My first “job” was when I was twelve years old. I remember going to church one Sunday and my father introduced me to a man named John Kafka. He shook my hand. As a 12-year-old, I simply took his hand, but soon found out that he had a death grip. He said to me, “Danny, it is nice to meet you. May I tell you something that will help you with your future?” I said, “Yes sir.” He replied, “Whenever you shake someone’s hand, show confidence. You squeeze that person’s hand so they know you are confident. A good firm handshake says a lot about who you are to others.”
I will never forget that first lesson he gave me. My father had always taught me to show respect for others, not to lie, to work hard. I still think my dad talked to John Kafka and asked him to become a mentor for me at the tender age of 12. John Kafka was the president of Polock Johnny’s (click link for history of restaurant) and owned a house in a more expensive neighborhood. He was a wealthy man who had worked hard to get to where he was. He still wore clothes from the thrift store. He gave me a job at his house making $28 every Saturday to weed the rock garden behind his house and on the hill behind the in ground pool. It was a tough job, but it strengthened my hands and arm muscles, so I didn’t have to work so hard to give a firm handshake. My dad would drop me off before he went to work and pick me up 9 hours later.
I would not realize it until later, but John Kafka taught me so much about the importance of relationship. Every relationship needs to be mutual. Most of the time, we need to work hard at maintaining healthy relationships. Some of the most beneficial relationships can happen through tragic circumstances.
I will never forget the night. It was a Thursday night and I just finished taking a shower. My dad knocked on the bathroom door and asked if he could come in. I asked him to tell me through the door since I wasn’t decent. He told me that John Kafka had just died that day. I took the news pretty hard. I sank to the floor leaning on the door of the bathroom and cried. Not only was he the first person to give me a job, he was the first person (other than my father, who I consider my hero) to teach me valuable lessons about hard work, discipline, and the importance of relationship. I did not know it, but the lessons on relationship would deepen in the coming year.
John’s wife, Marge Kafka, asked me to continue to come and help around the outside of the house. I would weed the rock garden and all around their flowerbeds. It was a lot of territory to cover. I was now 13 and making $50 every Saturday. What happened while I worked there for Marge I did not expect. She would invite me in to have lunch and eventually we would spend 2 to 3 hours every Saturday just talking and keeping each other company. She had become very lonely with her kids out of the house and her husband gone. I would always worry that I wasn’t getting the work completed, but she reassured me that her money was being well spent.
What I discovered later was that she desired relationship and companionship, conversation and a feeling of belonging. She found it in a 13-year-old teenager. During a time when as a teenager your life becomes more about you than others, I was learning the importance of time well spent with someone who needed connection. I’m convinced she saw me as her adopted grandson. She even let me swim in her pool on the hot Saturdays after I got done working until my dad came to pick me up.
I only worked for Marge another 18 months (from spring to fall), until I was old enough to get a job in a bookstore closer to home. The lessons I learned about putting others first, simply being there for someone, a firm handshake, hard work, and the necessity of seeing value in others were the beginning of almost 30 years and counting – of learning about relationships.
Relationship is underrated. I hope through this web log to go on a journey of discovery, learning, and applying the Lost Art of Relationship. Will you join me?
If you would, please comment on this post and share a story of when you first learned the value of relationship…
Here are some pics of Polock Johnny’s… The history of the restaurant can be found by clicking the link in second paragraph.