What I Learned from My Father

My dad and me circa 1978 in our best polyester suits.

My father loves traffic.

Red lights. Stop signs. Pedestrian safety.

These were frequent dinner table topics growing up in Richmond, Va. When your father is a traffic engineer, you begin to notice roundabouts, guardrails and one-way streets, which are everywhere in downtown Richmond.  

During his career, my father was passionate about saving lives — sometimes by designing a safer traffic pattern and other times by cutting back vines covering a stop sign. Much to my mother’s dismay, he was quick to stop the car and remove debris from the center of the road.

As a young boy, my father taught me that small actions can make a big difference, details matter, and so did helping others.

I wasn’t that passionate about traffic, but in kindergarten I dressed up in a polyester suit and headed to Career Day proclaiming, “I want to be a traffic engineer.”

Well, that early career ambition didn’t exactly work out, but I think my father appreciated the effort. The closest I ever came to working in traffic was counting cars for traffic studies during high school and college.

My father worked for nearly four decades as an engineer before finally retiring in 2009. This California native spent his college summers in the late ’50s and early ’60s surveying and building roads in Alaska.

After marrying my mother in 1964, the two traveled the back roads of America and Canada as my father helped build airport runways. Their nomadic adventure lasted until 1967 when my older brother arrived. My father then transitioned to traffic engineering, but this inquisitive man kept asking questions and learning as he pursued his passion.

My dad with my brother, sister and me (on the back of the bike) in 1974. When the recession of the early 1980s hit, he took on a second job delivering morning newspapers before his day job at City Hall. My father and mother, who went back to graduate school, weren’t afraid of hard work.

Without ever saying so, my father taught me to “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

This Father’s Day, I thank him for that priceless gift and all the lessons he’s taught me along the way.

Jonathan Rhudy appreciates the rope seatbelts his father made for the family car long before the life-saving devices became standard on new cars. Bicycle helmets weren’t mainstream either.