The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son

atkins-bookshelf-educationA young man applied for a high-level position at a Fortune 500 firm located in Silicon Valley. Having passed the initial interviews, he moved to the last stage — an interview with one of the firms’s founders. The executive had reviewed the candidate’s resume and was impressed. As the young man sat down, the executive asked, “Did you receive a college scholarship?” The young man politely replied that he did not and that his father had paid for his education. “Where does your father work?” asked the director. “My father is a carpenter. He builds furniture, a trade he learned from his father, who in turn learned it from his father. My father works in his workshop behind our home,” explained the young man. The executive then asked to see the young man’s hands and noted that they were well cared for, smooth and unblemished by scars; the nails were perfectly manicured.

“Have you ever helped your father with his work?” asked the executive. The young man hesitated and answered slowly, “Never, my father always wanted me to read, study, and learn as much as possible. Besides, I could never produce the quality of work that he does.”

The executive thought for a moment. “I have an unusual but important request,” he said, “I want you to go home, and when your father comes home from work, I want you to wash his hands. Then come and see me the following day.” The young man thanked the executive and hurried home, excited that he had a good chance of getting the job if he completed this simple task.

When the young man returned home he waited for his father to complete his projects in the workshop. When the father walked into the house, he sat down, excited to learn about his son’s day. Exhausted, he offered his hands to his son so that he could fulfill the executive’s request. The son gently held the carpenter’s hands and placed them in a stream of warm water, slowly moving away the day’s built-up dust and grime. For the first time in his life, the son noticed how worn, wrinkled, and callused his father’s hands were. These were working hands. Tired hands. Hands that toiled hour after hour, week after week, year after year, decade after decade. Why had he never noticed this before? His father’s hands, like rock eroded by weather and time, had lost their smoothness long ago; now they were marked with deep creases, punctuated with age spots and scars, the tips of the nails were dirty and uneven. The father’s hands had fresh cuts and bruises; he winced as his son gently pressed on them, rinsing away the dust and dirt. These are the hands, thought the son, that have paid for the privilege of my education. A profound sense of humility and appreciation washed over the young man; he could feel warm tears rolling down his face. Deeply touched, the father embraced his son; he could feel his son’s body shiver slightly as he began to sob softly. That precious moment lasted a few minutes. It lasted a lifetime. The father and son spent the evening talking as they cleaned up his workshop, preparing for the next day’s work.

The next day the son returned to the office building to meet with the executive. The young man seemed different, changed. “What did you learn yesterday?” inquired the executive. The young man fought back tears, and summoned the resolve to speak clearly: “When I washed my father’s hands I learned what it is to recognize and appreciate that without my father I would not be the person I am today. By realizing how hard my father works and the sacrifices he has made, I understand the true value and privilege of my education. I could never have done this on my own. I also understand the obligation I have to help him now and in the years to come because he has done enough.”

The executive smiled at the young man and said in an avuncular tone: “This is what I look for in people to join my company. I want to hire someone who accepts and appreciates the help of others, who understands that he cannot do great things by himself, and that is able to work well with others. I look for people that do not put themselves first, who possess compassion and empathy. I look for people that realize that education is not a right, but a privilege. And most importantly, I look for people that do not place the value of money over the value of family.”

That day, the young man was hired. Back at the carpenter’s workshop, amidst the cacophony of table saws and clouds of swirling sawdust, a father looked up from his work and smiled, proud of the young man he raised, happy to have made the sacrifices he made, and the legacy he leaves behind.

This story was inspired by a posting by an unknown author several years ago. The uncredited story abounds on the internet, going by various titles: The Parable of the Blacksmith and his Son, The Job Interview, When You Feel Entitled, Appreciate What You Have.

Read related posts: The Mayonnaise Jar and Cups of Coffee
The Wisdom of a Grandparent
The Wisdom of Parents
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac

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