5 Things I Learned from my Father

DF SafetyManagement and Leadership, Personal Safety Guide

Instead of writing about safety this week, I want to share something a bit more personal. My father, Aurelio Ferro, celebrated his 86th birthday this month, and throughout my life, he taught me many things which helped me become successful. Today I share those lessons with you.  

To give our story some context, my father was born on a homestead in Venice, Alberta in 1935. He remembers plowing fields with horses and remembers his neighbors working the land with steam tractors and oxen. When he was 15, he went to work on the Northern Alberta Railroad on the line from Fort McMurray to Lac La Biche, then worked in forestry in the 1950s and finally settled on carpentry for a living.  

He tells me that I was born the day before his final carpenter exam at NAIT. He and his brother Ben celebrated a little too much and did the test more than a little hungover. Ah well, it was 1971 after all, it was a different world then…  By the time I was old enough to remember such things, he was working as a Superintendent for G&C Building Contractors, 205 lbs of solid muscle, and not afraid of hard work.  Easy guy to work for, right? Well, he was, and I will tell you why. 

Dave Ferro and his Father, Aurelio Ferro.

Life Lessons from Dad 

Be Humble

One of my earliest lessons, as early as 8, which at the time was not so unusual, however, to clarify, it is no longer permitted. I was out on just about any Saturday he was working, provided there was not a bobcat or other machinery on site.  He wisely saw that as being too hazardous.   

My one and only job were to pick up scrap and put it in the scrap pile, sometimes I would get to sweep up the sawdust or clean the job trailer. My father would sometimes do the job with me.  In his mind, all work is honorable and has value. His lesson here is to be humble; no one is too good to pick up scraps.   

Take Care of Your Tools

My father always looked after his tools and made sure they were in good condition. Without your tools, you cannot do the work. Without the work, you cannot make any money. Simple and it makes sense. 

I was sixteen years old, and it was a big summer for me.  I was old enough to be hired by the company and get paid to pick up scrap! Better yet, I was going to be trained on power tools.  My dad never let me use a power tool before this as he felt there was value in learning the hand tools. I had to use the old-fashioned pump and brace drills alongside his hand saws.    

One morning, my dad was showing me how to maintain my circular saw. This was a very old and very powerful beast that we jokingly said was brought over by Columbus. That morning, the guard kept sticking when we were checking it and would not snap shut. He repaired the guard and tested it a few times and showed me how, after that, I got to work. I was cutting 2×12 fir timbers for the roof of a Church. Being inexperienced, the saw bent in the wood and jumped back and ran across my right thigh. The guard did its job and snapped shut leaving me uninjured, but I certainly learned the lesson about taking care of tools, that would have cut me to the bone! 

Don’t Sit Down on the Job

I remember this lesson from when I was 18 and was working with my father in the summer again. We were doing a series of six or eight duplexes. One job was to pre-nail all the cross bridging. If you are not familiar with the job, you basically start with four 2 ¼” nails placed into each piece of 2×2 lumber. They are about 18” long. I got what I needed and sat down on the lumber pile and started nailing them in. 

My father came over to me and told me not to sit down while working. I asked him why not?  After all, the job could be done just as quickly and efficiently as standing, sitting, or kneeling. He explained that it came down to optics. In short, it looked bad, observers might get the impression that I was more interested in my personal comfort than getting the job done. 

I have come to learn that in Health and Safety, people are often observing you see what you will do. To see if your words match your actions and to see if you are working or just putting time in. Imagine how it would look if I sat on a grade beam while doing a job observation. What impression would I be giving the workers? I can do my job just as efficiently sitting as I could do standing, but it would look bad, and a bad reputation can follow you. So, don’t sit down on the job. 

Leave Others Their Dignity

This is a lesson that I learned from my father many times, both on and off the job. In an era where superintendents routinely yelled and berated crews, I did not see him do this. His corrections were always respectful, quiet and were very often tempered with humor. The correction was clear enough to everyone involved, but he did it in such a way that the other person’s dignity was not affected, and they were not made to feel less.   

This is an important lesson that I have tried to incorporate into my professional life.  If you can correct someone gently without making them feel bad, they are more likely to accept the correction and learn the lesson. A lesson does not have to sting to be effective. People want to work for people that treat them well. If you must correct someone, do it in a way that lets them save face, don’t take away their dignity. 

Enjoy Your Work

My father enjoyed his work and it showed. He would share stories at coffee time and on the drive to and from work. One time when I was quite young, he was working in Barrhead, so we left extra early and went fishing at Lac La Nonne when the sun came up. We caught two pikes, which he cooked for lunch in an old electric frying pan. He said if I kept catching them faster than he could clean them, then we could stay, and we did. There is always time for some fun.  People that work with me often notice my sense of humor and ability to have fun on the job, now you know where it comes from. 

My Father loved to sing while working and he was pretty good at it, to the point that he was given the nickname “The Singing Superintendent” by the Subcontractors on a project. The Church I worked on when I was 16, the rest of the crew were named Mario, Nazarino, and Aurelio, so they would all sing; maybe it is an Italian thing! Of course, I joined in. Everything from Puff the Magic Dragon and old country songs to La Donna e Mobile which he sang almost daily if I recall.   

Later in life, I learned that La Donna e Mobile is from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. This song will forever remind me of my father. Below is a link to Pavarati’s version, but I maintain that my father’s version was better!  

Luciano Pavarotti – La Donna È Mobile (Rigoletto) – YouTube

I have learned many more things from my father than the five I have shared with you. Maybe another day I will share more stories about how his influence shaped my life and why I feel so inspired. But for now, perhaps you will also find some inspiration from the five things I learned from working with my father.