Cracking my stiff, grimy hands and gazing upon the trails of veins across my arms, I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the cleanest part of my arm I could find. I was a long way from a laptop and my journalism classes at Humber College.
This summer I worked with my father, both of us labourers on the new Toronto courthouse downtown on Centre Street, in the University Avenue and Dundas Street area. It was not only the most intense experience of my summer, but it also gave me some understanding of what my dad does to ensure I am provided for.
My mornings started at 4 a.m. in order to make the hour-long commute downtown by bus. Sleepily walking out of my building, I’d catch the 89 Weston TTC bus at the stop across the street, the sun still hiding behind the city skyline. I’d catch myself dozing on the ride to Keele subway station and had to make sure I didn’t miss my stop at Spadina for the connection to Line 1.
On my way, I would spot other construction workers scattered throughout the bus, distinguishable by their orange-and-yellow safety vests with glistening high-visibility reflective stripes.
Along with the regulation vest, I wore an obsidian-black hard hat that I made my own by adding some risque stickers that would give some workers a chuckle. I wore black boots and the most breathable pants I owned, a pair of blue Adidas I wore throughout the week in order not to drive my mom ballistic with more mucky garments than necessary.
Almost like clockwork, every day I exited the St. Patrick subway station, my dad would be waiting for me with a cigarette in his mouth and a coffee to hyper-power me for the day ahead.
I cherished the conversations with my father on our short walks to the job site as we strolled down deserted streets where the occasional lost soul slept.
“So, how you liking the job?” he asked.
“It’s hard work but rubbing my paychecks on my injuries sure has been taking the edge off,” I said.
“Don’t let that increased rate sidetrack you, buddy,” he responded. “It would break my heart seeing you do this permanently when I know you can be so much more.”
I worked alongside the many different trades common to any construction site —carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC installers. All working separately yet jointly towards a shared end goal. My environment was ever-changing, beginning my first day on the seventh floor and being present for the construction of five more.
I both literally and figuratively was looking up to my dad as he was atop scaffolds passing — and occasionally throwing — down sheets of dusty plywood for me to de-nail.
My father served as my mentor, first teaching me to never allow the boss to catch me with unoccupied hands. Talk to others as you please, he said, just as long as you’re carrying a bundle of planks on your shoulder to accompany.
There were times where I became flustered and caused my dad to yell in frustration, yet I wouldn’t take it to heart because I knew he never meant to.
It took weeks before my body adjusted to the job, my hands growing calluses, my shoulders growing new muscles to account for the weight of 16-foot metal joists, my calves hardening from the regular trek up and down 10 flights of stairs. Those stairs never did become easier.
On the site, I quickly learned if you were able to clock out without sustaining some sort of injury it was a good and notable day.
Come September, I threw my hard hat in the closet and returned to school, adjusting to using my mind as opposed to my strength.
But my eyes and outlook have changed. I regard every construction worker who crosses my path with newfound respect. I am grateful to have been able to glide through the summer under my father’s wing.
And every little scar I picked up is a memento of lessons learned.