I didn't know my paternal grandfather very well. He died when I was a small boy and I never really knew the optimistic, vigorous man my dad and his brother told me much about. He emigrated from Eastern Europe and came to New York as a teenager and quickly got a job in industry. An energetic, hard-working man, it didn't take long for him to work his way up and become a factory shop foreman.
Eventually Nathan Roth got a job opportunity in Canada and settled in Montreal, where he married and had a family. My dad told me stories about how for many years the family resided in Cornwall, Ontario, and Trois-Rivières, Quebec, and my grandfather would come home on weekends after spending the week working in Montreal. He'd take the train home on Friday after work and my dad told me how exciting it was to see this big, strong, smiling man jump off the train and come running to greet his family.
I asked my dad about what he was really like and what made him such an engaging, charismatic figure. He lacked a college education — I'm not even sure if he finished high school — but he was, by all accounts, hard-working, intelligent and resourceful. My dad told me how he took great pride in his factory work, that he was proud to be involved in making useful high-quality products. He told me how one day he put on the kitchen table a piece of raw steel and some kind of components his company made that were used in automobiles. I'm not really sure what the items were, or even if my dad recalled, but what he did remember, very vividly, was the pride my grandfather took in making something that mattered, and how he would admonish his sons to live productive lives.
Well, the world is a very different place from when my dad was a child (or when I was one for that matter). What hasn't changed is what most of us as parents would want for our children. I want the same thing for my son — to live a productive life, to be a contributor to his community and society, to do something useful. How he does it will probably be quite different. My grandfather was a factory worker, my father a baseball statistician, myself a journalist, and my son, still in school, remains to be seen.
But kids coming out of school right now face a much different world. I have two nephews who recently graduated with masters' degrees but are struggling to find jobs. The son of one of my best friends graduated university with about a 3.6 and it took him three years to get into medical school, trying to find a school with a place for him. Not sure what career path my son will choose. Like any parent, I hope whatever he does he has a better life than I. But it's pretty unlikely he'll do what his great-grandfather did — molding raw steel into some kind of component for machinery.
I just read an article about the U.K. that said manufacturing has reduced from about 40 percent of England's gross domestic product in the late 1950s to a bit more than 10 percent now. I'm not sure what the numbers are in the United States, but I assume they are similar.
I always viewed equipment rental as something productive, something to be proud of. Renting equipment to make things, build homes and roads and bridges, improving lives somehow. I know a lot of people in the industry have felt the same way about it; and those in construction equipment manufacturing as well. We all do what we do partly because it's a pretty good way of making a living, but many also find an emotional satisfaction in feeling that what they do is useful and productive.
As I said, the world has forever changed, and my kids and your kids are as likely to work in software development as anything else. In fact, the world is changing so quickly and dramatically that they are probably more likely to work in a job that has not even been invented yet, to be doing something that my grandfather, my father, and maybe even I won't really understand.
A college professor of mine once expressed his philosophy of life to us in very simple terms: There are two kinds of people in this world, builders and destroyers, he told us. In whatever you do, just make sure you're a builder.