My father is an incredibly hardworking, creative, no-excuses Marine and businessman.
My dad didn’t finish college on the first try. He went into the Marine Corps in his early twenties, working largely with electronics and gathering lots of stories he’d later tell me as I fell asleep and marching songs he’d "sing" to me — my lullabies. Going into the military he married my mom (who he’d known since they were in the fifth grade), moved them to California, and less than a year later I was born. He was stationed in Japan for much of my first year, and was in the military for years longer. We have these old home videos my mom used to make of me as a baby and she’d send them to him in the mail — no Skype back then. He’d mail her cassettes back of him standing in the trees and talking about what was going on, and asking her questions (probably a lot about me 😊).
My dad worked a bunch of jobs between the Marine Corps and the industry he finally landed. I know he was a roofer for a while. I know he worked at a pizza place for a minute. I know he worked at in a mailing room at a shipping company called Maersk, and after a while of going up and down from the mailroom to the offices and getting to know the guys in the cubicles, he found out they’d be interviewing for more salesmen and he went, got a suit, and interviewed.
He got that job. He went to it every day. When my mom was working too, he did my hair in the morning, and dropped me off at school and picked me up, and made dinner (anyone else remember Chef Boyardee?). Throughout my elementary school years, when I said things like, “I need to stay up late to finish my homework!” Nah, man. That was not an option. My dad would smile at me and say, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Which I still don't even really get though! No one was saying it was an emergency, I was just saying I wanted to stay up another hour. 🙄 He also used to tell me that I was “a natural” anything. “You’re a Varner,” he’d say. “We’re natural athletes” or “artists” or “speakers” or anything I’d ever wanted to be.
I remember my dad coming home from work tired. I remember him coming home from work stressed. I remember him coming home from work excited about promotions and sometimes bonuses. Our apartment was really small. It was drafty — there was a whole room we never used, I called it "the cold room," it was so drafty. The door to my room was always coming off the sliding track. I remember he thought about changing jobs once, and I remember that well. He came home talking about becoming a state trooper, and I cried because I was afraid he’d get hurt doing a job like that.
So, that passed, my dad kept working in that office, and eventually, he went back to school to finish what he’d started before I was born. I was in middle school around that time. He’d take me with him to the library at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and I’d read a book while he studied and worked on assignments. He would sit alone at a table in the library in a quiet place, and he’d just put his head down until his work was done. His handwriting was nice, his notes neat and organized, and I don’t think I ever heard him complain about his schoolwork once.
That must be exactly how I knew what to do when I got to college. I had a favorite quiet spot in my library at the University of Richmond. Saturday mornings I’d often wake up early, eat breakfast and go sit, head down until the evening sometimes, whenever my work was done. I don't think I pulled a single all-nighter in college, and I think that's why.
My dad did change jobs eventually, but not industries. After going from the mailroom to a salesperson at Maersk, where he worked for 8 years, he was hired at Tradewinds Intl, where he worked up to the vice president seat, where he's been for over 10 years and still is now, working hard every day, commuting sometimes for hours in that fabulous New Jersey traffic.
Look at my dad and there’s no doubt, it is definitely his fault that I’m doing all that I do. It is definitely his fault that I learned what it looked like to put your head down and keep working until the job is done. It’s definitely his fault that my standards for excellence became very high at a very young age. It’s definitely his fault that I learned to do as many things today as I can do, rather than wait until tomorrow. It's his fault that I believe if I don’t finish something the first time that's okay, I can finish it later. And that everything I do, I do not just for myself, but for God, my family, and other folks too.