Pocket Change. Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters. Pocket change. The fractions of the dollars we spend every day. The insignificant amount that we can’t be bothered to pick up when a couple slip between our fingers because we’re in a rush. After all it’s just pocket change, right?
That’s what I thought for the longest time, until I had an epiphany. You see, my father owns a laundromat and a dry cleaning business. His income is generated by people’s pocket change. I realized that every dollar my parents spent on me was made from those insignificant quarters, nickels, and dimes. My parents broke their backs to raise me. By the sweat of their brow and the tears from their eyes, they made sure I got an education, three square meals a day and a roof over my head.
I didn’t understand that as a kid.
Life wasn’t easy. I rarely asked for candy or toys, because I knew that my parents couldn’t always afford it, and I didn’t want them to be put in that position where they had to tell me “no.”
I remember going to Toys R us and playing with every toy I could for the entire day before my dad would tell me to get in the car and go home.
I remember one night, my mother picked me up and was silently crying the entire ride home. It was only years later, and under the influence of a large bottle of wine, when my mother told me she cried because she knew that year she wouldn’t have enough money to buy me a Christmas gift that she knew I really wanted.
I never got to have new clothes all the time, and I wore hand-me-downs from my older cousin, Tony. We just didn’t have the money, and that was that. But as I grew older, and saw the difference that clothes, latest video games, and the money to throw cool birthday parties made in a kid’s popularity, I grew more resentful of my family’s financial instability.
It shames me to this day to admit it, but I grew to resent my father’s career.
I remember I used to hate telling people what my father’s occupation was. Between his difficulty speaking English, his stereotypical job, and the idea that he made money cleaning other peoples soiled clothes, I was ashamed as a kid because and I would get picked on a lot.
My friends’ parents had cool jobs, like being an attorney, or a doctor, or even a cop (which I still think is kinda awesome, minus the whole “f*ck you, I can give tickets” attitude).
I remember I would never tell him about career day, because I was embarrassed that he would make me look stupid. I feared that I’d be the laughingstock of the school because of a dad who could barely speak English and who cleaned dirty clothing for a living.
I resented our poverty. I made it my life’s mission to constantly chase the dollar by any means necessary. I wanted what everyone else had — a new car, cool clothes, and the attraction of the pretty girls in school. So, I started hustling.
By the summer after my junior year of high school, I was the distributor for most of my high school’s drug dealers. I kept the money hidden from my parents and that resentment I held grew larger with every passing day. Here I was, a 17-year-old kid bringing home half as much money as my dad, and gaining notoriety, and respect from people.
It was new to me, I was always the butt of the jokes and now here people were practically tripping over each other to be my friend.
The first day that I got my license, my dad asked me to do him a favor and exchange some coins for cash at TD Bank. I remember looking in my Ford Explorer and seeing a fifty-pound tub full of coins. I was so embarrassed just imagining what people would think of me when they saw me drag in that big bucket of coins. So much so, that I actually visited four different banks and cashed the coins in increments.
I was so embarrassed with my dad. I never told him how I felt. However, I’m older now, and hopefully a little bit smarter.
I realized that actually my dad has an amazing career, and more importantly, he has enough resolve to swallow his pride and work a job that he never wanted. He handles a man’s dirty clothes and undergarments, smiles to his face and take his money. He sweats during the summer to the point where he needs to bring an extra set of clothes every day to change into. The steam and the boiler raises the ambient temperature to above 110 degrees. In the winter, he freezes and feels the cold winter chill every day, we can’t afford to raise the heat and keep the boiler for all the machines running all day you see.
Whenever machines break, which happens often, because our machines are old and very temperamental, he needs to get down under heavy machines and get covered in dirty water and sludge while fixing sensitive electronics and dangerous metal parts. Frankly, when he’s done fixing it, he smells like garbage.
Even though I have the technical skills and am younger and stronger than he is, he still won’t let me fix the machines. He doesn’t want me to dirty my clothes and myself. The man is selfless to his core.
Now, he asks me every time I’m home to deposit buckets of change for him. One day, and I will never forget this, as I was leaving to do so he said something that stopped me in my tracks:
“I’m sorry if I ever embarrassed you because of my job, It’s the only thing I know how to do here in America.”
The look on his face, I couldn’t describe it to you for all the money in the world. It finally CLICKED in my head that he was just as embarrassed about his job as I was when I was a kid. And, now, there’s something that I need him to know…
Dad, there’s not a damn thing you need to apologize for. You worked yourself to the bone, so that I could have a decent future.
Now, when I go to deposit change, I go to the one bank closest to me. I look around as the coin sorting machine digests the pounds of coins I feed into the chute. It’s loud and obnoxious (kind of like me), and I love it.
The machine becomes full and a disgruntled bank teller has to open the machine up and exchange coin receptacles and lug the full ones to the vault.
People ask me what is it that I do that generates so much change all the time, I look at them proudly and tell ‘em “my dad owns a laundromat and a dry cleaning business.” I’m not embarrassed anymore.
In fact, I’ve become proud of my dad’s career choice. He’s an honest, hardworking American who busts his ass day in and day out to provide for his family. That’s the American dream for an immigrant, to live a life where honest work actually pays off. And, it’s thanks to that work ethic that we’re a bit more financially stable.
We moved to a nice community and I was given the chance to reach for the stars, but only because I stood upon the shoulders of a giant.
Dad, I just wanted to say thanks for everything.
I’ll pay you back, for the money and the time, the support, and love you showed to a troubled, drug dealing teenager.
I hope you’re proud of me. I stayed out of trouble, I cleaned my act up, I opened my own LLC, I serve my country as an Infantryman in the most advanced Army in the world, and I’m on track to be the first of our family to graduate from the US college.
Pocket Change. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Pocket Change. The fractions of the dollars we spend every day. The insignificant amount that we can’t be bothered to pick up when a couple slip between our fingers because we’re in a rush. After all it’s just change, right?