Early Lessons

imageFor the longest time, work and career was about all that mattered to me. I lived to work. Come Sunday afternoon I got antsy and was raring to go.  I wanted so much to return to the office only twenty minutes away up Route 495 to make my mark.  On reflection, this single-minded concentration had a lot to do with my upbringing. As long as I can remember, my dad was a workaholic and successful entrepreneur in the snack food industry. His workday extended to nearly six days a week, and when he wasn’t physically at the office, he was contemplating his challenges when away from the office. His struggles and hopes became the overriding subject of our lives, my older brother and I and my stay-at-home mother, and especially in the evenings when he returned home for dinner for my mother’s good cooking.  His work was a large part of his life, and of mine, even as a little kid, and his employees, suppliers, customers, accountant, lawyer and the salespeople who called on him were people that didn’t just see him at his office and occupy his time there; they also seemingly lived with us at home seven days a week.

Stories were told about Marty Cohen, whom he called “Jake”‘ a label salesman and his second wife Trudi,  and there was Harold Roth and his son Stephen who were his distributors in New York City. John Hall, his plant manager, Bobby Hart, Millie, and Reuben originally from West Virginia, were three of his more colorful employees who toiled around the vats of butter, pork rinds, cereals, sunflower seeds and soybeans that travelled along the conveyor belts carrying the jars, bags and boxes of snack foods. I actually enjoyed hearing about Jake’s talents because he was creative and I was drawn to artwork in my earliest years. But Dad didn’t approve of artistic expression as a full time venture for his son; business was the trade for me.  Dad didn’t have any hobbies. He played golf a little. I don’t think he owned any golf clubs.  He did like to joke, tell stories and drink, but I never saw him drink to excess, to fight with anyone, but he did know how to pick on, berate, ridicule and humiliate family members.  He got a charge out of it.

Book learning, knowledge and academic scholarship were the values stressed in my family of origin from my earliest age. Working hard in grade school and high school in particular was highly valued so as to assure entry into a good college, and to develop character which is worthwhile in itself. The Protestant ethic of hard work was prominent in our middle-class Jewish home.

For much of my career in technology and science companies (three of which were start-ups that were acquired by larger firms and were successful), I applied myself and was able to find some satisfaction by excelling first as an award-winning direct marketing copywriter and within the creative side of business marketing.

Gettimg off the hook is the plan

A few months ago while on vacation with my wife and friends in Chile and Argentina, I realized that vacation was the first time in nearly fifty years! that I had taken more than one week’s vacation in a row.

In Bariloche, Argentina, in Northern Patagonia, I realized I could get used to being away from the grind of the office, to get off the hook more often. I could return to my original interests and by having more time on my hands, take care of myself in ways I only dreamed of doing while on vacation. Being off the hook would be when I am more present and able to discover and explore and meander around not just new surroundings thousands of miles away from home, but to return to the arts and humanities. In my early life I was oriented towards images, symbols, design and sculpture.

The common element of my interests is wrapped up in the written word. I’m drawn to the act of writing, of penmanship, calligraphy, brushes and inkwells, paper and arts preservation. Logos, fonts, typefaces, and the history of their development. Handwriting, handwriting analysis and forensic document examination of artwork, historic artifacts or memorabilia is fascinating. I’m interested in becoming a scribe.

In Crossing the Unknown Sea:Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by William Whyte, being off the hook means allowing one to return to the notion of what to do in one’s life. Whyte uses powerful imagery and poetry so as to encourage us to return to our early years (of childhood), to discover and explore secret longings that had been on the back burner since then.

In off the hook, I will be exploring and sharing the pursuits I have only been able to pursue, peripherally, on the borders of my life, as I continue to work 9-5, five days a week. But I’m now allowing myself more time as life permits, to explore matters I am drawn to: the written word, fountain pen collecting by attending Boston Pen Shows, taking a Chinese calligraphy art class and joining an artist guild, collecting Hebrew prayers and passages for future design work.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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