
“Not quite sure yet,” I responded. “We don’t have a babysitter to watch the kids, and I have a bunch of calls to get to today. Looks like we are going to hang in tonight and keep it low key.”
Quality time with family
I hopped back into the truck and was off to the next job. As I was listening to the radio, an advertisement came on: “The perfect Valentine’s Day gift for you and the family! Come see Frozen on Broadway tonight!”
The wheels started to turn in my head. I thought about my father and how he was always out working; how I wished he would come home early on holidays. If my wife and I couldn’t get a babysitter, why not spend Valentine’s Day with the whole family?
I pulled over, jumped onto the StubHub app and purchased the four tickets for that evening. I texted my wife and told her we were going out with the kids, I’d be home by 3, and I was bringing pizza. I took care of two other no-heat calls and called it a day. I then placed and picked up my heart-shaped pizza from the pizzeria, bought some flowers and headed back home.
I opened the front door and was quickly greeted by my son, daughter, dog and wife. The kids were beyond excited that we were going somewhere and I was home from work early. My wife was excited but also confused and curious as to where we were headed and, of course, our bulldog Norman just wanted a cookie.
We scarfed down our heart-shaped pizza, jumped into the car and headed into the Big Apple. We had such a wonderful time seeing the show and spending some quality time with the family. It’s a Valentine’s Day I will never forget.
Times have changed and now I’m the owner of the company, scheduling and keeping the customers happy. I’ve begun to see what it’s like first-hand. Boy oh boy, it is not the easiest thing to do. The pressure of trying to make a living for your family while carving out important time to spend with your family is immense.
The more I speak with other plumbers who have been through it all, the more I hear them say: “Sean, if I had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently. I feel as if I’ve missed a lot of my children’s sporting events, accomplishments and bonding with the family on weekends. I would highly suggest you try to spend as much quality time with the family that you can. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to make a living, but at the end of the day, your family is the most important.”
Wow. I’ll never forget those words. Still, to this day, I try my best to put time with family a priority over some call that may come in and can wait until the next day or so.
I’m certainly not suggesting that you take every weekend off because you will most likely kill your business. But what I try to do is take a weekend off once a month. I have a system set up where a co-worker can fill in for a half day on a Saturday so that if a call does come in, we can either fix the problem or get it prepped for Monday morning.
What my family and I did that Valentine’s Day was something I’ll never forget and I hope the kids will never forget it. Three calls ended up coming in that evening; two customers waited until the next morning and the other called another plumber. I’m glad I took time off to create those memories with my family. I hope everyone reading will do the same. Remember, we all have one crack at this thing called life; let’s make the best of it.
How do you handle time off? Long weekends away? Day trips? Time spent with family? Holidays? I would love to hear your thoughts!