As far back as I can recollect I have had to maintain some level of professionalism. Not that I have always done so, but it has been expected. The oldest child, “You’re older, you KNOW better.” The only son, “While I’m gone, you’re the man of the house.” Funny, Dad got to whip my sister when she got into trouble, I never did get to shoulder that particular “hurt me worse than it does you” burden. Then, I went to work for my father in his business. He poured concrete, and was famous for his work. I went to work at a very young age because it made sense to my father: “If you don’t stay in school, this is the kind of work you will be stuck doing.” He had a small crew, of which I was the only relative. Some dads have kids that “can do no wrong” as employees: I always envied those kids. My dad was of the opposite school of thought in that his kid will never get the chance to do wrong, because he will ride his kid harder than any other employee. At the time, I thought it was crap. Though now, I will openly admit it provided me with valuable skills that would save my bacon in the future. His work ethic was the greatest gift I was ever given, even better than Teddy Ruxpin.
Military service demands professionalism. It is more than an expectation, it is doctrine. I didn’t have to learn it like others did, still I was constantly reminded of it. Example, at one point I was jumped by a seemingly constant increase of TIs (Training Instructors… USAF Drill Sergeants), startled because I was not aware of any ‘malfunction’ on my part, I panicked that my military career was finished before it began. I saw into the future, and it was bleak almost post-apocalyptic existence. I ran through all the hoops and fought back the tears as I stood there bracing myself for the shame I was about to bear. Suddenly it was over, leaving me more confused than when it started. Weeks later, SSgt Anthony Bell informed me that on the particular day I had the pleasure of meeting all those TIs, he had recently realized that I had not screwed up, and no one could remember me screwing up and thus, I had not been properly motivated. It was his job to make sure I received the full experience, and it would be shameful if I graduated Basic Military Training without it. I suppose Orin Scrivello, DDS must have been his life coach.
Every review, every performance report, every letter of recommendation I have ever received has had the same things in it. “Excellent work ethic… upmost integrity… highly professional…” All because every time I am faced with a choice, the easy choice always has me projecting my father’s disappointment. Instead of the proverbial ‘angel on one shoulder / devil on the other’ helping to steer my life, I have a father’s pride on one shoulder and a bleak nothingness on the other. His lasting guidance allowed me to succeed in the job I have now. I teach air conditioning at a “for-profit” trade school. Many of the kids (colloquial term, most of the students are older than I, when measured by calendar) in my classroom have never known a sense of professionalism. It is something you can tell them about, but yours has to be near perfect if you want some semblance of it to sink in for them. I have this role and in many ways, I have become my father. I am a better man from his influence. The students in my class are my kids and they know I hold them to a standard beyond the minimum. This is my wheelhouse, it is what I am. I hope they are better from mine.
My dad doesn’t fly fish though. In fly fishing, I have no mentor. I am void of tutors and authority figures: there is no one to disappoint. I can fish anyway I want, be irreverent as I like, and that appeals to the part of me that wishes I would choose a different path, on the occasions I can take the ‘easy street’ or ‘integrity boulevard’. Because of that, there is a freedom in fly fishing permitting me to tie soft-plastic grub tails to bass flies on occasion, or chunk a 1/32oz rooster tail at trout. I don’t subscribe to the three rules of fly angling; it’s rarely upstream, hardly ever dry flies, and almost never to rising trout. I fish for carp, gar, catfish, suckers, bass, bream, and even felines: and I don’t feel the slightest pang of guilt.