This Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for. I appreciate all the simple blessings in my life, like a roof over my head, food on the table, and being able to attend college. However, it is easy to forget how these blessings actually come about. They do not miraculously fall from the sky. My comfortable life can be attributed to my father and his unwavering dedication to his work and his family, something I took for granted in the past.
As a child, there were plenty of things I did not understand about my father and his job at the Department of Finance. I remember being 5 years old and waiting by the window for my father to come home from work. He did not make it in time for dinner and then bedtime. I felt abandoned and really upset. Little did I know, my father had been unexpectedly held up at his office because of a pile of last-minute assignments that appeared on his desk at 5 pm.
Other similar memories surface when I think of my father’s work. It seemed bizarre to me that he would take phone calls from work on his day off, even if we were in the middle of a game of hide-and-seek. I did not see why he would come home from the office only to be in front of our desktop computer toiling away again or stop playing with me in order to go to the office. He cared so much about his job, but he also claimed that he cared a lot about me.
My father has been working for the city for more than 20 years, and I have asked him numerous times why this seemingly routine and demanding job means so much to him. Usually, he dismisses me with a generic spiel about money making the world go around. Yet, one day he remarked, “Aglaia, I need the money to take care of you and Mom.”
That was when I finally understood what service meant to him. His obligation to his family was as strong as his duty to his job. He never expected particularly high pay working for the city or extraordinarily glamorous work, but he valued the consistency and the stability of the job. During the 2008 recession, many of my friends’ parents lost their jobs and saw changes to their previously comfortable lives. Yet, my father was fortunate enough to continue to perform his duty, as a civil servant and as a father and husband.
His practical thinking and sacrifices have benefited me in so many ways. Each additional hour he works funds summer vacations, birthday presents, restaurant dinners, and most importantly, my expensive college education.
When I was younger, I dreamt of being a big Broadway actress. I even practiced my Tony Awards acceptance speech in front of my bedroom mirror. Nowadays, my father’s attitude towards his job has taught me to be realistic. I have a bigger and more important calling: a commitment to fulfill for my family. I owe a lot to my parents and I hope that one day I can repay them and also provide fully for my own family.
As a college student struggling financially and still unable to provide for myself, I have realized that I can only become what I can afford. I would be delusional to say that money is a mere accessory to life, and I can go without. I cannot, because I must financially serve my family first.
Thus, to me, it is almost secondary what I choose to become in the future as long as I can guarantee my family and myself a stable and sufficient lifestyle. In our lives, we can choose to be like the pillars of a building — plain, practical, and ordinary — or like the fancy façade, elegant and exciting. While the façade draws people’s attention, rain and snow can easily erode its beauty and value. Yet, pillars are strong and sturdy and can weather hardship. Thus, we might have to make huge trade-offs in life and forgo some of our dreams.
For me, that is okay. It is an important duty I owe the rest of society. My family should not be a burden on the government, especially when I have the ability to provide for them myself even if it means giving up my own aspirations. Furthermore, my hard work will always be a labor of love. I hope to one day give my family what my father has given to me. So as we gather around the table this year, take time to give thanks to the everyday heroes who work hard to support us in more ways than one.
Aglaia Ho is a junior at Williams College and a native New Yorker. She also writes for her own blog at www.aglai